Digital Retail: Getting it Right

We all know having a well crafted brand positioning is important. The design, the messaging, the emotional payoff, the targeting, all have a role to play. However, anyone who works in retail will know that the retail experience design trumps all of this. The retail space acts as much more than a large window into the brand – it is a literal personification, a pocket universe where the brand is allowed to express itself and its priorities.

Contrast the Apple Store, with its feeling of immediately accessible information floating in light, against Argos or Best Buy, who present solid, dependable technology clustered on sturdy dark-colored bases, or even airport tech shops, hawking gadgets-as-candy, all bright colours and shiny lights tightly packed in every corner. Think of how the gleeful chaos of a high-street fast-fashion stores speak of abundance and lack of consequence, while the otherworldly emptiness of a high fashion boutique purposefully reminds you of a modern art gallery (with prices to match).

If your brand’s way-to-market doesn’t include any digital channels, I would like to congratulate you for your dedication to a pure retro aesthetic, boasting brick-and-mortar stores, with reading glasses on chains, paper money, and old-timey cash registers that go “Ping!”.

If that wasn’t your intention, and you do have, or intend to have a digital distribution channel, and wonder how best to build it to capture and the hearts of your consumers , please read on.

Designing coherent, compelling physical retail spaces, that live the brand and drive purchase, is a craft that is relatively well understood – much less so for digital retail spaces. Our extensive research on the subject has taught us that consumers who have started the journey towards buying online are not looking to “spend some time” on the platform in the way they might in a physical store – they have social media and a myriad other digital time-sinks for that. In 99% of cases, they are looking for three things: Ease, Speed, and Inspiration.

Ease is now becoming expected when purchasing online. Think of Amazon’s one-click; or even better, their automated refills. This simplicity which feels entirely natural to navigate is extremely appealing when consumers know what they want (not that they can’t be nudged here and there). They want an offering that is clear, reassuring, that ticks all the boxes, and that follows intuitive navigation routes. Beyond having the mechanisms ready, it can really pay to shout around ease of payment, delivery, pick up, customer service, etc. from the moment they arrive, until after the payment.

Speed is where a lot of retailers compete today. 5-7 days now feels like forever to most consumers. Amazon Prime’s 1-2 days is rapidly becoming the norm, with same-day delivery getting normalized in urban centers. But this feeling of speed is not all about delivery. The desire for speed is often less about necessity (where consumers could always locate a physical store) but more about instant gratification. And for that, the best thing is to embed the feeling of speed throughout the shopping experience.

Inspiration is where brands have a chance to delight and feel special. Again remember this needs to be inspiration within the shopping experience; not about adding flavour and brand imagery like an Instagram page might. By inspiration in shopping we mean thematic groupings (e.g. instead of a list of 472 bouquets, a florist might ask you choose the occasion first, then the colour or the size), a powerful recommendations engine, or even just an enthusiastic Top 10 trending items. The important thing being to provide the consumers with the momentum and optimism they require to conclude the purchase.

So – easy right? Just do everything perfectly. Of course it can never be that simple. Inspiring one feeling might diminish another, and attempting to juggle all three always results in a messy, uninspiring kitchen-sink design. The good news however is that in the vast majority of cases, consumers have already prioritised one of the three when they take their very first step towards online shopping.

Our work within digital retail tells the most effective way to benefit from this is to make it easy for the consumer to tell you their need as early as possible in their journey. Asos’s landing page gives the option of starting a search by fashion trend (inspiration), category (ease) or by sale (speed). Once a consumer clicks on their desired page, the page layout and communications they are shown next are tailored to their particular shopping mindset. This gives the consumer the all-important feeling of intuitive control over their experience as they shop around the site in their own way without disrupting their flow.

If, like ASOS, you are able to provide the right emotional payoff at each step, in a way that resonates with your wider brand positioning, you are definitely on to a winner.

At Butterfly we have spent the last decade identifying underlying emotional desires of consumers in retail both physical and online – if you have any questions or would like to work together on your platform, get in touch.


Sidi Lemine
Associate Director