Bebe’s Erik Lautier on stage at the 2015 Online Merchandising Workshop

Hot topics in digital retail: Context

How environment, mood and device limitations impact customer experience … and what retailers can do about it.

Giving customers what they want when they want it requires a deep understanding of contextual factors including environment, mindset and device limitations. How can retailers provide inspirational content when shoppers are browsing for ideas, but get out of the way when it’s time to make a transaction?

For more insights, download the Merch 2015 Playbook, a free resource available from the NRF Retail Library. (Account creation and login required.)

Discovery mode versus purchase mode

Over the past few years, retailers have seen the rise of the “mission-driven consumer.” Thanks to disappearing lines between physical and digital channels, consumers are arriving in stores after they’ve already made most of their purchasing decisions, Deloitte’s Jeff Simpson explains. Recognizing the difference between shoppers in “discovery mode” versus “purchase mode” is key to providing a satisfying customer experience.

Inferring intent

Erik Lautier, executive vice president and chief digital officer at Bebe, looks to search and referral data to infer a customer’s intent. If it’s a shopper’s first time on the site or she arrived on the homepage after searching for a generic category or product that doesn’t include a brand name, she’s probably looking for lifestyle content and categories that are easy to browse. On the other hand, if a site visit is prompted by a retargeting ad or cart abandonment email, it’s more likely that the customer is in purchase mode. Make it easy for those users to complete a transaction.

Mobile IRL

On mobile, making those transactions easy is, well, not always easy. Most mobile tasks are performed by the part of our brain that’s wired for survival and snap-judgement decision-making based on emotion and intuition, but most websites are designed for the rational, analytical part of our brain that can’t multitask. Razorfish’s Jason “retailgeek” Goldberg recommends testing websites with real users in real environments — a smartphone on a busy sidewalk — instead of in quiet conference rooms. Remote testing tools like are relatively inexpensive.

Look familiar? Jason Goldberg’s slide illustrated how consumers are wading through countless notifications and interruptions before arriving at a retailer’s mobile site.

Location, location, location

Mobile website visits are not replacing desktop visits; they’re new visits that weren’t possible before smartphones were invented. Does the person waiting in line at the bank want the same experience as the person sitting on the couch watching television? Probably not. Time of day, location and physical environment are all important contexts. Retailers like Macy’s and Walmart are using location data to make the mobile experience more relevant when shoppers use their smartphones inside stores. Geolocation is also important when customers are shopping online at home — Lautier recommends offering “free express shipping” to customers who are close to distribution centers, and promoting in-store events to customers within 50 miles of a store.

This story was originally published as part of the Merch 2015 Playbook, a post-event summary of the most important ideas and tactics from’s annual Online Merchandising Workshop. Download this and other free retail playbooks from the NRF Retail Library, and learn more about the 2016 Digital Experience Workshop.

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