- The use of technology as a PR move to get customers into store (for example through the use of interactive installations such as the adidas wall) has slowed down as an approach –there’s a feeling that retailers are pulling back.
- The use of technology in this way has shown relatively low customer engagement, and whilst the strategy may get people through the door, there remains a disconnect between the experience and the product – the approach is not translating to sales.
- As gimmicky technology takes a back seat, there is an increased focus on the ‘theatre of retail’. Technology alone is not enough to fully engage with consumers. What’s missing is an emotional connection (ref. ‘being human’ trend).
- With this in mind there is lots of opportunity for brands to team up with food companies to create more tangible, sensory experiences in store – an approach which isn’t new, but is definitely on the rise, especially from a luxury angle.
- With this push towards emotive experiences, technology is being reintroduced as a means of enabling theatrical experiences in store.
- A key area for retailers to look at are the ‘boring’ processes involved in purchasing goods – for example fulfilment/ payment – by adding drama to these processes, brands can connect with consumers from within the purchasing process itself.
- Effectively bridging the gap between physical and digital retail is at the heart of improving the in-store experience.
- The store needs to become a physical destination worthy of pilgrimage by a brands fans – it needs to offer more.
“Now we need to be obsessing about the creation of end-to-end experiences that wrap around products and brands… Because in a world of data, personalisation and real-time analytics, the experiences we create between brands and people will become the point of differentiation.” – Hattie Whiting
- Theatrical, tangible, and essentially more human experiences are key to getting customers in store and encouraging purchase.
- To bridge the current disconnect between experience and purchase, brands need to look at embedding engaging customer experiences within the purchasing process itself.
- For example, brands could look at click and collect services as an opportunity to encourage further exploration in store. The service gets people through the door and exists as a ready-made link between online and off – what if a store were to use this moment to encourage further exploration, for example by having items from a wish list created online waiting in store for the customer to look at on arrival.
Earlier last year, Boston street wear brand Concepts focused on the collection point in creating their experiential pop up to celebrate the release of the asics “8 Ball” in New York. Set up to mimic a covert drug deal, customers were asked to find the pop up collection point in an annex in the TriBeCa neighborhood, where the trainers were released anonymously via a slide out shelf, wrapped in cling film.
- By creating engaging experiences of the purchasing process, brands have the opportunity to create brand folklore from the off. Instantly, customers feel connected to the brand, having created their own story from the purchase of the product.
Theatre of retail
- The focus for retailers shifts away from interactive installations towards creating engaging experiences which connect with consumers on an emotional level.
- This approach lends itself particularly well to integrating food/ drink.
Case study: KITH Treats, New York
KITH treats is a concept store/ café from New York street wear brand KITH. Located within the Brooklyn flagshop store, KITH Treats offers customers a unique experience by serving up a variety of cereal-based foods. The shop fit and packaging are carefully designed to reflect the feel of the brand.
“Participatory processes provide much more than the traditional idea of transactional satisfaction because they prolong and deepen the experience in a way products alone no longer can” – Dr Carolyn Mair, Reader in psychology, LCF
Co-creation is one of the most important trends in retail. By inviting the consumer to take part in the production process, brands encourage deeper engagement.
- Millennial and Gen Z consumers have become used to forming close relationships with brands through more immediate access e.g via social media. Co-authored product taps into this idea of consumers being fans before customers by drawing them closer into the ‘club’ though co-creation.
The White Atelier from Converse opened last year on Tokyo’s Cat Street. For their first standalone store in Japan, Converse created a fully-equipped customisation studio, inviting customers to build their own Converse in store. What makes the White Atelier different from co-creation experiences like Nike ID is that the whole store dedicated to customisation, set up to feel like a sneaker laboratory and therefore making for a more immersive experience.
Fab lab Shibuya x Muji, LOFT and Caines, Japan
Taking the spirit of the maker movement to the masses via commercial personalised gifts, &Fab is a collaboration between FabLab Shibuya and retailer Muji and Loft, creating in-store maker studios where customers are encouraged to personalise items from the store.
“The most important concept of &Fab is to sell this experience of creative time. We spend between 30 minutes to an hour with each customer. Factories are basically the black box of fabrication. Consumers know what they bought, but not how it’s made. Hopefully through this experience they can at least lightly feel the essence of fabrication.” – Keisuke Inoue, director of FabLab Shibuya
Also initiated by FabLab Shibuya, DIY store CAINZ opened an in-store fab studio in April last year, inviting customers to realise their own designs in the dedicated workshop, which provides everything from laser cutters to 3D printers, woodworking machines and paint rooms.
In search of Simple
- Turned off by the model of mass-consumption, a new wave of luxury brands are removing excessive choice from the buying process in favor of a more singular experience.
- Forward-thinking brands are creating stripped-back, meditative store spaces where less is more. Taking away excessive choice and paring back to avoid sensory overload allows customers to explore product in depth.
We’re seeing a trend for in-store museums, archives and library spaces, encouraging customers to explore product in depth before purchasing. Design studio Nendo recently launched Beauty Library in Tokyo – a concept store designed to encourage customers to take time and learn about the product before purchasing. Products are displayed on floor-to-ceiling ‘bookshelves’ alongside QR codes providing in-depth information. Self-study areas then encourage shoppers to learn and explore rather than rushing to the till.
- In-store, technology has demonstrated success in getting people through the door, but still shows low rates of success in translating to sales, with a disconnect existing between the tech and the product itself. Retailers need to be looking at making the physical experience of shopping more exciting and technology should be seen as a way of enabling this.
- As we enter a tech lull, retailers take the opportunity to get to grips with existing technologies.
- VR / AR and MR are the biggest stories for retail tech as more and more brands begin to experiment with ways of using it to connect with consumers both online and off.
- The most talked about technology from CES this year was the Internet of Things, with smart homes progressing from concept to reality in the wake of a host of new technologies on the market. It will be interesting to see how retailers tap into this newly available tech.
- Previously the hottest topic in tech, wearables have taken a bit of a back seat.
- Similarly the hype around Beacon technology as the answer to bridging the gap between our on and offline retail worlds has died down after concerns about privacy hampered the mass adoption of the technology.
VR / AR / MR
- There’s a lot of debate around the use virtual reality and it’s advantages and disadvantages. As a totally immersive experience, many see it as anti-human and therefore against the general move to reconnect us with the real world. VR doesn’t ‘bridge the gap’ but rather disconnects us entirely.
- AR and MR are therefore more likely to emerge as the technologies of choice in the retail sector
- There’s also a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ dilema hindering the mainstream adoption of VR technology in that consumers don’t currently feel there’s enough content being produced to warrant buying an expensive headset, meaning less buy-in from brands, not wanting to pay for the creation of expensive content for such a small audience.
- So until the technology becomes more widely adopted, VR/MR/AR experiences are likely to remain in store rather than aimed at consumers at home.
- For the moment it is also unclear whether customers will want to shop in VR, or whether they’ll forever see it as a gimmick.
- It’s widely acknowledged that all three have the power to surprise and delight, and therefore have huge scope for bringing entertaining experiences to brick-and-mortar retail spaces.
- Mixed reality is still a very new technology, with Hololens the only real player in the field, but perhaps offers the most scope for retailers – a key aspect being that it allows for shared experiences.
- Augmented reality remains an important, accessible technology for retailers to play with, with virtual mirrors the key application.
- As retailers explore the possibilities presented by virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies, the key problem to overcome remains linking experience to product and encouraging sales.
- However with lots of scope for experiences at home as well as in store, the infinitely scalable aspect is very appealing to retailers in the long term.
- Looking to the future, haptic technologies are an exciting area for retailers in that they promise to link up our on and offline worlds by making our digital worlds tactile.
Designer Martine Jarlgaard experimented with mixed reality technology at LFW this season by inviting five individuals at a time to view the collection through HoloLens headsets. Challenging the traditional catwalk show format by removing the barrier between the physical location and the audience, the MR headsets allowed viewers to watch the collection come to life in front of them in hologram form.
“For me it’s very important there’s a link to reality; that you don’t remove yourself completely. It’s quite a desirable thing – you still have your point of reference, but there’s another layer on top,” – Martine Jarlgaard
Ebay x Myer – VR department store
Whilst VR tech remains more commonly used in store, the collaboration between Ebay and Myer is a great example of brands beginning to use the technology to enhance the digital retail space, rather than concentrating on the physical store.
Currently used by brands including Ralph Lauren and Rebecca Minkoff, Oak Labs interactive mirrors help create a luxury experience in the fitting room by allowing customers to change the lighting, request product from the store, look up style advice and request to check out.
“Online and offline are no longer discernible spaces. The physical retail store has changed very little over the past 100 years. Our customers have. We are bridging the worlds of tech and retail, designing elegant, intuitive customer experiences that will transform the way we think about shopping forever.” – Oak Labs
Virtual try-on apps, Zeekit, Modiface and Rimmel’s ‘Get the Look’ app
Just launched at NYFW in collaboration with Rebecca Minkoff, zeekit is an app which promises the world’s most advanced virtual fitting room, on your smart phone. Reinventing the way consumers browse, share and shop from their mobile devices, zeekit is available to both retailers and consumers and allows customers to virtually try outfits on before buying online or in store.
“We’re creating a new shopping experience by making both online and in-store shopping fun, social, simple and risk-free,” – Yael Vizel, co-founder, Zeekit
Virtual try-on also extends to make-up with apps such as Modiface and Rimmel’s Get the Look app from Holition.
Modiface is an augmented reality mirror available as an app, allowing a customer to visualize not only make up looks but hair simulations and skin care visualisations. This technology is a game changer for the cosmetics industry, particularly where product is difficult to test in store.
Rimmel’s #getthelook app is the first ever personalized augmented reality mirror and allows customers to ‘steal’ a makeup look from anyone – whether that’s a friend or a from a picture in a magazine.
WAYS OF SHOPPING
- Shoppability was the big focus of this season’s fashion weeks as brands as varied as Burberry, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, to Topshop Unique, Tom Ford and Alexander Wang in partnership with adidas experimented with the “see-now, buy-now” concept.
- With Burberry leading the charge, brands have begun showcasing collections which are available for purchase immediately – eradicating the six months which used to sit between catwalk and consumer.
- In creating an entirely shoppable catwalk, brands are disrupting the traditional fashion cycle – cutting out the middle men from trend forecasters to textile mills, buyers and editors by confidently taking product directly to the consumer.
- Bloggers assist by talking directly to consumers and stoking the appetite to purchase items immediately.
- This season Tommy Hilfiger took the concept one step further, playing with the idea of conversational commerce by talking directly to fans using chatbots on Facebook Messenger to get the collections to market. Users were able to access additional content around the collections, from where they were given nudges to e-commerce pages once the collections dropped. Similarly, Burberry used Facebook messenger to deliver renderings of the new pieces to fans before the show kicked off.
- The strategy is risky and not feasible for smaller brands who can’t afford to have wasted stock or unfulfilled waiting lists, but highlights the power of direct consumer engagement – Get enough data from your fans, and maybe you don’t need six months of opinions from industry insiders.
- The see-now, buy-now concept is part of a wider trend for ultra convenience and immediacy. As such it’s drawn criticism from those who argue that there’s no magic or suspense in creating immediately available product, and also that the format may dampen creativity by forcing designers to be more conservative to avoid unsold stock.
Shop the story
- As part of the people before product trend, interesting retail concepts are emerging which create shoppable ‘stories’.
- As personal stories emerge as a key way to reach consumers and create a sense of genuine authenticity, forward-thinking brands have an opportunity to add value and desirability to product by presenting them in the context of a story or lifestyle.
Newly launched ecommerce site Semaine is the perfect example of creating shoppable stories. By deep-diving into the life of a different tastemaker each week, Semaine create a whole shoppable world, from clothing to interiors products, accessories, make up and even recommendations of restaurants or travel destinations. Semaine allow fans to shop the lifestyle, not the look.
To coincide with the launch of her novel The First Bad Man, Miranda July launched an online concept store selling 50 items mentioned in the book. It’s a more conceptual example, but again explores the idea of engaging with consumers by inviting them to shop a story. The link to the novel imbues the items with significance.
- In a new value economy that places experiences over product, ownership is receding as a marker of value.
- Status no longer comes just from the item itself, but from association and values in a world where what you do is more important than what you own.
- Sharing, renting and borrowing is becoming an important part of the way we access products and is particularly embedded in the mindset of millennial consumers… “loaning is the new owning”.
LSWOP is an online retail ‘club’ which lets you rent the worlds most exclusive trainers for 1-4 days.. or enough time at least for you to post them on Instagram. It’s a great example of consumers valuing the experience of owning the product over the product itself.
- As the see-now, buy-now concept demonstrates, brands are moving towards ever more convenient and immediate retail models.
- With ever increasing demands on our attention, time has become the ultimate luxury. A powerful currency, services which promise to pay us back in free time are an important trend in retail.
- In the wake of Uber, time-liberating apps are on the rise, designed to reclaim wasted moments spent, for example, waiting to hail a taxi.
- Enabled by mobile technology democratising services which were once only available to the elite, concierge apps are on the rise – we now all have access to a pocket PA through apps such as Magic.
- We’re living in the era of the ‘Now economy’.
“We’re all using technology to demand services at our beck and call. The biggest difference now is the smartphone. Carrying a computer all the time opens up a lot of these possibilities, and companies are making the most of it.” – Tom Chatfield, technology theorist and author of How to Thrive in the Digital Age.
“We’re in a ‘now’ economy. The fact that you can tap a button on your smartphone and 60 minutes later a professional turns up at your door is amazing.” – Rohan Sinclair Luvaglio, founder, Bizzby
Instacart: one in a spate of ultra convenient food delivery services reinventing the way we shop for food.
Magic: text message concierge service.