How to StorySell without Annoying Your Customers

How to Story-Sell without Annoying Your Customers

5 minute read
David Chiu avatar

Creating online experiences that are content-rich as well as easy to transact have become a holy grail for marketers and merchandisers alike.

"Retailers want the beautiful experience but they actually want it to be shoppable,” said Darin Archer, a strategist at Intel Corp. and former head of product strategy at Adobe. "They don’t want it to look like a used car lot but they want the add-to-cart functionality to be there when the shopper hits that inflection point."

While the technology foundations behind this “commerce plus content” strategy are mature, most retailers only go halfway, and miss huge conversion opportunities by failing to integrate them in one consistent, immersive digital experience. The reality is that e-commerce storefronts are frequently isolated from the content-driven brand stories that are being told through non-shoppable sites, lookbooks, email campaigns, social marketing, mobile marketing and in-store experiences.

Let’s take a look at several examples of excellent e-commerce content -- and their experience hits and misses.


Fashion design firm Kate Spade New York sells its iconic handbags, clothing and accessories in more than 450 shops around the world, including, of course, online. Like other fashion retailers, it makes use of sharp visuals and lookbooks featuring utilitarian shapes and colorful palettes. Their spring and summer style guides include “hot spots” overlaid on images which can be clicked to reveal product details, including options for variant and color selections. Shoppers can add items to their cart from the modal window.

Modal windows work fine when the content lives on a brand or retailer’s site. However, they become a problem when the lookbook’s glossy editorial content is provided to affiliates and bloggers, or shared through social media – which strips it of any transactional capability. Shopping APIs that have the ability to plug commerce features into content and connect them to an external commerce system support transactions outside of the brand or retailer’s website, making them “pret-a-porter” to other touchpoints.


Online magazines are a popular way to bring shoppers to your site regularly, while also telling a story that supports your brand. Vancouver-based boutique Aritzia's aptly named “The Magazine” merges a distinct shopping experience with a lifestyle magazine that showcases original editorial content and engages through social media.

Overall, Aritzia’s magazine is more content marketing than experience-driven commerce, although its “Shop this story” feature -- used on some, but not all articles -- makes it easy to see what products are highlighted by the article. However, here again is where the shopping experience abruptly ends.

Storytelling = Storyselling

It’s tough to tell a great story within a catalog template. One exception is Betabrand. Its product pages do several things exceptionally well when it comes to storytelling.

Learning Opportunities

From the “Disco Bowling Shirt” to the “Vagisoft Hoodie,” product titles are part of the experience behind each product at Betabrand. Many of these titles elicit a “what’s that?” factor that begins to tell the story starting from the category page.

You don’t have to be a fashion icon to use storytelling to enhance your brand. Brazil-based pure-play online retailer relies heavily on content and video to change the stereotype in Brazil that wine is only for the affluent. The company makes extensive use of articles and recipes, video and other rich media to engage with shoppers and drive higher conversions. Purchases can be made easily from this content with little or no friction.

By marrying commerce and content, envisions a wine buying experience that leverages storytelling and editorial content to entice wine shoppers to engage more freely and hopefully help shoppers lose their fear of selecting the wrong wine for a given occasion.

We want to give them more confidence to choose a wine and join the wine club,” said Jorge Tung, CTO, "In order to achieve that, we definitely need a CMS... (that's) tightly integrated, because our customers have a lot of touch points with the wine."

Visual Merchandising

The utilitarian category page isn’t the first place you’d think of for rich content. However, one retailer has nailed the art of storytelling right in the category results page. On, under its 13 Things feature, a page highlights several collections of “13 things” organized around various stories. Interspersed between the products are photo slideshows that reinforce the stories -- from scenic shots to “people like me” enjoying the activities that a typical Burton fan enjoys.

Hardware retailer Canadian Tire is another example of trying, but not quite succeeding at “commerce plus content.” It provides a beautiful, immersive experience under the “Inspiration” section, but the company can’t quite shake the traditional store look. Worse, you can’t purchase products online for delivery.

A lot of retailers appear to be on the fence. Retailers are talking about changing, and they want to change, but haven’t gone for a full commerce plus content strategy. But that’s where the future lies.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Derek Mindler 

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