The Digital Storefront: Advertising’s Next Frontier

Opinion: Digital ads generally haven’t emulated what’s made brick-and-mortar shopping successful—until now

Brick-and-mortar storefronts can't deliver targeted experiences

Window shopping: It’s a pastime enjoyed by many—shopping without the “intention” of making a purchase. And yet, it’s hard to walk by a store window, see something that catches your eye and not want to buy it. So often, we do.

The purpose of physical dressed windows is much like that of digital advertisements: To drive consumers to purchase. However, digital ads, especially in the early days of banner ads, generally haven’t emulated what’s made brick-and-mortar shopping successful—the experience of browsing and discovering products, or “window shopping”—until now.

Social networks are slowly becoming targeted storefronts, largely in the form of online ads like Facebook’s carousel ads and Instagram’s shoppable ads (and, new to the space, Amazon Spark).

This storefront concept blends the best of digital and physical. It gives consumers a “shoppable” experience and provides them with a level of personalization they’ve never experienced in the brick-and-mortar world.

Emergence of the storefront ad

Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report articulated this new face of digital and, mainly, social ads becoming targeted storefronts as the lines between ads and content and transactions continue to obscure.

There are a few elements at play that drive this trend forward. Consumers want the opportunity to browse. If a brand serves a static ad to a consumer that is an image of one pair of shoes, the odds that the consumer will like those specific shoes enough to click on the ad and go to the brand’s website to complete a purchase for those shoes are slim.

The “storefront” format gives consumers more browse-friendly options without needing to navigate through a brand’s website or online product catalog.

Additionally, the ads themselves need to capture the same type of visual that a storefront does. Modern ad formats like Facebook Canvas or Collections enable marketers to create that storefront feel for consumers, which includes showcasing multiple products from a retailer’s product catalog—a peak at a variety of merchandise, all at once.

These formats might even start with a video or image that then leads to four product images, which gives consumers an opportunity to click directly on a product of their choosing to make a purchase.

That product variety increases the likelihood of successful conversions because it provides consumers with more options. This is not dissimilar from a retail storefront managing and dressing windows with brand posters and the latest merchandise, drawing crowds of consumers in off the street. Automation simply takes away all the manual work and results in better return on investment.

Can marketers do this manually? Technically, yes, but for e-commerce companies with large catalogs, it can be challenging to stay on top of creative for all of the products to achieve the necessary level of personalization. This is why we’re seeing so much innovation and adoption in dynamic (or automated) creative.

These digital storefronts also expose consumers to far more creative assets than a brick-and-mortar shop window ever could, because they incorporate both product ads and branding imagery. In Facebook Collections, for example, you often see a mix of product ads (resulting from retargeting) and branding-style ads that elicit a bit more emotion, imagination and lifestyle.

Changing the consumer experience

With any form of advertising, the consumer experience is key. Ads that make their way to consumers’ mobile devices and social networks (where they spend most of their screen time) should be as targeted as possible, or else they will only annoy consumers, feeling more like brand “intrusions” than welcomed browsing experiences.

That’s why personalized and targeted ads are so important, and therein lies a key differentiator between a digital storefront and a physical one. Physical storefronts can only do one version; ads can do many and have the ability to personalize which consumers see which versions.