Retailers Blur Line Between Online, Offline Shopping Experiences


The line between offline and online retail experiences continues to blur, based on a couple of recent product announcements.


Last summer I wrote about the the efforts of retailers with both an online and offline presence to create a "clicks-and-bricks" strategy that would offer consumers a similar shopping experience, whether it occurred in a virtual or a physical store. Several retailers were letting folks who bought products online pick up their purchases at physical stores, for example.


That post focused mostly on Web sites adding features that would make online shopping easier and remind customers -- in a good way-- of offline shopping. That's still happening and becoming more sophisticated all the time.


Upscale clothing retailer Anthropologie recently partnered with online-shopping-technology provider Allurent to offer an application that allows folks to browse through Anthropologie's catalog without connecting to the Internet.


According to a Boston.com story, after downloading the app, consumers shop just by clicking on an icon. Among the interesting features: Shoppers can add and save their own notes on items that interest them and search for all products in a particular color. Once the application is downloaded, customers will automatically receive updates and new catalogs.


Scott Silverman, director of Shop.org, the digital division of the National Retail Foundation, says the application offers a far more interactive format than paper catalogs. According to Anthropologie.com's managing director, the app will "help keep our audience engaged and allow us to provide tailored personalization."


A pilot that began in May is set to wrap this month, with Anthropologie executives determining whether to proceed with a full rollout after evaluating the results.


Anthropologie isn't the only company seeking to offer "tailored personalization" to its customers. As I wrote earlier this month, lots of retailers are moving in that direction despite privacy concerns.


A startup called Baynote is trying to refine the personalization process, which is normally based upon a consumer's history with a site, by instead assessing more immediate behavior such as how long someone lingers over an item or how many times he or she returns to a product. It also factors in the online behavior of other shoppers looking for similar things, such as pet-friendly hotels in the Midwest.


The idea, Forrester Research analyst Suresh Vittal tells MercuryNews.com, is to go beyond "accidental behavior" such as making a one-time purchase of a slasher DVD for a gore-loving friend to actually consider "the context of the interaction."


Some 100 companies, including Motorola, Kaiser Permanente and Expedia.com, are using Baynote's technology. Joe Nashif, founder of U.S. Appliance, says his company saw a double-digit increase in sales after adding the technology to its site a year ago. He says it offers shoppers "the experience you'd get in a store if you were talking with a sales person as you narrow your choices."