Contrary to messages pumped out in the media, physical brand spaces are rebounding with force in recognition of their value as vital touchpoints within the customer journey and capability of making cross-channel waves. From culture-first flagships and resale retreats to ‘proto-stores’ and product-free spaces (Stylus), transformation and innovation is gathering pace as leading retailers go beyond converging online and physical retail to creating a ‘new retail’ revolution.
Innovative brands are recognising that strong omnichannel retailing is the panacea for what has been a difficult trading environment; a seamless shopping experience in brick-and-mortar stores, through a variety of digital channels not only differentiates retailers from their peers, but also gives them a competitive edge over online-only retailers by leveraging their store assets. Research found that of 46,000 participants, 7% were online-only shoppers and 20% were store-only shoppers. The remaining 73%, used multiple channels during their shopping journey. And even more encouraging, the more channels shoppers used, the more they spent in-store. The findings further suggested that deliberate searching beforehand led customers to greater in-store purchases – classic webrooming.
Innovation is being driven by strategic partnerships, as offline retailers join force with on-line specialists – the likes of Alibaba leading the way – using the post digital era to drive new ways to connect that go beyond just joining the dots of physical and digital experience, to creating meaningful engagements.
Novel Services & Spaces
Brands are finding new ways to slot into customers routines by conceiving new value formats – such as allowing customers to rent, as opposed to buy – as well as more nimble, service-centric options like Nordstrom’s Local Hubs; a format that includes Personal Stylists, Buy Online Pick-Up In-Store, Alterations & Tailoring, Trunk Club services and more, in a convenient, central location. These local stores are cost-efficient, high engagement, leading to a lift in sales (across the network). Other offerings include stores that are enabled by the customer, as opposed to the brand; always in-progress ‘beta’ stores that continually flex in tune with live data and include product, service and experience previews, as well as cultural first flagships, which lead on art-installations and retailtainment space that are more often seen in pop-up formats.
The customers desire for in-store engagement on their terms; dictating what happens in the space at their own tempo, is driving a new kind of experience with human behaviour and understanding at the very heart. Stores behave like micro smart cities, responsive to external changes in real-time. This often means offering digital versus human interfaces and discovering products that mirror online browsing, using a new breed of omni-intelligent tech. Customers at Neighbourhood Goods can use the geo-location capability within the brand’s app to request products to be brought to them anywhere in the 13,000 sq ft store, pay for goods, whilst gathering a wealth of data around customer interactions. Other initiatives also include the next wave of scan-and-go technology via apps, voice activated mirrors and omni-onboarding; hotel style check-ins, allowing shoppers to identify themselves when entering a store . The watch out – ensuring technology is used appropriately as an enabler to the experience by first understanding the emotional journey from a human-centred perspective, before building in multi-sensorial additions to the space.
Brands are already wise to redefining the traditional service roles from sales assistant to associate, the gig economy is however driving an omni-era workforce; a more flexible and on-demand approach that promises self-selection, individuality and variety. Shop-floor relationships now include live broadcasting using tech like Hero to connect directly with in-store staff to showcase product, giving an increase in conversion rate and basket value. Helping to optimise the more experientially led retail, associates are also encouraged to be more creative using voice-activated tools, virtual prompts and wearables, as well adopting personal expression harnessing their own social media abilities and networks. Saks also gives some store associates personalised pages on its website where they can promote selected products and communicate with customers. This is creating more personable and locally relevant content and character, whilst amplifying the brands reach, ensuring a steady flow through reward. Finally using the next generation of AI, flex-perts are being born; replicating the knowledge of real human experts they ensure that your favourite associate is always on hand. Scary stuff.
In summary, consumers are totally accustomed to hopping between physical and digital and their expectation is that retail is similarly fluid. Adopting ‘new retail’ goes beyond omnichannel or omnicommerce, to really understand the behaviour of humans today and to create a mutual relationship using human experience design; the best enables us to plan visits in advance, react and flex in real-time, and curate our own experience every step of the way on our own terms.