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Ecommerce with Flair: Digital Tools for a More Inspiring Online Experience

Young woman in glasses and red sweater, browsing a retailer site on a laptop. The laptop screen shows rows of products.

The advantages of buying online are clear. For customers, product selection has gone up while prices have gone down, and convenience has become king. But not everything is better online. Ecommerce can sometimes lose the experience of in-person shopping and, with it a retailer’s ability to show off its products in ways that can set a store apart from its competition. While consumers enjoy the benefits of shopping online, they often find the experience uninspiring and lacking a certain je ne sais quoi that accompanies shopping at their favorite stores in person.

But businesses are discovering that digital tools can provide customers with a new way to provide a personalized and engaging shopping experience. Ecommerce sites can now highlight products in new and interactive ways that make the discovery process more fun for consumers. Like the Macy’s Christmas window displays of the 1950s, retailers can find ways to pique the customer’s interest and add a little inspiration to the online purchasing process.

Bringing Luxury Online

The luxury goods market is an excellent example of where consumers have become accustomed to bespoke experiences. Stores that once had beautifully designed shelves and knowledgeable, insightful sales professionals are among the most difficult to translate online. Some brands, however, have not shied away from this challenge. By using high-quality images and videos of products, customers are drawn closer. While videos make for a more engaging customer experience, only 40% of product detail pages currently use video, according to the 2022 Omnichannel Retail Index.

Customers can use color pickers and certain selectors to see the full range of options from the retailer and feel excited by the products in front of them. Modules like this give customers a streamlined way of picking an item, saving them the time and hassle of clicking and reloading page after page, looking for the right product. Having streamlined methods for accessing eye-catching media makes shopping more enjoyable for what can otherwise be a mundane online experience.

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Flexible Navigation and Filters

Another way to modernize product discovery is by enhancing how customers browse and search for products. Retailers can start by looking at their menus and assessing how customers navigate their site, including on their phones or tablets. By 2025, mobile sales are expected to account for 44% of retail ecommerce in the U.S., which means companies need to have an eye for how their site is optimized for both desktops and smartphones. For example, consider simplifying large dropdown menus by using easy-to-read icons and full-page designs, so customers don’t need to scroll through dozens of options.

Beyond the listed menu options, website search bars determine how quickly customers can find specific products and pairings. The search bar can be enhanced with autofill options like “suggested” or “similar” product recommendations. In addition, automating the analysis of a customer’s previous search histories is an effective way to fuse personalization into the online buying experience. Last year, the rate of companies adding images in their search bar increased by nearly 15%, demonstrating the continual push towards consumer-friendly searches that prioritize simplicity of use.

Organizations can also add modules to product listing pages that help refine the search by style, size and rating. Empowering customers to quickly locate and refine items in their search reduces fatigue and makes browsing new products more engaging. And lastly, retailers should continually monitor evolving consumer preferences regarding product filters. Surveys show that 60% of digital sales are influenced by having a physical store nearby. Still, only 50% of online stores allow shoppers to sort by availability, according to the Omnichannel Retail Index.

Beyond the Shelf

Aside from how the products are displayed comes how the customer discovers them. Like a top salesperson who has known a customer for years, new digital innovations allow sites to get to know a customer and use that data to personalize the experience. By developing a 360-degree view of a customer with an integrated AI tool, retailers can instantly make recommendations to customers based on a wealth of customer data. According to a Salesforce study, the average customer spends 5X as much per visit on sites with personalized recommendations than those without.

Personalization goes beyond discovery, as well. Adding functions like a mini cart where a customer can add to and view items in their cart without being taken out of the shopping flow replicates the ease of in-person comparison shopping and increases the number of items in the cart. Also, especially relevant around the holiday season is a wish list function where customers can keep their desired items to share on social media, with friends, or add directly to their cart. When customers find that special something that they just can’t purchase today, it is always there waiting for them when they return.

By layering elements like design sliders, mobile-optimized menus, and mini carts for adding products, retailers can maintain a captivated audience throughout the entire product discovery process. It helps reduce the number of pain points that cause customers to abandon their cart while also driving higher levels of brand loyalty. With consumers now accustomed to shopping online, it’s a perfect time to allow them to do it with style.

Want more insights from the 2022 Omnichannel Retail Index to guide your 2023 strategies and tactics? Watch our recent webinar featuring Bernardine Wu of OSF Digital and Rob Garf of Salesforce now!


Kathy Kimple is the Executive Director of OSF Digital’s Strategy group. She leverages 25+ years in omnichannel retail with a focus on brands, covering digital strategy and store operations, registry, marketing, tech selection, and organizational design.

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