Creating Meaning In The Digital Retail Experience

From virtual catalogues to membership-based shopping, it’s about so much more than a transaction

As Americans take precautions to keep themselves and their families safe during the pandemic, the digital retail experience has become more important than ever. Similarly to the idea behind experiential in-person retail, it all comes down to how the digital experience makes the customer feel about their purchase. When selling online, retailers need to start moving beyond accessibility—simply offering a useable ecommerce website might not be enough—to create meaning out of each purchase, either through community, exclusivity or by creating an aspirational feeling. From content-oriented digital catalogues to curated, membership-based digital shopping experiences, we honed in on some specific examples of how to elevate your ecommerce strategy to create a truly memorable experience.

According to Adobe and Econsultancy’s annual Digital Trends Report, B2B companies see the customer experience as the single most exciting business opportunity in 2020—even above content marketing, social media and video. Research shows that consumers who receive a more personalized shopping experience are more likely to spend more. That shopping experience is impacted by a variety of factors, but the way in which products are positioned in terms of meaning as well as how they look visually are all crucial. For the purposes of this story, we are focusing on those two experiential factors.


Basic.Space is a unique platform. While in some ways akin to Etsy or DePop, it’s a little more exclusive as well as broader in terms of the product categories it features. It’s also more immersive, giving members the opportunity to engage with video media in the form of “livestreams of creatives in their own space, giving them access to the people they admire most.” It seems to cater to a younger demographic by making the following claim in big letters on its homepage: “This space is not for everyone. This space is not mass produced. Conventional. Or influenced.” The site goes on to identity itself as personal, experimental and true. A combination of digital marketplace, membership program and creative community, Basic.Space could become a major inspiration for a new way of shopping.

For younger generations, purchases seem less about consuming material goods and more about a desire to participate in something larger than themselves. A platform like Basic.Space that allows for honest engagement with makers speaks to this desire and serves to almost de-commercialize influencer marketing. Striving to find a more authentic way for people to feel connected when they invest and engage with the platform, Basic.Space boasts “Experiences,” which are digital events hosted by its “community of sellers.” The platform’s community-oriented approach, curated event calendar and emphasis on access to limited-release products, ascribes a deeper meaning to the transactions the site facilitates—it is attempting to simultaneously sell transparency and authenticity alongside a certain air of exclusivity. It’s a fascinating concept.

Neiman’s Digital Catalogue

A little less radical but still very compelling, Neiman Marcus is switching things up by making its catalogue digital-only. As the retail chain looks to pivot to ecommerce following its recent bankruptcy filing, this new digital asset is a creative piece of that transition. More than simply making its traditional catalog available online, company is enhancing the very concept by producing more of a magazine style experience where readers can buy products as they explore thoughtful articles. And Neiman isn’t alone in marketing its online goods with immersive digital content. Anthropologie offers The Edit pages in its Home Segment that offer editorial spreads—luxe lifestyle images that integrate its products into gorgeous interior designs.

Interactive pages and creative content like this offers a virtual experience that potentially keeps consumers on a webpage longer and eventually moves them to purchase. It also eliminates some of the steps that traditional catalogue shopping draws out with direct links that make products just a click away. Like content marketing (in many ways this IS content marketing), it also ascribes some extra meaning to a product by showing the consumer exactly how each product might elevate their lifestyle. When it comes to the sleep industry, a digital catalogue could effectively convey the health benefits or aesthetic advantages of any given product.

At their core, both of these approaches hone in on a really key desire from most consumers: they want to feel like their purchase is meaningful and know that they are positively impacting their own lives with their investment. Keeping this top of mind is key when developing new marketing strategies and considering new digital experiences.

What Can The Sleep Industry Learn From These Approaches?

Your Branded Blog Could Look Like A Rich Magazine Spread

Most sellers these days offer some form of blog content to their customers. Elevating that content to the feeling of a catalogue would certainly make sense for bedding and mattress retailers. Make it easy for shoppers to explore and purchase by linking from your blog or online catalogue to the product pages.

Customers Want To Know How It’s Made - They Want A Story

Channel Basic.Space by giving consumers a chance to understand what is in the mattress and how it’s made. In this industry, the consumer desire to know how things are made may be underestimated. Consider taking that a step further and detailing the story of how a collection came to fruition from a design perspective—what inspired the aesthetics? How did the color story come to be? These approaches give the customer a chance to feel like a participant in the making of their bed and to give them a deeper meaning behind the product. Often it seems like these stories are conveyed to the retailer from the manufacturer in the showroom, but how is that being conveyed to the end-consumer in the store or online?

Health & Wellness Community Building

People like to talk about their sleep. Consider engaging your customer and connecting them with others by creating an online community for discussing sleep needs. Whether as part of a membership or subscription, this could be a great way to stay engaged with customers when they aren’t actively seeking a new mattress and an opportunity to tout some of the accessories you offer. Partner with a local gym or personal training business or a local sleep coach and start building a virtual community around bedding, mattresses and ultimately, sleep. Especially during a pandemic, people are eager to feel included, participate and connect with others—think about how you might facilitate that online.

Remember: online shopping is no less of an experience than shopping in-store. While functionality and accessibility remain a priority, it’s just as important to get a little creative. Truly standing out online requires thinking even further outside the box than usual.

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