Offer a premium experience to outrun the discounters

How do brands stop price being the only determining factor? By focusing on convenience and content, says Zone's CSO, Jonathan Simmons...

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I have just returned from New York, where on a hot and sweltering day (the kind New York does best) I walked into a fashion store to be greeted with the fantastic question: “Glass of water or cold beer, sir?”  While I sat there drinking my beer, I was sold a pair of tracksuit bottoms that cost in excess of $100! Of course, that’s a lot of money for a pair of joggers (as nice as they are), but the experience was as important as the product in getting me to part with the cash. 
It got me thinking about how you offer a premium shopping experience in an age when 68 per cent of internet users in the UK buy clothes and footwear online, many of them while flicking through their phone on their way to work. This is a very important question, because if brands and retailers can’t answer it, then price will be the determining factor, and brands will be even more at the mercy of search engines. 
One obvious answer is exclusivity: sell products that can’t be bought elsewhere. While this may work for upmarket brands like Cartier or retailers such as Liberty, it cannot work at scale if your brand sells worldwide, such as adidas, Levi’s or Sony. 

If these brands want to sell directly to their customers they need to offer something the discounters cannot: a premium experience. I think a focus on two things can help deliver this:

Premium convenience

Make the process super simple and designed to fit seamlessly into my life. This includes proper personalisation: not just ‘Hello Jonathan’, but relevant helpfulness based on what you know about me. It includes effective use of the latest technology like one-touch pay with PayPal or Apple Pay. It includes one-hour delivery slots, simple returns and access to exclusives. If you are the most pleasurable to buy from, I will spend a few extra pennies. We are currently working with Marks & Spencer on this issue and it’s amazing how many ways you can improve a customer’s experience with a little focus.

Premium content

If you are a sports brand then you will know more about fitness than me; a food brand can tell me about nutrition; a TV brand should help me choose the right one for me, not just offer me its range. Content that genuinely informs and entertains will separate premium brands from discounters. For example, I just completed a Weber Grill Academy BBQ course (definitely premium content) – and guess who I am buying my next BBQ from? We have seen fantastic results helping adidas making its content premium.
If you are going to sell directly to the consumer you must get the basics right: taxonomy, responsiveness, simple checkout and so on. But the brands who are going to win are the ones who have figured out what a premium experience is in a digital world.
Right. I suppose I better go for a jog.