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Brand-Centric or Simple and Straightforward? The E-Commerce Marketer’s Conundrum

Lindsay Tjepkema
Lindsay Tjepkema , Marketing Director, Americas , Emarsys

For as much time, thought, strategy, resources, and execution as you invest in your e-commerce strategy, for customers, it’s much, much simpler: there’s just your brand and the experience they have when they interact with you.

What are you saying to your customers with the experience they have when they arrive to your website?

Recently, two sort of “schools of thought” have emerged in the online shopping space that are worth exploring:

  • Creating an e-commerce experience geared towards ease-of-use, simplicity, and utility — one where the main purpose is conversions and where “functionality” is paramount
  • Enriching the online shopping process with branded experiences and “extra” tidbits like augmented reality, immersive experiences, and emotionally-charged touch points — aimed to cultivate affinity

We’ll refer to these two approaches as “easy” and “branded” customer experiences.

But which is more appropriate for your audience? Which would best suit your business goals? What does each look like in practice? And which will cultivate more high-value customers?

Personalized Marketing at the Core

Whether you’re going for an easy experience or one enriched with brand-focused content, you will have to offer a fully optimized online and mobile shopping experience that is personalized.

What is personalization? The unifying element that can help bridge the gap between ease and experience for brands is personalized marketing. You can deliver easy, personalized e-commerce experiences by analyzing what customers viewed, what they have in their cart, and even previous in-store purchases. Savvy marketing teams are customizing marketing content like emails, SMS messages, and even website overlays/widgets to strengthen the brand-consumer relationship.

Personalization can also help bridge the two approaches of simplicity and brand.

We must find ways to not only convert customers but also to make that experience for them as delightful as possible. Personalized marketing makes that possible.

Let’s explore both of these in greater detail, and see how to achieve a balance where customers are satisfied and you’re converting and retaining a loyal, brand-aware community.

The Case for an “Easy” Customer Journey

What does an easy customer journey look like? And does making a customer journey “easy” compromise our ability to cultivate an excited community of engaged brand fans?

These types of online stores require minimal involvement on behalf of the customer.

Characteristics of an easy e-commerce approach might include:

  • A less congested website – a homepage and product pages without crowded real estate, with strategic or limited use of banners, popups, or widgets
  • Clear and concise descriptions aimed to communicate value instead of fluff
  • Tactical approach (as opposed to emotive) by presenting a small (but highly relevant and personalized) number of product recommendations

The “easy” side of the scale doesn’t rely as much on forging an emotional bond between brand and consumer. In fact, the more cut-and-dry the shopping experience, the more effortless it will be for consumers to buy.


Amazon’s easy experience

Online retailers like Amazon have literally built their businesses and their reputations upon the delivery of customer journeys that are trouble-free for the customer and free from barriers that could prevent them from purchasing.

The Amazon marketplace — including the innovative “dash button,” Alexa, and auto-subscription feature —  aims to simplify the end user’s shopping experience by prioritizing convenience.

Amazon’s subscription options make it easy for customers to select items they need on a recurring basis. Image Source: Amazon

Intelligent product recommendations are another key characteristic of easy e-commerce experiences.

Amazon’s recommended products – in the above example, via email – help customers to find new and relevant offerings based on their behavior.

ThirdLove’s product recommendations

ThirdLove, an loungewear brand, sends product recommendations via email, too.

Easy shopping experiences leverage predictive marketing techniques like product recommendations to make it simple for customers to find related products. Image Source: ThirdLove

Easy experiences don’t necessarily lack sophistication — they can and should showcase AI-driven marketing techniques like prediction, frequently bought items, and best send time.

Presenting popular items or only highlighting a handful of popular selections on a homepage eliminates consumer choice for maximum efficiency.

Nordstrom Rack’s simple website

 Aside from one logo on its homepage, Nordstrom Rack doesn’t push itself upon visitors, nor does it use emotive tactics. It prioritizes “ease” by making it simple to browse with definitive categories.

Image Source: Nordstrom Rack

Rebecca Minkoff’s smart mirrors

Fashion retailer Rebecca Minkoff uses “smart mirrors” in its dressing rooms to enable customers to look for other styles and sizes, and even discover new items they may’ve not even considered. Oh, and they can also use them to order champagne while they peruse.

Image source: Rebecca Minkoff via Econsultancy

Bacardi’s immersive Snapchat filter

Bacardi partnered with Snapchat to conceptualize and create a filter that let users participate in the world’s first lens music video.

Image source

The immersive experience made its mark, too – according to Snapchat, it made 50 million impressions in the first day.

The experience makes the consumer the hero – but requires them to use the app and the brand to make it happen.

Ikea’s augmented reality

Ikea Place, the well-known furniture brand’s recently-launched app, allows users to choose and place items in a room to see how things look and fit — with 98% proportional accuracy.

 Image source: Digiday

Augmented reality-shopping is making headlines in retail for the transformative role it can play in helpful consumers actually imagine, test, and see how items will look in a room. Ikea Place turns takes turns the brand’s catalog of 2,000+ items into a virtual commerce mahine.

Anthropologie’s virtual editor

Anthropologie followed suit, taking Ikea’s lead — and released an AR update to its mobile app last year, too.

Image source: Curbed via Anthropologie

With the release, the fashion brand lets shoppers see and customize furniture, including “120 styles, 11 fabrics, 152 colors, and various hardware and leg finishes.” The brand has transformed its shopping experience, giving the consumer everything he or she needs at their fingertips.


A branded shopping experience is built around a consumer’s emotions and interactions with a brand… taking time, seeking mindshare, and cultivating affinity for the brand itself through a coordinated, planned, often extravagant effort.

This digital marketing approach typically takes longer to plan and implement, but the rewards usually extend beyond e-commerce-related metrics (conversion rates, products viewed, etc), impacting other areas like customer lifetime value (CLV), loyalty, and affinity.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, you shouldn’t have to choose between increasing sales and delivering an amazing customer experience.

The key to delivering a transformative shopping experience may be finding a balance of both ease and experience – a happy medium that provides the best of both worlds with limited downfalls. The question becomes not which of these is best — but how to mix and match elements of both simplicity and ease with authenticity of the brand to achieve both.

The key is to not let the retail pendulum sway too far from one camp or the other – to deliver a unified approach that works best for your brand. Your website should make it easy for consumers to find what they want, and also must successfully highlight the elements that help set your brand apart from the competition. Work to find the balance of ease and experience your customers seek and you will be rewarded not only with happy customers, but also their loyalty and repeat business.

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This post originally appeared on an Emarsys partner’s, We Make Websites’ blog, here, in March 2018. It has been adapted for our publication.