Retail Execution

How Can Brands Bring Sensory Experiences to the World of Digital?

graphical user interface

Don’t let the digital embrace fool you — when it comes to shopping, consumers are bigger fans of physical retail than they may appear. Research by Coldwell Banker Commercial and The Harris Poll found that, in the year before the pandemic, 99% of consumers had shopped in a physical store. Half of those surveyed visited a physical establishment to “experience” the product before making a purchase.

The majority of millennials (56%) are particularly interested in visiting physical stores. They enjoy seeing, holding and trying products before making a purchase. Sensory elements create the touch-and-feel experience that makes physical retail so special.

As we head toward more of an omnichannel approach to shopping — in which consumers shop via both physical and digital retail channels — how can brands emulate the best physical experiences in the digital realm?

Shelf Space is Important, Even in the Digital Realm

Maximizing digital shelf space — the area that a consumer goods product occupies on a grocer’s e-commerce site — is absolutely crucial to the success of a brand in engaging customers online. Much like the value of shelf space in physical stores, CGs must also consider their placement within digital establishments.

The brand strategy here should be staying front and center to the right consumers. By developing an ongoing presence, brands can drive continual awareness that ebbs and flows during significant periods as needed. With a more prominent shelf space, brands will be more likely to be seen by shoppers which increases the likelihood that they’ll remember and connect with the product being sold.

Sponsored search on retailer websites — an important tool for brands to bolster their placement on the digital shelf — can be used to increase visibility among potential customers. This tool is especially useful for brands that are not currently a category leader, as they can use the added exposure to raise awareness and increase market share.

Sponsored search can also be targeted to engage the right buyers based on behavior, much like in a physical store. For example, showcasing a product next to a complementary item in the brand’s portfolio, or alongside other seasonal products.

Consider All Senses

CGs can’t digitally stream the effectiveness of baking foil and cleaning products or even the flavors of great food, but they can convey these elements virtually. Paper brands, for example, could offer an interactive experience that allows consumers to clean up a virtual mess with their paper towel to highlight its effectiveness compared to others on the market.

Candy and cookie brands could offer a digital gingerbread house tool that allows consumers to design the perfect — and most delicious-looking — food fort using their products, and then print the results to build it in real life.

Visual cues can also be an effective way to bring out the senses, starting with dynamic images and high-resolution zoom features. Sound effects can further add to the experience by providing the trademark sizzle of a skillet entrée, the unmistakable fizz of cola or the refreshing splash of water.

Food brands can draw upon the power of video and demonstrate the product unboxed or fully prepared, as well as recipes and other tips on how to use the product. Influencers may be called upon to show their experiences with a CG’s offering, communicating their emotions with viewers while instilling a sense of familiarity with digital shoppers.

Adapt to the New World of Shopping

In-store shopping may continue to be limited — or at the very least different — for many months to come. Brands have adapted to this new world of commerce, but they shouldn’t lose sight of the sensory experiences that come along with visiting a physical store. By taking advantage of new and existing technologies, brands can bolster their digital offerings with engaging virtual experiences.

David Johnson is senior VP of retail at Quotient.