Shopper patience is in a fragile state in the UK, in particular the middle market, where customer patience is dwindling. Over the past 10 years, there has been a slow retail revolution happening before our eyes, a change in attitude, where now we are at the point where customers have become almost instantly dismissive of brands that don’t grab their attention within a couple of seconds. It is now a necessity for retailers to make sure their stores are delivering that instant impact, and convince shoppers that they are worth investing in. In this months Insight piece we take a look at the future of retail, CX (customer experience) and what brands need to do now to secure their future in the increasingly competitive retail market.
Geo-Relevant Design & Glocalisation
Some of the ways retailers can snag customer attention is by integrating the local community, culture and creativity to make spaces that shoppers feel they could be ambassadors of, that reflect their personality and lifestyle. One brand that continues to be a forerunner in this trend is Apple, who in their recently revamped San Francisco flagship have hired local experts in art, music, tech, photography and gaming for sessions run in part of the store (The Forum.) The San Francisco store also features a 200 seater ‘backyard area', which is open 24 hrs a day and has free wifi. The space also runs free guidance meetings between local entrepreneurs/ startups and the Apple Business team. All of these elements have transformed what is in actuality a hardware store into a vibrant, fun, community space- in which local customers feel supported and engaged as soon as they enter the store. Apple have identified in creating such spaces, it builds a sense of affiliation and comradery between brand and consumer. This is a powerful tool, not only for customer loyalty, but also brand advocacy and ultimately sales.
An ever increasing percentage of consumers have grown up in a world where technology is the norm, in a WD Partners 2016 study it cited that consumers under-30 have very different attitudes and behaviours that their predecessors, and are far more eager to harness the power of technology in their shopping habits and experiences. The consumers of today are digital-natives, and are far more adventurous with their shopping behaviours. With this in mind retailers need to take note and alter their retail experiences to keep up with the digital lives consumers are living today. One such way is through hyper connected/ digital stores, where offline is seamlessly integrated with online to deliver a shopping experience with unprecedented levels of service, efficiency and satisfaction. Volvo has also embraced technology in their latest partnership with Microsoft and the innovative HoloLens. HoloLens is a wireless augmented reality headset that overlays high-definition holograms onto the wearers field of view. Customers can move around the hologram, arrange key pieces and scale of the items, all using finger movements. Microsoft has indicated that future version could be used for detailed customisation (colours, wheel designs, etc.) and could even be used away from the showroom- with customers only requiring the headsets to experience the product and brand.
What should be considered however, is the balance of tech vs humanity-
after all nobody wants to feel like they are being pushed through a retail assembly line, serviced by machines. Retailers have to be careful when layering technology into stores, as done wrong it can do the opposite and create a disconnect between consumer and brand- when done well technology should enhance the overall customer experience, not dominate it.
With online shopping giving offline retail a hard run for its money, stores have to work harder to achieve the footfall that was once was. Pureplay retailers such as ASOS, Boohoo and Amazon are doing exceptionally well, ASOS has had consistent increasing profits, in the past six months their pre-tax profits rose 18%, with a 21% increase in revenues for the first half of 2016. For offline retail, the challenge is to create an experience and proposition that does not compete with online stores- but an experience that gives consumers something that no online store can replicate. Brands such as Dyson, Samsung, Google and Apple are at the forefront of the retail showroom- spaces that support social connection, are emotive and provide a hands-on experience to consumers. Retail showrooms are as much about selling the soul and essence of a brand to consumers as it is their product. In the lead up to the 80th anniversary of their legendary scarf division, Hermés have launched a series of pop-ups showrooms that include a free scarf-refreshing service. Hermés is allowing customers to bring in their scarves, regardless of whether they are Hermes or not, inviting a whole new generation of customers/ aspiring customers to experience the brand in an immersive, shareable experience. The ‘Hermésmatics’, situated for a limited time in Munich, Strasbourg, Amsterdam and Kyoto, offer a free service in which customers can pick up their revived silk scarves, wrapped in the signature Hermés bag and packaging. Whilst there you can also get bespoke advice from on-site treatment experts.
In a world of experience-hungry consumers, retail showrooms fill the consumer need for share-worthy, social spaces. And whilst might not provide instant ROI, customers who interact with a showroom environment are more likely to will foster a much deeper, longstanding customer-brand relationship than a traditional store environment.