Winning customer hearts and minds… Are you currently fighting a losing battle?

There was once a time when retail was so much simpler than today, the High Streets, in the main, offered a handful of well-known and respected brands and retailers- where a relatively loyal base of customers regularly frequented to purchase goods and services- without much by the way of distraction, confusion, or massively high expectation.

However, physical retail’s current fixation with making the in-store experience more exciting, more immersive and more connected is creating an emotional short-circuit, causing sensory overload. Leaving consumers feeling at best, nothing – at worse, anxious and underwhelmed.

No need to shut up shop just yet though

65% of consumers still like to shop in-store, citing touching, seeing and feeling products as their main motivation (SquareRoot). Perhaps supporting this theory, 2016 saw significant investment in bricks and mortar from online giants Google and Amazon.  Conversely, GlobalData Retail details reasons why consumer visits to store have decreased over the last 3 years, moreover the factors shaped by emotion and not convenience that contributed to pushing consumers away from the physical retail space.

Source: GlobalData Retail

Relatively safe in the knowledge then that the steady exodus from our High Streets and shopping centres cannot simply, or solely be attributed to the advancement of e-commerce, brands and retailers need to work much harder to align their offering to changing consumer habits.

Accenture’s report Energising Global Growth references 73% of business executives recognising a marked change in consumer behaviour – the resulting ‘knee-jerk’ at retail has seen increased focus, and investment on revolutionising in-store activations – however, more worryingly, despite the businesses best intentions 74% of the executives admitted not fully understanding what the marked changes were.

What does this all mean? Basically, that there’s an organised scramble going on out there just now as the High Street attempts to make itself more relevant than ever in appealing to the needs, expectation, and aspirations of its customers.

To help make sense of mastering this illusive art, we explore 3 of the most important challenges that we feel retailers face today in creating more meaningful and better connected human experiences.

Simplifying over-complicated retail propositions

So what’s changed?

Unfortunately, there seems to be an increasing over-reliance on technology as a means to attract and maintain consumer attention, as a result we are fast losing sight of the importance of appealing to basic human emotion. There is no doubt that technology has transformed almost every aspect of the way we live, with a continuous pipeline of new advancements promising more speed, convenience and accessibility enhancements to better our future existence. However, despite all of this seemingly limitless power at our finger-tips, have we ever stopped to consider that after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, our basic primal needs and functions haven’t changed at anywhere near the same pace?

The unconscious, often undeniable urge to emotionally act on what we see, hear, smell and touch is alive and as strong as ever. And in this highly augmented digital age many retail, and retail experience designers are overlooking the emotional state of consumers in their pursuit to create the ultimate experience, or seamless journey.

“Retail propositions have become incredibly complicated and instead of appealing to the senses they are assaulting them.”

Mike Roberts – CCO, Green Room

2. Overcoming digital disillusionment

Nowadays we all have access to seemingly endless music libraries, so why is it that we still go to concerts? Similarly, even with access to many social conferencing apps, people still prefer to meet face-to-face for coffee or business meetings if the opportunity arises.

In the same way, customers visit bricks and mortar locations expecting a differentiated experience. The biggest job for retailers is to positively stimulate these living, breathing customers. The thing is, and as complex as our lives may have become, in most cases these customers tend to have basic emotional needs that far outstrip any functional ones – the biggest challenge is understanding these, so they can be fully satisfied.

Digital disillusionment is leaving both brands and their customers feeling unmoved, uninspired and at worse cheated out of over-worked digital experiences. Although digital moments are important, let’s not be naïve enough to think that digital is the panacea to all in-store engagement problems.

Experiences that complement, instead of complicate

The truth is; retail is still getting to grips with the use of digital in store. We have seen lots of gimmicks / tricks and new tech, sometimes seemingly just for the sake of it, often without consideration on how to really engage with human beings.

Rather than abandoning the physical path to purchase and throwing their entire budget at the digital experience, retailers need to take a more balanced approach to the customer journey – one that bridges the gap – utilising only the most relevant of digital moments to help raise low points and celebrate high ones across the physical and emotional journey.

3. Considering the mental aftertaste

Great brand experiences are what keeps customers coming back for more, conversely bad experiences can take a lifetime to erase. Let’s face it, customer loyalty isn’t what it used to be and customers receiving poor experiences are increasingly happy to take their business to a direct competitor – a recent customer service survey reveals that this could be within the week.

Being attracted to certain brands is one thing, but being emotionally attached takes the customer- brand relationship to a different, more significant level. Retailers need to better harness the power of human-centred design, when building digital retail experiences into their overall customer journeys-only then can then can they begin to start changing the way people feel about brands.

Anti-digital is by no means a stand against ‘the establishment’ – calling all experience seekers and creators to fight against technology or the pursuit of digital integration. On the contrary, digital interactions are the key to facilitating sensory experiences that are more meaningful, more social and more connected. It really is just about striking a better balance between digital and analogue, and ultimately focusing more attention against creating experiences that produce goosebumps, instead of headaches.

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