As direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands look to improve the digital experience to drive conversion, children’s sleepwear brand Bellabu Bear is seeing generative artificial intelligence (AI) open up new avenues to boost sales.

In an interview with PYMNTS, Tamara Jarrar, the brand’s founder and CEO, said AI could go a long way toward driving sales by helping customers navigate digital platforms more seamlessly. She cited the example of AI-powered chat and search functionality offering intelligence recommendations.

The technology can make the platform “really customized to the customer’s experience, where they could really ask almost anything,” Jarrar said. “‘Can you add this to my cart for me?’ ‘I’m looking for this.’ ‘Can you tell me why these pajamas are eczema-friendly?’ … All of the information and knowledge is already inputted into our website, but for the customer sometimes they have a hard time navigating to it.”

Meeting Consumers’ Digital Expectations

Indeed, consumers demand easy, intuitive digital experiences from their merchants, and not providing this kind of simple journey can negatively impact loyalty. The PYMNTS Intelligence study “The Online Features Driving Consumers to Shop With Brands, Retailers or Marketplaces,” created in collaboration with Adobe and drawing from a survey of more than 3,500 U.S. consumers, finds that 40% of shoppers consider how easy a merchant’s online store is to navigate when deciding where to shop.

The same study revealed that the audience for D2C brands is sizable. Twenty-eight percent of consumers said they prefer to shop directly from brands versus shopping from a retailer, and 40% listed no preference either way.

Plus, consumers expect seamless digital experiences all the more from D2C brands than from other kinds of eCommerce merchants. The PYMNTS Intelligence 2022 study “Building a Better Online Checkout Experience: The Key Features That Matter to Customers” found that D2C is the least likely of all eCommerce channels to provide a frustrating checkout process or to present consumers with website/app problems. As such, the bar is high.

The VR Opportunity

Jarrar also sees the opportunity to leverage virtual reality (VR) to provide fully immersive online shopping. She cited the example of her experience trying out the Apple Vision Pro headset, crystallizing how within-reach this kind of fully engaging eCommerce experience is.

“My mind is like, oh my gosh, how soon could we have this technology available and accessible to everyone where they could come into the Bellabu Bear website and be shopping in our virtual store?”

A handful of brands are already exploring this opportunity, with the launch of the headset having come alongside virtual closet experiences, home planning tools, digitally animated boutiques and more.

More Payment Options, More Loyalty

One of the factors that can help win over these D2C customers is providing a wide variety of payment options. Thirty-four percent of those surveyed said they consider the availability of their preferred payment method when choosing merchants.

Jarrar noted that the brand has seen strong consumer preferences to the various payment options on offer — credit; debit Apple Pay; Amazon Pay; buy now, pay later (BNPL) — with shoppers reluctant to adopt other methods.

BNPL options can be key to consumers’ loyalty. According to “Installment Plans Becoming a Key Part of Shopper’s Toolkit,” a PYMNTS Intelligence study done in collaboration with Splitit, 22% of consumers are very or extremely likely to switch to a merchant that offers installment plans, and that share rises to 1 in 3 for millennials.

“When [a given payment method is] not working, because we’ve had certain times where our site we had a few issues with the payments, customers immediately reach out,” Jarrar said. “They’re not really willing to pay with a different form. … Making sure that you have more platforms for them to pay will help push the sale and increase conversions on your site.”

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