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Online consumers increasingly look for tools to make their virtual shopping trips more effective, enjoyable and informative – applications that enable them to put together a virtual outfit or assemble a room, or which allow customization of products like T-shirts or sneakers. A virtual assemblage application can be particularly helpful when retailers offer items that are not exclusive to them; it allows consumers to peruse a group of products available in several places and combine them in a unique way.

“As consumers become more sophisticated, they use purchases as a form of self-expression,” says Brian Biggs, senior director of customer success with Fluid, a provider of digital commerce solutions.

Configuration capabilities also can provide value to retailers that “sell things people want to see in a collection,” such as clothing and furniture, Biggs says. One reason consumers continue to thumb through paper catalogs is the photography – they want to see how experts have created an inviting room or a stunning outfit. While online shopping sites offer a great deal of utility, most haven’t been as effective at helping consumers create collections, he says. “When you see a product in context, it’s incredibly powerful.”

Saving, sharing capabilities
Offering robust, user-friendly configuration or customization capabilities can become complicated. Retailers who create their own applications may find their time consumed with software development and implementation, rather than merchandising and customer relationships.

Fluid Configure, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application, allows retailers to offer this capability without having to develop the software themselves. “We provide the platform so they can take advantage of best practices,” Biggs says. The company also offers program design services and ongoing program management and support, including assistance in integrating the configuration application with the retailer’s other information systems.

Fluid’s configuration technology encompasses several unique features, Biggs says. Home décor and furnishings retailer Serena & Lily incorporates content about products as customers add items to create a configuration – shoppers can literally “make their beds” online, he says, assembling sheets, pillowcases and the like to create the bed of their dreams.

As the bed is created, product information (like the inspiration behind a fabric design) appears on screen. Colors and patterns available within the configuration model can be added or changed by the retailer.

Using Fluid Configure, shoppers can save the configurations they’ve created and return at a later date to tweak or update them. Once they’re done, consumers can share their configurations with friends via e-mail, Pinterest, Facebook and other social media sites.

150 percent sales jump
Reebok, also a Fluid client, enables its customers to create shoe designs, either by starting with a completely white shoe or by customizing an existing model. In addition, Reebok’s customers can view, share and even purchase designs created by other online customers.

Fluid works with retailers to identify and design the customization application and user interface that will work best for its customers and their products. The retailer provides product attributes and data, and may also provide product images.

The investment and effort can pay off: Footwear and apparel retailer VANS saw a 150 percent jump in sales of VANS Customs after implementing Fluid’s configuration application, with 500-some customers sharing their designs each week.

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