The retail industry has undergone a silent revolution over the past few years as it shifted its focus from supply chains to buyers themselves. None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for its key technological ally in this process in the form of the almighty data. Yet, there came the need to go beyond the mere piling of endless information and get to the gist of the matter – the buyer’s head. And since this cephalic body part is this seat of all of our desires and wants, the best way to probe it is to apply the concept of understanding the user’s intent, and that means understanding the “why” by analyzing behavior, clicks and engagement. Let us show you some advice on how to expand your retailing philosophy based on this concept.
Putting a Human Face on The Customer
Let’s first start with the definition: user intent is the user’s goal that he/she wants to achieve. This intent mostly boils down to the categories of: I want to do something, know something, or go somewhere. Looking at the apparel industry, we can expand this definition with the words “I want to have a certain look”.
Online, a lot can be learned about intent through a user’s engagement in social media, articles, multimedia or other types of content. So, your first step as a retailer is to tap into this and fully enhance your offered content on all fronts. Based on this, retailers have come up with the strategy that is no longer focused only on conversion rates, but rather on defining objectives and appraising their success based on how the consumers interact with their offer which should simultaneously both retain old and draw new customers.
Proponents of this approach have already found an ear for their ideas and it is being implemented by some of the ecommerce and retail giants. Here’s what you can do to broaden retail tactics through user intent.
Starting with the premise that the customer wants ‘to sport a certain look, he / she will try to transfuse that intent into search engines. Google, together with retailers, have almost perfected turning user intent into quality search engine results. Things like “best running shoes”, “gala night clothing for men” or “hiking boots” are keywords that state the user intent quite clearly. In these cases, they’re either looking for sports apparel, fancy suits or hiking boots. Retailers and clothing brands have taken user intent onto the next level, offering personalized experiences and detailed descriptions of various products, all with recordings of how they look in real life, 3D parallax scrolling and personalized offers based on previously viewed / purchased items.
Retailers looking to tap into the textual side of user intent will want to optimize their content for search engines, to make sure they’re the first ones popping up on search engines when certain intent is expressed.
Asking Google what to wear for a gala, brings up Macy’s shop for gala dresses[Image Credit: Screenshot]
Visual search is very popular among apparel shoppers [Image Source: BI Intelligence]
However, people are barely ‘textual’ creatures, so to speak. Instead, they’re more visual. After all, the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” wasn’t created for no reason. And when it comes to clothing, things should be much simpler. “I aim for a certain look,” you’d say to a shop assistant. That could be looking for a particular black dress, or a sporting outfit you had seen somewhere. However online, at least up until recently, that wasn’t something you could say to your favorite shopping site that could convey an abstract concept (rather than a specific robotic phrase you can type into a search bar).
You can’t go to an online store and say “I saw this really cool dress on Instagram, I want to buy it”, because you can’t type in such an intent in the search engine and expect solid results. Yet, this is exactly what’s going on nowadays. With the social media’s emergence and the complete takeover of the internet, the gap between what users see online and what they’re able to search widened even more. Fashion icons and various other influencers on Facebook and Instagram post their outfits day in – day out, and the intent “I want that look” gained in importance. That’s why shopping for the look has become an important tool in tapping into user intent. New technologies, like Syte’s visual search engine, or Pinterest’s Lens, make reading such user intent online possible.
Nowadays, a retailer can help their buyers shop for a desired look using chatbots. Moreover, retailers can now add their product feed to external websites so that when a user is browsing an instagram feed or fashion publication, the user can click on the look they like and find the same (or at least similar) clothing item sold by the retailer and buy it with a click – right on the spot. Such technologies are based on artificial intelligence and deep learning. They work by analyzing images of the apparel at a retailer’s website, and then suggesting similar items once a user hovers over it.
This is a game changer for retail shopping experience. Let’s say a buyer is browsing a fashion retail website looking for leggings, but ends up being mesmerised by the polka dot body suit the model was wearing. In a physical store it would be easy to ask the assistant what the mannequin is wearing. Online, that intention can unveil a world of opportunities (that an offline assitant can hardly compete with). The machine can automatically add countless items as personalized suggestions for the buyer.
So, you can safely say that retail brands have recognized the need to focus their business efforts around identifying their users’ intent and reaching the actual human customer behind sterile Google queries. Syte’s Shop the Look, Pinterest’s Lens and other visual search solutions lead the charge in this segment, as these companies clearly understand that user intent and visual search components of the UX will inform the tactics of the majority of today’s forward-thinking retailers. Yet, focusing on “today” is not enough, as their recipe for success is simple: choose the future over complacency and timidity in the present.