Click-and-Mortars Finally Click!

We’ve all done it: popped into the delicatessen for a couple of necessities and emerged with more ham than we really needed, some irresistible pât&eacute, and eight fabulously herbed sausages that weren’t on the shopping list. This phenomenon is called cross- or upselling. Others call it impulse buying. Whatever it is, it’s been happening in brick-and-mortar stores for eons. It’s a critical retail factor.

Only a few attempts have been made to translate this essential purchasing behavior into online buying. When writing my book, I was constantly struck by the fact e-tailing failed, time and time again, because it had to forfeit the sensory appeals that make retail purchasing enjoyable. Search functions, product lists, and pop-up boxes never managed to inspire the impulse phenomenon from the real world.

Until now.

The first serious signal indicating e-tailing had become more than just online cataloging was Amazon.com‘s “Look Inside” function, introduced last year. It invites customers to get as close as conceivably possible to books on offer without actually being able to touch them. Customers can look inside books, flip through pages, inspect the indices, and get a feel for a book’s conclusions before purchase. At last, the cover and the often-biased reviews and back-cover blurbs aren’t the only criteria a customer has to go by.

Amazon’s innovation is only the beginning. Remember the glossy catalogs you used to get in your mailbox every week? Pages and pages of offers from Kmart, Toys “R” Us, and Radio Shack? I’d never seen an online equivalent to these brick-and-mortar catalogs until I happened to go to Gevalia. My visit to this coffee brand’s site confirmed the term “click-and-mortars” — a term I’ve talked about a lot over the past years — has become reality.

The site promotes Gevalia’s e-catalog, which appears on screen almost instantly. It’s much like a print catalog. The graphics are familiar and resemble those of retail catalogs. You can flip through pages, as if it were print. But it also exploits interactivity. Every one of the pages literally sounds real! Birds sing when a pot of coffee is placed on a garden table; the sounds of brewing and pouring emanate from your speakers when freshly brewed coffee appears on the screen. As you trace your cursor over the illustrations, you’re presented with the information you need. You can instantly purchase the product.

I contacted DigitalDM, the company behind this e-catalog and learned more surprising details. The catalog, once downloaded, leaves a minicatalog on your desktop that’s automatically updated every week. There are no hassles finding the site again, and no need to repeat the downloading procedure. Gevalia’s catalog is always updated and right there on your screen.

Branding is not just a logo in the corner of a Web site. It’s a total sensory experience. The more senses a brand appeals to, the better its chances of being remembered and purchased. Retailing has an edge over e-tailing because it has the capacity to appeal to all of our senses. Browsing beautiful window displays, touching cloth, smelling perfume, tasting samples, testing a speaker’s sound quality, comparing the colors on the table cloth with colors on the napkins — all details that have been uniquely the province of brick-and-mortar stores.

You still can’t taste, smell, or touch the stuff on e-tailers’ sites, but they’re getting closer to approximating real-life experience. Amazon’s Look Inside and DigitalDM’s e-catalog are proof that human experience can be translated to a digital medium.

Brand builders must keep one all-important fact in mind: Real people sit in front of computer screens. As Apple’s founder once said, “Man is the creator of change in this world. As such, he should be above systems and structures, and not subordinate to them.”

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