In the world of physical retail, exclusivity is strongly tied to the product. An expensive handbag demands a fancy store, and the high-level service that goes with it. Shoppers who can afford the bag belong to an exclusive group, defined by their possession of a scarce, expensive item.
Online, the dynamic is different: exclusivity isn’t relegated to just luxury brands. Exclusivity in eCommerce has evolved to be about so much more than the products that people purchase. It’s now about participating in experiences that not everyone has access to, direct communication with brands, and belonging to a brand community.
When shoppers become a part of something special and the process involves a sense of thrill, selectiveness, and community that amplifies their individuality, the experience becomes more valuable, and in turn, desirable. In other words, exclusivity in online retail is about connection-based experiences that produce and nurture loyal customers who become strong advocates for your brand.
Why Exclusivity Matters for Brands That Sell Online
Exclusivity taps into something psychological among shoppers, which can be explained by the principle of scarcity. Because something is rare and, as a result, unattainable, it becomes something highly desired and valued. This applies equally to physical products and experiences. It triggers a fear of missing out (FOMO) in shoppers, pushing them to line up early in the morning and in extreme temperatures to get the latest phone release or sneaker drop, or to register weeks in advance for a private live-streamed trunk show. And FOMO is not to be underestimated—at least 60% of people are convinced to purchase within a day because of it.
What makes an exclusive community-driven experience even more powerful is that it fosters a deeper connection with customers, making them feel like meaningful members of your brand. Ultimately, customers who have an emotional relationship with a brand will have a 306% higher lifetime value, and are 71% more likely to recommend.
For brands and retailers, exclusivity can also mean improved differentiation and better brand awareness, especially when it comes to the crowded eCommerce space. Your brand can rise above the rest because of a memorable, one-of-a-kind experience.
How to Translate Exclusivity Into Your Online Experience:
When you leave product and price out of the equation, brands have a unique opportunity to get creative with their online channels and leverage their connected community to provide exclusive experiences. Here are six examples of how to add an element of exclusivity to your brand’s online experience:
1. Make your best customers a part of product development
Creating relatability and connection through a community of like-minded individuals who adore and support your brand is a powerful way to differentiate in a digital-first world. And giving those customers input on the products you create is the ultimate way to integrate them with your brand, while making them feel seen and heard.
Use limited-access online channels like instant messaging apps, private social or Slack channels, invite-only livestream events, and even targeted email surveys to collect feedback and create genuine conversations with your highest value customers.
Digital-first beauty brand Glossier boasts a cult following of shoppers who are willing to line up in front of its showrooms to get their hands on its limited range of products. It rose to fame through relatable and community-driven social content and digital experiences. Glossier invites loyal fans to interact with it and each other, and to formally weigh in on product development ideas, making its customers feel like a part of a powerful, connected, and exclusive community.
Lululemon follows a similar formula. Through Lululemon’s loyalty program, called Sweat Collective, the brand not only encourages but incorporates customers’ ideas in product development. This way, top customers feel important not just because they’re wearing new Lululemon leggings, but also because they ‘helped’ create them.
2. Build hype on social with community-exclusive drops
Hype culture, made famous by luxury streetwear brands, is a quintessential representation of combining exclusivity with community-driven, limited accessibility. In addition to the urgency around obtaining the exclusive products, limited-access online events leading up to the drop date also provide highly anticipated, consistent interactions with customers who are loyal to the brand.
Brands like Supreme and Nike have seen tremendous success with online drops and collaborations. By allowing registered shoppers to sign up for early access, or even creating drops exclusively for top eCommerce customers or loyalty program members, you can motivate shoppers to not only buy your products but also feel more connected to your brand.
3. Ensure shoppers associate your website with valuable experiences
Naturally, you have limited information about shoppers upon their first visit to your site. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from their behavior to create a customized experience. When you have the right tools, you can personalize recommendations for visitors based on their real-time interactions on your site. In addition, you can tailor not only product search results but also surface exclusive products with custom deals based on the content and products that they’ve looked at before and their current context. Inspire them with personalized product collections, highly visual content like inspirational galleries and videos, or even interactive experiences like quizzes or games that give them relevant ideas of which products to buy.
For example, as shoppers stay home and become more comfortable playing online games, Miu Miu took product discovery up a notch with a promotional video game that introduced its fragrance, Miu Miu Twist. Balenciaga took a more adventurous route, experimenting with immersive gaming through its retro video game Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, to showcase its fall 2021 collection.
4. Get creative when it comes to customer loyalty initiatives
Consider introducing a benefits-driven loyalty program that gives customers who engage and purchase the most access to exclusive products and online events. This can encourage both high-spend and regular shoppers to keep returning to your brand’s website to unlock valuable perks.
The special offers can also come in the form of early access to highly coveted collections, free delivery without a cap, and immersive online experiences that nurture network-based conversations. For example, Prada gave followers the exclusive opportunity to join talks among its influential brand collaborators.
Moreover, one of the most successful loyalty programs to date is Sephora’s Beauty Insider program, not only because of the unique rewards but also because of the experiential perks. The beauty brand also allows shoppers to choose which offer they want, making it more personal and fulfilling, as opposed to a standard rewards program.
5. Treat customers like VIPs
It’s important to make shoppers feel that their preferences and styles are understood. Your brand will have a distinct advantage when the messages and images customers see across your channels resonate with their lifestyle. You can also make the journey of getting what they want from your site a seamless, convenient, and intuitive process.
For instance, Lancôme debuted in late 2020 its virtual pop-up store, which shoppers can visit through a specified link. The immersive retail experience replicates the “personal touch” of physical stores through live chatbots and pulsating hotspots that guide digital consumers as they discover products until they decide to buy.
If you’re able to deliver exactly what your customers are looking for—and beyond—you will not only boost conversion rates but also transform your brand into an indispensable online shopping destination.
Making Exclusivity a Part of Your Brand Image
Promoting exclusivity online boils down to digital experiences that shoppers find valuable, relevant, and special enough to be worth sharing and staying for. It rests on your ability to understand your core customers, provide what they expect from your brand, and leverage the power of their networks in promoting your brand identity and initiatives. Done right, exclusivity not only makes your products worth buying, but it also encourages shoppers to keep updated about and become advocates of the digital experiences that you offer. Because today, how your products, services, and experiences—all of them, together—connect with customers will ultimately dictate the success of your brand.