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The Shifting Face of the Online Store

Comment:The presentation of some major retailer sites has become far more engaged with the social and multimedia aspects available online. By David J Smith

OMNICHANNEL

The Shifting Face of the Online Store

This trend has been gathering pace recently, particularly in the clothing and fashion sector.

This in itself is hardly surprising; social networks have triggered a fundamental shift in the way that people use the internet to communicate, search and share ideas. Facebook’s traffic levels were greater than Google’s on Christmas Day last year for the first time and social media seems to have penetrated into every sphere of society. While social-commerce is yet to produce significant revenues, retailers ignore social media at their peril.

But more than just including a Facebook like button and providing a visitor product-review facility, numerous sites have moved towards embracing a ‘magazine’ style approach to their front-ends that look, feel and function radically different from many sites just a few years ago.
Of course, advancements in rich media techniques have led to far greater options for marketers looking to provide the best possible experience for consumers on a site. The ability to zoom, spin or customise a product gives the consumer a greater sense of control over how the purchase decision is reached.

The ‘magazine’ approach seen on sites such as Benetton and Harrods however, introduces a further shift away from static online store towards something that feels like it can actually be picked up. The influence of tablet devices is apparent here, and retailers such as Debenhams and M&S incorporate video to make their sites feel like an online TV channel.
What these developments confirm is that the image of online retail sites is shifting. Whereas before the role of an e-commerce channel may have been regarded as a platform for advertising products and providing an additional revenue stream, it is clear that the potential is far greater than that. The use of video, radio and other social functionality is changing retailer sites into fully fledged multimedia centres, fully engaging consumers and encouraging them to spend time browsing the site.

These changes are also representative of the shifting attitudes of retailers to the multiple channels they have available to them. The potential for blending the separate channels into a more seamless offering is becoming a visual reality.

David J Smith is Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, IMRG

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