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Is "slow shopping" the next big trend in ecommerce?

We’ve all been there. You’re perusing your social media feed and an ad pops up with an inexpensive watch or a cheap pair of earrings. You click “buy” without giving it a second thought. Or you’re on Amazon to stock up on batteries, say, and suddenly your cart is filled with “recommended” items you didn’t mean to get.  

The experience of buying might feel good in the moment, but the buzz is long gone by the time your order arrives you’re confronted with an uncomfortable reality: more stuff you don’t need — or even want — delivered through a process completely devoid of human interaction. 

We've reached a point of diminishing returns on the ethos behind our current retail era. From social isolation, to environmental degradation our fixation on speed and convenience have come at a human cost. 

It raises a question: is shopping ripe for the same kind of slow revolution we’ve seen bring an element of mindful consumption back to industries like fashion and food? This might seem ironic coming from the CEO of an ecommerce agency. After all, I’ve built my company on the basis of helping retailers offer seamless shopping experiences to their customers. But I’ve also seen a brewing backlash against the increasingly impersonal nature of retail in our digital age. With the rise of conscious consumerism and a growing revolt against our on-demand, tech-enabled world, some retailers are realizing the power (and profits) in helping customers slow down

As the world speeds up, here are a few ways I've seen progressive retailers start to help customers gear down, and reap rewards in the process.  

Open the kimono

Consumers today have dozens, if not hundreds, of choices of any given product at any given price point — and they can all be at your doorstep in a matter of days. The upshot for retailers? Standing out no longer comes down to competing on price or convenience. It’s about capturing customers’ attention, and nothing does that better than a good story.

Brands like EverlanePatagonia and Boll and Branch have built loyal and lucrative followings by taking the time to reveal the processes and people behind their products. By shedding light on everything from the logistics of establishing sustainable supply chains to the creative process behind product designs, these brands create a captivating narrative that appeals to consumers who increasingly want to know that brands align with their values. And it’s not just ecommerce upstarts capitalizing on the power of storytelling. Legacy brands, like 200-plus-year-old watchmaker H. Moser & Cie, have kept their companies alive, and thriving, by sharing their brand’s history and commitment to craftsmanship — both in physical stores and with engaging, almost documentary-style content online. 

Swap algorithms for opinions

In a world where we can fill our digital shopping carts based on the “advice” of an algorithm, getting the real deal from an actual human is more valuable than ever — and it’s well worth taking the time to this right. 

When I needed camping gear for my honeymoon in New Zealand, I could have quickly stocked up on supplies online. There was just one thing: I had no idea what I needed. Instead, I spent several hours in REI with staff experts who walked me through my options and gave me plenty of tips based on their first-hand experience. Their insights, as well as the time they took to help me, not only set me up for a successful trip, it turned me into a customer for life. 

Critically, this kind of thoughtful expertise shouldn’t be reserved for offline experiences. Ecommerce brands like healthy-meal delivery company Sakara offer articles on healthy eating and recipes from their cookbook, all available for free online. Generously sharing their expertise and helping customers reach their health goals brings a human touch to act of shopping that, too often, goes missing in the interest of speed. 

Create space for connection, not just commerce

On a recent trip to New York City I stumbled upon Rapha, a bike shop that’s more like a cycling club crossed with a hip cafe. Instead of approaching me with info about products and sales, the staff there invited me to the free group rides the store hosts several days a week. The emphasis on building community over sales felt like a return to an older time when neighbourhood stores and marketplaces functioned as places for commerce as well ascommunity hubs. 

This isn’t exactly new — Lululemon has offered free running groups and yoga classes out of its stores since its inception — but at a time when human connection is increasingly considered a luxury item, customers are hungry for opportunities to come together. And it isn’t totally altruistic. Chances are people who regularly meet at Rapha for a ride, or hit up Lululemon for a yoga class, will also buy their gear there when they need it. 

Rethink the "store"

I’ll admit it: Replicating a community hub is challenging to do online. But as more ecommerce brands reach a critical customer mass, we’re starting to see hybrid models emerge that push the definition of “retail.”

From popups reviving vacant mall space, to stores within a store, digital brands are encouraging a mindful approach to shopping with physical locations that focus more on discovery and experience than sales. Some brands are even re-inventing the concept of stores altogether. For instance Rent-the-Runway’s flagship outlet in San Francisco functions like a high-end clubhouse where customers can try on clothes, peruse the beauty bar and grab a coffee with friends. Meanwhile, visitors to 3Den in NYC can buy products from online brands, but what the space really sells is time in a relaxing environment described as a coworking space combined with a spa. Even old-school retailer Kohl’s is re-defining its retail model by partnering with Amazon to offer fitting rooms, alterations and a place to return products ordered online.    

 

For all the talk of the “future of retail” it could be that we’ll see a return to models that look similar to the past, when shopping was a meaningful social ritual, not just a vehicle for commerce. Importantly for retailers, selling slower doesn’t have to mean selling less. By prioritizing quality experience over speed, you’ll build relationships with customers that stand the test of time.

A version of this post was originally featured in Digital Commerce 360. Stay up to date with my latest by following me here and on Twitter

 

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