In the early 1900s Harry Gordon Selfridge, the iconic American-born turned British retail magnate, opened the doors to his London-based department store, Selfridges, and forever changed the way the world viewed retail. A man ahead of his time, Selfridge believed that shopping should be entertaining, experiential, and complemented by exceptional customer service. At the time, the known “rule” amongst shopkeepers in London was that a customer needed to know exactly what they wanted before they entered the store. The concept of browsing and “I’m just looking” was simply not acceptable. Selfridge changed all that when he opened the doors to Selfridges more than 100 years ago. He knew even then that shopping is at its essence a “discovery” experience and that customers should have the freedom of visual discovery—especially when they are not sure exactly what they want.
Fast-forward to today’s retail world, the acceptance of visual discovery has been cemented via the rising popularity of visually driven shopping applications such as Pinterest and Houzz. These platforms, which allow shoppers and browsers the ability to easily communicate their preferences (or attributes) when exploring the sites, have generated a massive loyal following in a short amount of time. Check out these stats:
• Over 72 million users spend an average of 14.2 minutes on Pinterest per visit and an average of 98 minutes per month. [Tweet This]
• A recent survey showed that 32% of Pinterest users have bought something in a store after seeing it on Pinterest, while more than half of the respondents said Pinterest helps them find products they want to buy. [Tweet This]
• Reports from 2013 show that Houzz has more than 15 million monthly unique users, with more than 10 million downloads of its iOS app. [Tweet This]
• More than 2 million HD design and remodeling images are available on the Houzz platform, and its users have saved images to “idea books” more than 289 million times.
Why have these types of visual discovery applications surged in popularity? At Edgecase, we believe the reason is rather simple—most shoppers don’t always know what they want, and retailers and brands are challenged to present relevant and inspiring options before finicky shoppers lose interest and bounce. Houzz co-founders created the design and idea platform to close the gap between homeowners frustrated at being unable to explain exactly what they want, and home design professionals struggling to interpret client ideas. As co-founder Adi Tatarki said, “We are not designers or architects or contractors, so when people came to our house and asked us, ‘Would you like to have coffered ceilings here?’ we looked at them and said, ‘What?’”
The team at Edgecase sees this issue every day between retailers and the customers they serve, which is why we are so passionate about helping retailers put more emphasis on these types of visual shopping methods.
Feedback across our client base shows that 60–70% of shoppers will choose to browse rather than utilize the search box. Many will have an idea of what they’re looking for and utilize filters to refine to a relevant set of options, but a growing number are choosing to use their eyes to visually explore and identify the products that meet the needs and preferences they have in mind (aka the “I’ll know it when I see it” shopper).
For retailers, this is a significant opportunity to transform their e-commerce sites into a more visually appealing touch point that makes shopping fun and exciting for consumers. Through our Visual Shopping solution for mobile, retailers can now offer a Pinterest and Houzz-like shopping experience that is personal and memorable. Visual Shopping is serving a very under-served and quickly evolving style of shopping.
Even at the turn of the century, Harry Gordon Selfridge’s vision of what retail shopping should be falls in line with the Visual Shopping models of today. Selfridge once said, “Excite the mind, and the hand will reach for the pocket.” Allowing online shoppers to visually navigate through options, based on their unique search attributes, can indeed excite the mind and result in increased customer loyalty and open wallets.