There are several areas brands can focus on as they seek to create positive experiences that help them stand out.
Many e-Commerce websites today look the same. A May 2021 Gartner report found that 46% of consumers can't tell one brand's digital experience from another. Furthermore, only 14% of customers actually do something different as a result of a recent digital experience. This means that a brand's investment in digital experience creation may not pay off.
So why do established brands have trouble differentiating themselves in the digital age? I believe it is for the following reasons:
The strive towards CX best practices where customer problems are solved in the same way.
Siloed UX approaches based on traditional channel mentality.
Lack of strategy around customer experience.
Bridge the gap between in-store and online purchases
ModiFace for example has placed 3-D augmented reality mirrors within various Sephora stores. These AR mirrors enable shoppers to virtually try on makeup in the store. This makes the shopping process easier for consumers because the complications of removing and applying makeup over and over again or even waiting for a salesperson to become available are removed from the process.
Testing out makeup at Sephora with AR
IKEA Place lets you virtually ‘place’ furnishings within your own space. From sofas and lamps to rugs and tables, all of the products in IKEA Place are 3D and true to scale so you can make sure they are the right size and design for your room.
View IKEA furniture in your own home
Warby Parker has a different approach to creating a store vibe where you can try things on. Consumers can order five pairs of glasses for free and try them on at home. More on Warby Parker later on when I will analyze their efforts to differentiate themselves in detail.
Consider the Metaverse
Every brand needs to start building a virtual reality strategy, no matter how big or small. And they need to prioritize experience over everything else.
The metaverse will become the place where brands truly interact with consumers, and that engagement will require an authentic approach to succeed.
Authentic is what The Million Dollar Homepage is. The site was started by Alex Tew, then a 21-year-old student from Wiltshire in England. Tew’s idea was to try and make $1m by selling 1 million pixels for $1 each. Sold in groups of 100, each pixel could link to another webpage, and so they were used as advertisements by the companies that bought them.
Now many brands are buying virtual real estate. Adidas has begun developing digital real estate on The Sandbox, and Nike has an ongoing world on Roblox. There is still land up for sale on Decentraland.
When consumers are roaming the metaverse they want to outfit their avatars with branded goods paid for in crypto. The sneaker community has enthusiastically embraced digital fashion. Adidas’s strategy hinges on the promise of ongoing future perks, including access to both digital and physical products and events. Nike has launched its Cryptokicks, a collection of customizable non-fungible token (NFT) sneakers.
Nike’s first NFT sneakers are now live. Image: Nike
Givenchy Parfums, an LVMH brand, has a Roblox presence where visitors can virtually style and apply makeup to their avatars’ faces. They also have a chance at winning virtual fashion accessories and contests.
Givenchy Beauty House on Roblox. Courtesy of Givenchy Parfums
Break away from conventional wisdom
The following brands are the opposite of well-behaved brands and consequently provide radical differentiation from the status quo.
The guys and dolls at Poolsuite have created a crazy cool experience that extends into their ecommerce site.
Poolsuite uses a nostalgic style resembling a historic Macintosh interface
Ling's cars is also successful thanks to a 90’s web design that really makes these car leasing offers stand out. Breaking all the usability rules for a great effect.
Provide great customer service
Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer, empowers customer service reps to aim toward only one contact center metric: complete customer satisfaction. It doesn’t use restrictive call scripts, has little corporate red tape, and few rigid policies. It expects agents to serve as an extension of its quirky, cool culture, and to serve the customer in the way that best meets their needs. It’s clearly very different.
Stand for something your customers want to stand for
Customers see themselves, their values, and their identities in complete harmony with the brands they choose to interact with. Your brand can differentiate itself as being the do-good brand in your space.
Patagonia is serious about extending the life of their gear to cut down on consumption and get more use out of stuff customers already own. Patagonia sells refurbished gear online and in stores and customers can get trade-in credit for Patagonia items they no longer use. The brand has created a platform where customers can trade in items, buy used goods or repair, recycle and care for gear at WornWear.com.
Own an eternal idea
Red Bull, the energy drinks brand, expresses its belief in, and addiction to excitement in everything that they do. Ingredients, spirit, sponsorships and the human desire to do things that make the heart race are inextricably linked.
Alternatively, lululemon has found its idea in the state of mind of yoga and has built a powerful athleisure brand on that concept.
Harness customer creativity
Invite your customers to create the way forward. First Lego League is a robotics competition that isn’t run by the brand. Up to 70,000 kids around the world compete against each other to build Lego robots that solve problems.
Lego Ideas is essentially a branded version of Kickstarter, in which aspiring Lego designers must get 10,000 supporters for their project to be considered.
Another creator idea hoping to be voted into production
Define a clear plan for your CX
We’ve seen a lot of examples of how brands make their ecommerce different from the competition. What helps these brands stand out is that they have a clear vision and strategy around customer experience.
Have you created a customer experience vision and strategy for your organization? How will you know where you're going if you haven't? How will you know what steps to take to get there?
A customer experience vision is an aspirational statement on how your organization has chosen to service its customers. Here are a couple of examples:
Google - “To provide access to the world’s information in one click.”
Amazon - “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
A well-defined and clearly communicated vision becomes the organization's north star and helps employees understand how they are consistently expected to deliver the experience for your customers.
Developing your CX vision is a process. You don't just decide that this is the vision because you say so. A lot of research and customer understanding goes into it. You'll need to understand the current state of the experience, as well as customer needs and expectations, in order to define the future, intended state.
Once you’ve developed a vision, making this vision come true requires a plan that can be executed. While a CX vision tells you where you want to go with your customer experience, the CX strategy will help you get there. CX strategies give direction to your customer-centric activities and help you stay on-track with clear choices and steps to the envisioned future.
How doing things differently got Warby Parker to be a $2 billion company in a decade
Warby Parker is a direct-to-consumer prescription glasses fashion brand. The founders were students when one of them lost his glasses on a backpacking trip. The cost of replacing them was so high that he spent the first semester of grad school without them, squinting and complaining. Let's see how a differentiated CX was successfully developed with a likable company as an example.
They started with a customer experience vision that emphasized differentiation: “We believe that buying glasses should be easy and fun. It should leave you happy and good-looking, with money in your pocket.” – Warby Parker
Before Warby Parker entered the market, fashionable prescription eyeglasses were expensive. The founders experienced that firsthand while being MBA students and losing $700 prescription glasses.
The founders rely on glasses themselves
Warby Parker steered clear of marketing fluff in their vision and found differentiation and now have a north star statement that has been guiding the direction and development of their customer experience for a decade, creating alignment between teams and departments.
I'll break down the components of their CX vision and how they have been implemented within a CX strategy.
Easy and Fun
In order to get customers into their funnel, they offered a unique home try on program where customers could try on five pairs of eyeglasses at home for free.
Customers sent emails asking to come to the company's offices to try on glasses. Warby Parker didn't have offices--so the founders invited customers to their apartment.
By 2013 and over $100 million in funding at the time, Warby Parker opened its first store in New York. Fast forward to 2022 and Warby Parker has over 150 stores.
These stores create a bridge between Warby Parker’s online and offline experience and help Warby build detailed maps of customer preferences.
The company responds to all tweets from customers. Then if a question posed by a customer is too complicated to be answered within a tweet, Warby Parker creates a short video with an answer to the question and sends a tweet with the link to the video on YouTube. Warby Parker has published thousands of these videos.
To date, they've distributed five million pairs of glasses to people in need around the world with their Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program. The founders say that's the no. 1 reason people want to come work for Warby Parker. While their customers primarily are attracted by style and affordability, it's the happy 1890 employees that create happy customers.
Fashion and design came first. They chose to be an online fashion brand in a time when all other prescription glasses were sold at brick-and-mortar multi-brand retailers.
The founders sought the input of their classmates to understand what was most important to them as consumers, through focus groups and surveys. What they learned is that because glasses are one of the few accessories people wear on their face, customers want to look and feel their best while wearing them.
Money in their pockets
Warby Parker’s stylish prescription eyeglasses start at $95 which solved the problem of having access to cheap prescription eyeglasses that also look great. Warby Parker is able to offer lower prices than other brands by designing its eyeglasses itself, avoiding licensing fees, cutting out the middleman and removing any unnecessary mark ups by selling directly to consumers.
There are several areas brands can focus on as they seek to create positive experiences that help them differentiate themselves.
If you feel that your company’s customer experience is lacking a clear character of its own, tackle your CX vision and strategy first, and start moving away from cookie-cutter e-commerce.
This way you will be able to make your CX as authentic as you can, enabling you to ensure that your brand is connected to the essential wants, needs, or benefits your customers are looking for. And this will really help you stand out from the crowd!
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