Shopify’s Future of Ecommerce Report Confirms: Sales Needs Stories



Retail’s not dead. Shopify’s latest predictions for ecommerce’s next chapter shows how important stories will be to brands’ future success.

We are excited to announce the first round of leaders who will bring our 2020 theme HUMAN.X to life at the Broad stage this June (17-18).

The death of traditional retail has been greatly exaggerated, according to Shopify’s latest report.

The online retail platform released its ten insights on the evolution of ecommerce this month, and revealed what many other industries have confirmed: stories matter. But rather than focusing on telling stories to attract customers, Shopify found that the most impactful shopping experiences bring brands and products into the consumer’s personal story. Here, we elaborate on three major findings in the report.

Take a Side in The Stories of the Day

A major through-line of Shopify’s report is the idea of empowering customer choice. Increasingly this choice isn’t solely about what options are available in the market; it can also apply to where their favorite brands are placing their attention and allegiance. In addition to serving smaller niches in that way, “brands can […] expand from a mission-centric foundation.”

Lingerie company ThirdLove had focused on product exposure and availability for several years, but spoke up in the wake of Victoria Secret CEO Ed Razek’s remarks about the “fantasy” of their annual runway show. In their open letter response, ThirdLove’s Heidi Zak was unequivocal about her brand’s openness to everyone:

We believe the future is building a brand for every woman, regardless of her shape, size, age ethnicity, gender identity, or secual orientation. This shouldn’t be seen as groundbreaking, it should be the norm.

Zak stands by her decision to take a stand, and consumers flocked to her brand in response. It could seem risky to speak up in times of controversy, but there’s a measurable reward at stake too: 62% of consumers want their favorite brands to take stands “on current and broadly relevant issues.” This means aligning your brands authentically with issues that matter to you and them, and conveying those values accordingly.

Make it Easy for Consumers to Compare Stories

While platform features like Instagram’s “Buy Now” options would have you believe that social media is driving online purchases, Shopify’s report reveals that isn’t exactly the case. While social is imperative for brand awareness and interest, “in terms of sources that influence purchase decisions, social media lands last and was rated half as effective” as the most impactful factor: customer reviews.

With that said, social can serve as a key stop on a customer’s journey to purchase. User-generated content that demonstrates unique or exceptional experiences with your brand or company can positively influence purchases. The same is true of campaigns that powerfully spark emotions, and evoking a sense of similarity through influencer and micro-influencer storytelling. Helping customers see themselves in the stories of others, can drive them to make these products or services a part of their own lives.

Make the Story a Lasting One

We’re seeing a rise in “pop-up” experiences that highlight a brand while feeling tailor-made for social media shares. And while we see the joy in our mentions, Google Canada’s Fab Dolan wants us to remember that such joy is fleeting. LeanLuxe’s Paul Munford expressed concern about the rise of these Instagram-friendly spaces, at the expense of a customer experience that prioritizes utility over optics. “I’m worried that some brands — those same brands who preach an obsession over knowing their customer, understanding how today’s shopper wants to shop, and of course owning that relationship — are losing their way a bit as they focus considerable time, energy, and money to launch ‘Instagram-worthy’ spaces.”

What’s the alternative? Munford praises spaces that serve multiple needs of their target consumer—think Capital One’s cafe concept or Rapha’s clubhouses that offer a space to work, bike repairs, and purchase points for gear. As he compares these photo ops to the multipurpose spaces, he notes, “There are life and meaning to the former; shallowness and transience to the latter.”

Phil Grano of NewStore agrees with Dolan: relationships built to last can offer more than one great post. “Never forget: the most important moment in ecommerce doesn’t happen online. It happens when brands deliver.”

When a customer has a great story about a brand they’re loyal to, they share it. They become storytellers who can carry the banner for your brand with excitement and pride. And they offer a promise of longevity that you can’t always guarantee on your own. By aligning your values with the world in which your customers live, help them find commonality in the stories of their fellow consumers, and set them up to tell longer stories over time, retail stands a chance of feeling both prosperous and personal.

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