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Why is your online store not a flagship store?

May 18, 2021

Online retail is in many ways immature. And evolvement is taking point in factors related to the actual transaction. This means the inspirational part is depending on the physical world and platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. But online retail has reached a point where it's no longer a competitive edge to have fast checkout. Just like you don't see it as a USP if an airport has WiFi. It's expected.

Flagship stores are an experience to visit. They're more marketing than they are sales-driven, and they receive wide attention in the market. Often, they're tourist attractions more than they are shopping destinations.

To understand what a flagship store is, you need to look at what the term refers to. The term flagship refers to the lead ship in a fleet, which is usually the largest, fastest, newest, most heavily-armed, or most well-known ship.

Apple Flagship

Flagship stores are a physical phenomenon. They're often located in prominent and expensive locations. But are retailers missing out on growth opportunities by not adopting the flagship store mindset in the digital space?

Spoiler alert, they are, and in this blog post, I'll explain why. 

Online retail needs to evolve from convenience to experience

The purpose of a flagship store is not sales. Sales are the logical outcome of your ability to wow an audience and make them actually want to explore your products. And it's this purpose that hasn't been adopted in the era of ecommerce.

I have yet to experience anybody saying they've visited an online store and talked about the experience they were getting. And if a consumer talks about a great online shopping experience they are likely referring to a fast checkout or other convenience factors. These factors are important, but they are also only a part of running and scaling your retail business.

When you decide to visit a flagship store, you are not shopping for a specific product. You are doing it because you want to experience what the retailer or brand has to offer. You expect a unique experience that expresses the brand innovatively and memorably. But, where's the equivalent of placing a large pirate ship in a physical toy store to attract visitors in online retail?

The digital space has limitations. It has to work across different devices and platforms. And you can't add the tangible effect of holding a product in your hands. But it also presents a lot of opportunities to remove yourself from the boundaries the physical world has. You can communicate on a more personal level to an almost infinite number of people. You can act quickly and pick up on trends. You can create different experiences based on geography and almost all other criteria that are possible to segment.

Rethinking the purpose of your online store

Without sales, it doesn't matter if you have an online store. That is logical. But what might be as logical is that without visitors, you won't sell anything. To get inspiration on where to start, you should look at other platforms that are not restrained from an online store's narrow transactional purpose. This enables you to define how to transform your online store from a transactional-only perspective to a place that attracts visitors who are looking for an experience.

If you want to stand out you need to do something else. That sounds logical. But still, looking at the world of online retail, breaking free from an online store's common anatomy is difficult. Online stores seem to follow the same set of rules. They’re based on categories, search, and filters.

Amazon grid

The focus on sales and conversion rate optimization is the biggest obstacle in rethinking how your online store can impact your growth. Conversion rate optimization is a huge part of designing an online store. And some of the most common tactics and activities that play a part in conversion rate optimization can be repeated and copied by everyone else.

  • Use high-quality video and images
  • Offer free shipping
  • Offer time-limited discount coupons
  • Be competitively priced
  • Tweak and test your checkout process

But few online retailers are approaching their online store set up with the mindset of creating a memorable and long-lasting connection with their visitors. By taking point in a classic flagship store's purpose, large brands have acknowledged that their products and what they sell are not the decisive factor. But the experience and the added brand value implied in the products is what counts.

The digital age of retail has created an opportunity for all retailers to consider how they can create an experience that connects on a deeper level than a mere transaction. No longer do you need to spend millions of dollars building a flagship store on a fancy address to get attention. The commodity in online brand building is creativity and consistency wrapped in a brand narrative that connects with your target audience. 

LEGO is an amazing example of a brand that has bridged offline and online presence. LEGO is all about playing, creativity, and having fun. So of course it is also a part of their branded online store. When you visit it, you can either go straight to the shop, if you are on a buying mission. But if you want to spend time in the awesome LEGO universe, you can enter their Play Zone.

LEGO online experience

All retailers and brands have this opportunity. The tangible goal is to get as many people interested in spending time with your brand. And there are many ways this can be achieved. But as stated earlier it's all about creativity and consistency.

  • Host weekly online events with key influencers in your category.
  • Create communities that are connected to your online store.
  • Enable user-generated content on your online store.

Rethinking how your online store experience can connect with your audience before they are in buying mode will lay the foundation of loyal repeat customers. The first question you should ask yourself is. Why would anybody visit my online store, if they are not on a specific buying mission? And based on these answers, execute your creative ideas.

Jesper Wilhelmsen

Jesper Wilhelmsen