It doesn’t take much reading of the press or time on the High Street to understand that the retail sector is under massive pressure and local shopkeepers are suffering. A slow economy doesn’t help, of course. But it’s the bigger structural changes underway that create the problems and perhaps the biggest opportunities.
We all know people are changing the way they browse, choose and acquire new products.
The idea of the shopper who buys insatiably has had its day. Shoppers have enough ‘stuff,’ and will choose more wisely. Or maybe choose nothing at all. So retailers have to work harder for each sale, and have to think how they can add value to an actual real life visit.
But how far should any retailer go in changing their offer? If one is to read the sharp end of any technology publication about retail one could be forgiven for thinking that it’s all about 20-year-olds and giving them some new technology application they will lap up.
And there is a huge raft of shopping technology available. There are many AR driven innovations. It’s possible to walk into a store in America and using AR stroll around a version of your own home with new Natuzzi furniture placed where you want it. Using AR you can try face make up at home to give you an idea of exactly what it might do for you. Using AR you can interact with your shopping list whilst in-store and get a series of floating arrows pointing you to where the items are on the shelf, and as you walk around you can get information about these products that might help your choice.
It really is very exciting but also extremely daunting.
I remember around 15 years ago we were promised AR would be in every supermarket. If you wanted to buy a tomato you could interact with the grower to understand how it was grown, what species it was, what taste it should have, what chemicals were used, how it was transported etc. Remember The Popcorn Report? It all sounded amazing at the time but has it happened?
My view is we need to be very careful before we disappear into a black hole of technological possibilities. There is some more fundamental rethinking that has to take place about each retail brand before it reaches for a gimmick.
There is a very clear and obvious trend toward people wanting to make better choices in their life — meaning more sustainable choices, choices to reduce waste, choices to reflect a lower social and environmental impact. Of course retail has to provide this.
Apart from being alive to these very real trends, what type of fundamental rethinking is needed before a retail brand can reimagine itself?
I think the keyword for retail in the future is ‘immersive.’
The promise of online shopping is speed and convenience but not that alone. The online world can be incredibly immersive and informative about its offer. But actual shops can be so much more immersive.
They can provide real atmosphere , suspense, drama, intrigue and touch.
And there are good signs that ‘in real life’ retail has a future.
Beauty is an area discussed endlessly on the internet, there are hundreds of beauty influencers online, yet 90% of beauty purchases are still made in store where people can touch and feel and try the real thing.
The shop clearly has to be much more than a stockist where you just pick up what you want from the shelf.
The experience has to be fun and exciting. And give you a very clear brand world to enter into. It can give all the products in the environment a kind of sheen or gloss to make them incredibly attractive, and builds value for the shopper and retailer.
If retail should be reinvented as immersive theatre , there is a fundamental bit of thinking that is needed first.
What do we stand for? What are our values? Why should someone be excited to visit us? What is our added value? Why are we different? And who is the enemy in all of this? And most important of all, what is the idea driving a whole project?
In my view the only way to address all these is with a very strong ambition to really supercharge the brand. To consider throwing everything up in the air and starting again, ground up.
We believe there is a clear role for brand thinkers in this process. Not necessarily retail-only experts but people who understand brands and people and are prepared to help the client reassess much of what they hold dear and move on.
Then we can make technology the servant of the idea, not the idea itself.
Written by Steve Hastings and originally published in Retail Customer Experience.
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