51% of Americans prefer e-commerce over brick & mortar. 67% of millennials prefer shopping online. Source: Shopping FM, 2017

As digital continues to boom and screens increasingly pervade our lives, e-commerce is poised to become the most important future brand touchpoint(s). It isn’t just a nice-to-have for the retail sector. It’s an essential and central part of a brand’s route to market. And, with over 4,000 major chain retail stores having gone dark in 2018 (Source: Retail analysis by Business Insider, 2019), brands will have to work even harder to keep pace with change and ensure their relevance within this rapidly progressive landscape.

For a new generation of brands adapting to this shift, the digital shelf is quickly becoming a critical new frontier of creative expression which spans across web, brand identity, packaging design and seamless in-person experiences. The digital space is being reappraised as a core part of brand storytelling and a true brand world extension – creating dynamic, personal and inspirational platforms that ensure digital engagement is seamlessly integrated into consumers’ lives.

1. Design flexible identities

How can digital design challenge static identities?

Brands are now embracing their digital self as an essential identity and a new opportunity for heightened engagement. But, it is critical that brands now look for ways to give dynamic life to previous static and singular identities by creating more adaptable brand equities and flexible and animated systems of expression.

Genesis in Beijing is a dynamic, new space dedicated to our different states of mind. A museum, work-hub, a fitness destination, it adapts to different moods and moments to enrich day-to-day life and is conveyed through an innovative and immersive digital visual identity which explores each state and associated feeling through rich and reactive patterns.

2. Think adapted packaging

How is digital culture affecting the pack?

Packaging in e-commerce has evolved to embrace new purposes and formats, with, for example, letterbox-size packaging or airtight pouches to preserve product integrity. In addition, bold, graphic communication is used to enhance the product salutation and brand message on arrival. But brands need to meet the growing demands of our e-commerce culture – and our increasing expectations for convenience, interaction and discovery. Original structural and graphic innovation will need to direct a new generation of innovative PhysiDigi adapted packaging that will continue to serve its functional purpose whilst surprising and delighting us.

Ritual Vitamins, a subscription-based vitamin supplement company for women, has not only developed compact, protective secondary packaging for its products but the box is also a key point of brand communication and expression – using the opening experience and sense of reveal to ‘speak’ to the recipient about the product in a friendly tone of voice. Complemented by bright colours, the whole package becomes a bright, personal and familiar point of connection in what is essentially a service transaction.

3. Promote playful navigation

How can we bring serendipity back to web design?

The digital shopping experience serves a purpose of being functional and simplified. But, it has the opportunity to become a place to celebrate experimentation and imagination. Brands should be using the digital space to create serendipitous spaces for more personalized narratives or to immerse and inspire their consumer.

The Gucci Hallucination initiative for its S/S 18 fashion campaign took the form of an interactive art gallery, bringing to life reworked imagery from classic paintings to showcase the designs of its new capsule collection of limited edition t-shirts

4. Physical & Digital becomes one

How can we merge digital seamlessly into physical spaces?

Physical stores, while in a process of change, still hold a strong influence over buyers. Brands should look for ways to transform retail spaces by integrating digital services to improve the overall experience, making a more fluid connection between the two and positioning the digital shelf as a tool for facilitating convenience and engagement.

Nike China created the ingenious Reactland, putting Nike fans inside their own video game with an immersive screen allowing them to see themselves play – in real time – alongside avatars and don and test out the Nike React running shoes.

5. Make live shopping a reality

What is the opportunity for seamless and instantaneous shopping?

Looking to the future, we expect to brands to create increasingly intuitive and seamless experiences that create new levels of ease. We will expect new services that enable us to instantly acquire products that we observe as we go about our lives and new instantaneous experiences as we seek to digitally connect in real time.

Building on the success of Amazon Go, Amazon has opened its first pint-sized Amazon Go store as the brand extends its vision to eventually bring them to office lobbies and hospitals to meet our increasing need for convenience in a time-pressured world.

6. Create sensorial spaces

How can we create new forms of digital sensory storytelling?

Sound technologies and high definition screens have reached new levels of detail and reality but the screen remains the final barrier to a seamless and holistic product experience. Brands that value sensorial elements to sell their products need to now explore the capabilities of the digital shelf to evoke our spectrum of senses.

Intangible Matter is a gamified website showcasing the scent dimensions of Chanel perfume – a digital journey to make the invisible, visible with each journey to explore the physical and virtual elements of scent, completely unique through the interactions and tasks set for the user.

The digital shelf is an increasingly dynamic platform for brands but one that requires them to expand their horizons and expertise to maximize and differentiate brand positioning and experience. Its opportunity lies in being open to new collaborations and partnerships to enable a more holistic digital presence and find ways to tap into the broader lifestyle aspiration that resonates across each and every one of today’s ever-evolving brand touchpoints.

Above all, digital is the changing notion of the brand itself and brands need to rise to this next challenge – creating not just physical equities but seamless, integrated and connected brand design experiences with a digital context in mind.