When customers visit one of Kendra Scott’s 108 stores, the earring displays — with their rainbows of acetate hoops and dangly, face-framing styles — are often their first stop. 

Most shoppers browse online before coming in, said Megan Kohout, the brand’s vp of e-commerce and customer analytics. They often want to see the styles in person before committing to a purchase, to get a sense of the earrings’ size and how they look when worn.

So when the company had to temporarily shutter its physical locations in March due to Covid-19 restrictions, one of its top priorities was figuring out how to recreate that experience on its e-commerce site. Its first step was launching a virtual try-on feature in late April, allowing mobile customers to visualize the size, shape and movement of the earrings using augmented reality, machine learning and computer vision.

“Because earrings move and [frame] your face when you’re talking and whatever you’re doing, we knew that in a virtual reality experience, we wanted to capture that movement and that that would make the experience more fun,” said Kohout.

With so many customers at home, the brand has seen a significant uptick in engagement across the board, with email newsletters seeing higher open rates and click-through rates, and overall session lengths on the website up 20% year-over-year since March. Customers that use the try-on feature are more than three-times as likely to make a purchase than other visitors, and are spending 20% more per order. 

While under-$100 jewels are Kendra Scott’s bread and butter, the brand also offers 14-karat gold and diamond earrings that can retail for upwards of $1,000. The feature has been especially helpful for selling these more expensive styles.

As brands and retailers navigate a new reality in which many consumers still feel more comfortable shopping from home rather than in stores, creating a rich experience on their e-commerce sites — and particularly on product pages — has become more important than ever. While a few photos and lines of text above an “add to cart” button may once have been enough, online retailers are increasingly adding user-generated photos and reviews, video tutorials, informational content and AR try-on tools in order to close the sale.

In late March, the direct-to-consumer brand Aday tweaked its user review module so that shoppers could filter reviews by size, height and body type. In the months since, it has proven to be a popular feature: About half of customers now engage with reviews, spending as much as four times as much time on product pages compared to those who don’t. This attention is also valuable: Customers who engage with reviews now spend 22% more on average than those who don’t.

“When brands make their customers brand advocates, potential shoppers more easily envision themselves using a brand’s products. It increases their likelihood to buy and to spend more money than they would otherwise,” says Suzin Wold, svp of marketing at Bazaarvoice, a digital marketing firm. 

For its annual Shopper Experience Index last year, Bazaarvoice asked more than 5,500 consumers what aspect of a product page was most important to them, and found that reviews were the top choice, at 39%. That was ahead of even product descriptions and professional photos (22%).

As retailers across the country have reopened their doors in recent weeks and months — albeit with a host of new cleaning and distancing protocols — many are realizing that their online channels remain the first choice for many customers, particularly as coronavirus cases surge across numerous states.

For Aman Advani, co-founder and CEO of science-based apparel brand Ministry of Supply, it became evident in mid-July that the company would have to remove its reliance on in-store sales for the foreseeable future.

“In mid-March, there was this feeling of, ‘OK, soon they’ll open back up and things will be back to normal.’ But when you reopen them, you realize that’s not the case. That urgency to make sure that we were bringing the humanity of the in-store experience to the online [channel] became a lot more potent and powerful,” he said.

Fortunately, e-commerce accounted for around 60-70% of Ministry of Supply’s sales even prior to the pandemic, with six locations across major cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago generating the remainder. As that balance has shifted, the brand has added content online to fill the gap between the physical sales floor and the digital one. 

First, it introduced a library of video content in which team members explain concepts like the NASA technology it uses in its Apollo Dress Shirt to regulate the wearer’s temperature. Then, earlier this month, it launched a chat feature that connects customers with sales associates who are physically in the brand’s stores, allowing them to send photos or videos of products, answer questions and extend courtesy discounts at their discretion.

The tool is part of a recent integration of conversational commerce company Hero on Shopify, with brands like Clare V., Neighborhood Goods and Heyday also signing on at launch. According to Hero, more than 1 million consumers have used its tools in the past six months, and those who do so are more than 12 times more likely to buy than those who shop without them.

Already, said Advani, Ministry of Supply customers who use the feature are converting at a comparable rate to in-store customers (a much higher rate than is typical for online). 

“There are so many layers to our products beyond just the fit and aesthetic,” he said. “So that engagement, that education is so critical for our brand, in particular. So we are just kind of doubling down on this idea of putting that store staff to work.”