Liz Giorgi is an Emmy-winning creative-turned co-founder and CEO of soona, the world’s first virtual photoshoot platform for e-commerce.
Did you change your shopping behavior in 2022? Did you find yourself returning to the mall? Strolling local boutiques on the weekends? If so, you weren’t alone. The folks who were predicting the demise of in-person retail got a rude awakening in 2022 as we started to recover from the pandemic. Not only that, but our national belief that “e-commerce would become everything” simply did not come true.
In fact, the World Economic Forum noted that e-ecommerce sales were declining for the first time in the history of the industry. While the contraction was only -2.5%, it is still worth noting that there wasn’t a business in the space that was prepared for this outcome. In fact, most retailers got it so wrong that they are now facing an overwhelming overstock of inventory. Some brands like Walmart were so bullish that they increased inventory by 32% in 2022 over 2021. And now? Deep discounting, early Prime Day sales and more have flooded the market in Q4 as companies try to recover from the situation.
But what can actually be done to change this tide in 2023? One of the strategies being looked at involves actually closing the gap between real life and virtual shopping to integrate them for their best possible purpose. Here are four ways leaders can further this goal and help breathe new life into the industry.
1. Create video content for product-listing pages aimed at reducing returns.
2022 was also a record year for e-commerce returns. The reason? Customer standards have risen now that everyone can leave their houses again! There is also the proliferation of third-party sellers bringing less-than-stellar goods to more third-party seller platforms. Imagine all those cheap Chinese products you find on Amazon. On top of that, there has been a ubiquitous use of photo editing apps that make your iPhone pictures more tolerable but don’t accurately portray the product itself. For example, a rug that the customer thought was blue because of a bad cell phone picture arrives on their doorstep, and SURPRISE: It’s actually green. This false expectation creates a heightened likelihood of purchases being returned.
This is why the industry needs to give shoppers better representation of their products. I predict the use of more home-shopping-style videos in 2023. Content like real unboxings, how to’s and even full-on demos on product pages can help customers decide faster and return less often.
2. Mix more high- and low-visual presentations of products.
While product display pages and home pages have often been sacred ground for only the most brand-focused content, now is the time to start getting real. Yes, every brand wants to put just enough photo and video in the store to create a sale; but today, shoppers are expecting radical transparency. And radical transparency means not just inspiring them but also giving them an easy way to understand what other customers have experienced.
This means taking extra steps, like asking customers for photos of the product in their home and creating behind-the-scenes video to show use cases. When we can’t pick up a product on the shelf, we have to fill in a lot of gaps. Closing those gaps is key to ensuring that what the customer receives matches their expectations at the time of purchase.
3. Have fewer influencers and more real customers.
Speaking to that transparency trend, the idea of having someone who was paid to promote a product simply isn’t working for shoppers. In fact, the FTC is even looking at new rules for making it clear when something is not organic content, but rather a paid ad from an advertiser that was purchased from an influencer. That’s not all: The SEC fined Kim Kardashian $1.26 million for not disclosing that she was paid $250,000 for a post that promoted a crytpo product.
Why is the government getting involved? It’s for the same reason we don’t always trust those beauty counter associates. If someone is being paid to use a product, can you really trust them? Brands that want to stand out in e-commerce this year will be benefited by asking real customers for real reviews. Real word-of-mouth reviews are the magic that gets you to visit a local brick-and-mortar boutique, and this is the fastest path to replicating that energy.
4. Get beyond the basics: Complete the brand experience with in-box content.
Shipping products is a necessary step for every e-commerce brand. But when was the last time brands innovated around inside-the-box content? Think postcards, photos, sticker sheets and more that go in the box with the products that the shopper purchased.
Why do this now? Because unboxing videos are becoming more and more ubiquotous! Amazon and Shopify have even launched video features and ad products in recent months that help customers “see” inside the box. People have a fascination with discovering what is inside of packaging, so providing extra goodies can not only please the purchaser but may also be seen and appreciated by unboxing viewers, attracting more customers to your brand.
One trend I am predicting is the inclusion of a thoughtful thank-you letter from the founder or CEO of the company. When the customer buys something online, they are parting with their hard-earned cash and helping your business thrive. And that deserves a “thank you.”