How to Translate the Brick and Mortar Experience into Mobile Shopping

Posted on Jan 20, 2017

One of the things I love the most about my job is the need for me to put myself in the customer’s shoes, and anticipate how they would interact with a client’s brand. It’s a captivating mixture of anthropology, psychology, role playing, imagination, script-writing, empathy and yes, I guess marketing strategy too. I wrote this article below for my current employer, GRAYBOX, that imagines how we might take all the experiential delights and point-of-sale tactics available in the in-person shopping experience and translate them into shopping on mobile.


Mobile shopping is the holy grail of ecommerce since mobile devices are with the user nearly 24-7. But how can we replicate via mobile, the rich and immersive experience of shopping at a boutique in real life? I’ll look at several ways in which we can translate the captivating aspects of the in-person shopping experience into mobile ecommerce.

In-Store Displays and Product Vignettes – Bring Them the World on Mobile

In physical retail environments, brands engage the customer’s imagination by staging products in appealing vignettes instead of simply having the items lined up for purchase on shelves. Along with merchandise, store stagers will include not-for-sale items that are inline with the shoppers lifestyle and how the product might be used – such as dressed on a mannequin, a holiday themed display, or by clustering items that might be used for a similar activity such as a certain sport.

The imagery on your website can present your goods in a similarly engaging way. Break free from simply showing your items on a white background! In fact, you’re not limited to recreating the environments with in-store displays – online the world is your oyster. Consider really leveraging lifestyle photography. What does it look like to take this to the next level? Califabrand beverages does this nicely, as does the UK watch brand, Shore Projects.

For lifestyle brands – such as a clothing line, outdoor goods purveyor, or home furnishings manufacturer – shoppers really hunger to see the item in use and as part of a lifestyle they aspire to. Think of Patagonia’s inspiring print catalogs, or IKEA’s in-store rooms that are staged with their goods.Patagonia’s website offers an online shopping experience that is just as much about feeding the user’s dream of an adventure-soaked lifestyle, as it is about feeding them goods for sale. The IKEA app offers users an extended version of their printed online catalog, the ability to create a shopping list for later, and the ability to map a path through their labyrinthian stores. (Even non-dominating brands like Raymour & Flannigan Furniture & Mattresses are getting innovative – not just the big boys!) How can you leverage technology to be helpful and engage your customers imagination when they are shopping online? Help them imagine using your products and they’ll be more likely to bond with your brand and convert to a sale.

If your brand already offers a catalog, consider having an online lookbook section of your site to offer up vignettes where the user can see products included in drool-worthy settings. If you offer an actual lookbook or catalog that already does this, consider making it a virtual flipbook – just make sure the tool you choose supports mobile.

Store as Community Hub – Now in Your Pocket

Some brands have successfully positioned their stores as community hubs for customers. For example, REI hosts a range of educational events both in-store and off-site.

Mobile is a great place to offer your users information and community. They are already primed to see their phone as a way to plug into their social community thanks to social media, as well as a resource for information thanks to Google. The “active living” brand, Lorna Jane, created an app that appeals to the lifestyle their users aspire to and taps them into a community of like-minded people.

Mobile ecommerce users are also consuming social media on their phones – is your brand taking advantage of this with a strategic and robust social plan? Leverage that lifestyle photography on Pinterest, engage the user’s inner artist through Instagram, and share warm fuzzies on Facebook.

Challenge on the Horizon – Completing the Purchase

Even though shopping online is growing rapidly as an alternative to shopping in physical stores, adoption is still not 100%. Additionally, there is still a distrust for submitting credit card information online. When a shopper enters a store, they are entering a very familiar landscape, and they feel secure giving their credit card to a human who then gives the card back to them after a purchase. We’re still not there yet with ecommerce, and mobile ecommerce is lagging farther behind desktop.

Users are increasingly shopping online on their phones, but one of the biggest hurdles we have with the mobile ecommerce experience is getting users to complete purchases. Most users don’t yet feel secure submitting credit card information through their phone, and auto-pay functionality like Google Wallet and Apple Pay have yet to gain widespread traction with mainstream audiences. In the meantime there are some things brands can do to help shoppers make the jump from mobile to laptop while browsing or shopping, where we find they are more likely to complete purchases.

Your users might be adding items to their cart on mobile but changing their mind when asked to complete a purchase, or feeling insecure about entering credit card information and leaving the site. An “abandoned cart” is when a shopper adds items to their cart online, but doesn’t complete a purchase. Ecommerce retailers can use this action to trigger an automated email to invite mobile shoppers to complete their purchases on desktop later.

Sending an abandoned cart email helps close a sale in a way that is not possible in brick-and-mortar stores – and brands should be taking advantage of it. But don’t forget, every point of contact between your brand and your user is an opportunity to be helpful but also to be annoying. Get help on how to write these emails so that they’re perceived in a positive light.

Retail giants like Amazon and Target can get around this conundrum of users not wanting to purchase through mobile due to their clout. Some brands such as these are ubiquitous enough and have already gained the trust of users to the extent that people are OK with their credit card information being stored. If that information is already in their account, this prevents the user from having to enter sensitive credit card information through mobile when they are shopping online.

The user simply installs an app on their phone and payment information syncs from the user’s account which they set up on their desktop. Or, the user might feel comfortable enough shopping online with these brands to enter their credit card information into their phone – a privilege the typical consumer doesn’t grant to smaller brands. Amazon is on the bleeding edge of ecommerce on mobile and is retraining the way today’s consumer expects to shop. Check out our recent blog article on the mobile shopping experience and immediate shipping now available through Amazon Prime Now.

Picking It Up and Trying It On – Recreated in Photography

Studies show that shoppers in physical retail store situations, are more likely to purchase an item if they touch it. Unfortunately this isn’t possible when shopping online. However, product photography can be optimized to help recreate this experience as much as possible. We suggest the following views be included with your product detail page to help replicate the shopping experience as much as possible:

  1. The item from all angles – front, back, top bottom, opened, closed, etc.
  2. Close-up showing materials, patterns, or fixtures that show quality.
  3. The item in use – whether in a staged location, on a body to show fit, or in a hand. If this is not possible, you might instead show scale – such as the item next to the silhouette of a person, car, or a common object such as a quarter.
  4. The item packaged up for delivery or sale – how will it arrive?

Customer Service Interaction – Take it Digital

One of the most frequent mistakes brands can make with the mobile shopping experience is assuming that if the user accessses an ecommerce site on their phone it means they want to call the establishment. While the phone number should be prominently displayed at the top of the mobile version of the site, don’t clip your shopper’s wings. Allow them to explore lifestyle imagery to get inspired, browse your catalog, easily read text content, place items in their cart, access useful information, check out – and even get mobile customer service help if they desire.

Live chat is being rapidly adopted by users and brands as a form of mobile customer service in retail. There are live chat tools like Bold Chat that can be plugged into your site to offer up chat capabilities with your existing staff members, or you can completely outsource your chat customer service to a third party. However, if you use live chat to initiate a customer service interaction with the user, consider your opening lines carefully. This article shares 25 alternatives to, “Can I help you?” – a phrase that most in-store shoppers answer with, “No thanks I’m just looking.”

Customer service employees in a retail store can react in real time to the items a shopper is looking at, or take cures from what the shopper has in their basket. If this were an in-person retail shopping experience, a sales associate might observe this and point out similar or complimentary items to the shopper. An obvious translation of this into ecommerce is to detect what the user is currently viewing and suggest related items.

However, an in-person sales associate might also simply make conversation with the shopper related to what he or she is examining in the store. By engaging the customer in this way, the sales associate communicates warmth, helpfulness, and a genuine interest in the shopper – things that don’t come across through the ecommerce functionality of suggesting other items for sale (think Amazon’s “Customers Also Shopped For” or “Products Related to This Item”). While it’s good to suggest related items and upsells online, there is also an opportunity for mobile customer service to replicate that helpfulness that’s present in in-person retail.

One way to do this, would be to flag certain items (or combinations of items) when they’re viewed or placed in the cart, and use this to serve up suggestions of related content. For example, if your shopper has placed a pair of running shoes in their cart, you might trigger dynamic content that invites them to check out a stretch routine on your blog that is geared towards runners. Or, if they are placing cleaning supplies and decor items in their cart, a pop-up might ask them if they’re moving and offer a “new home” coupon and the ability to send out a change-of-address notification to their contacts through your site.

Another tactic used by brick-and-mortar stores which has been translated to mobile, is the employee standing outside the front door of the store handing out coupons or flyers. The ability to do this has been brought to mobile through a relatively new technology called a beacon. A beacon is a small, quarter sized, battery-powered device that works via Bluetooth in a physical location to track and communicate with your phone. When your user is within proximity of a retail location, their mobile will serve up a push notification with your coupon or ad. Learn more about beacons in our post on Technology trends for 2017.

In Closing

We hope that these ideas for how to translate the brick-and-mortar shopping experience into mobile ecommerce were informative, helpful or inspiring. Ecommerce is a specialty of ours at GRAYBOX, and our team loves tackling new challenges. We’d love to hear about what you are selling online, and see how we can help optimize your digital shopping experience to engage users and increase sales online.
Please get in touch via the form below or give me a call to chat about how we can revolutionize your business’ shopping experience on mobile. There are plenty of spots near our PDX headquarters to grab coffee or a micro-brew and we love to geek out on talking about this stuff! – Alicia Nagel, Senior Marketing Strategist