Is the rapid progression of technology changing the in-store experience to the Facebook equivalent of ‘it’s complicated’?
Or is it a case of moving with the times, but not letting slip some good old-fashioned retail values?
Continuing our series of articles looking at change and how the role of retail interiors is evolving, we share the views from the Resolution Interiors team.
Our latest conversation was to understand the need to champion the physical environment and for technology to become the enabler to complement the retail customer experience.
Our discussion group included: Mike Langley (Sales & Marketing Director); Claire Aldersley (Design Manager); Alex Simpson (Project Coordinator); Alicia Thresh (Project Delivery Manager) and Pippa Saunders (Marketing Manager).
Have We Neglected The High Street Experience?
In our recent ‘Integrity Of The Design Process’ article, Laura Burnside highlighted that the trend for retail stores is, “to provide an experience that customers cannot gain online. The customer becomes an ally to the brand.”
A recent example is to look at what Amazon are now doing by opening their first shop in Seattle’s University Village. The selection of 6,000 titles based on reviews and sales data from Amazon.com. This shows a perfect example of using data to complement both the offline and online participation.
According to Pippa, “It is the responsibility for brands to evolve and create spaces that become destinations in their own right. Amazon are now creating a shopping experience they can’t replicate online.”
“People interact with each other and comes full circle to where Amazon started 20 years ago, selling books on the internet.”
Alex continued the destination mindset by highlighting a brand she works with, and continues to be inspired by, Nike. “This comes down to values and creating spaces that cannot be transferred online.”
“The re-opened NikeLab 1948, in Shoreditch, London, is the place to see the company’s new products. The shop runs events and has become a multiple use space. The lesson here is that brands have a role to create added value and an emotional connection with their audience that complements the overall brand. The physical and online spaces have to sit side by side.”
“What we are seeing here is a revolution in how we consume and where we shop,” stated Mike. “There are issues that need to be addressed on both sides of the coin. Rates are still very expensive in town/city centers whereas the equivalent for online retailers is the spiraling cost in returned goods.”
Britons are estimated to be spending for the first time over £1 billion on online shopping alone during Black Friday (27th November). However, retailers stand to have reduced margins from £130m in handling returns, according to retail intelligence company Clear Returns.
Are We In Danger Of Using Technology, Because We Can?
“Whilst strides in technology and usage can become an asset to a brand, many companies do not have the infrastructure internally to support,” explained Alicia.
“What brands are realizing is that the physical space represents a role to take a consumer on a journey. This is something that Virgin Holidays represent. Before a customer goes into the shop, they will have researched and are at a stage where they are well informed. What they are then looking for is personal engagement.”
“A concierge is employed within the store and able to identify peoples needs and play a supportive role to advise and interact.”
So, Have We All Become More Demanding (As Consumers)?
Whilst it can be said that society has become more demanding and consumers expect brands to raise their game, the role of technology has to go beyond making a sale easier.
Technology should be used to enrich, enhance and support the retail experience. The one to one time with knowledgeable store staff will never be replaced.
“Look at what Apple have achieved with the Genius Bar.” Stated Alicia.
“Providing technical support for customers has become an iconic retail concept of the modern age and a builder of the Apple brand.”
“From workshops, trouble shooting and master classes, this is staffed by people who are advocates of the brand. This can only mean that the customer relationship is enhanced with a one to one approach.”
This belief of technology enriching the retail experience is evident within the travel sector. Thomas Cook are now using virtual reality for customers to walk around the destinations they are looking to book. Virtual reality was introduced to 10 retail stores in UK, Belgium and Germany in 2015.
The result in some stores has seen as 180% increase in sales within the first few months of launch.
Where Are We Heading?
The future has to be data driven to complement a bricks and mortar experience. Brands now have a role to educate and inform.
Claire mentioned, “Store design around technology is becoming even more apparent. It is now creating a sense of theatre. The challenge is to become more engaging to our customers. Brands cannot rely solely on screens promoting product messages anymore, this now becomes wallpaper.”
However, there are brands who still stick resolutely to providing purely the in store experience. From Primark to luxury brands such as Chanel, these are brands that still believe in consumers visiting a store as generations have done previously (from the Primark perspective, to reduce overheads to the clothing costs which are passed on as savings to the customer).
Where Does The Resolution Interiors View Stand?
“We partner with our clients and focus on how we can help them. This isn’t about a predetermined answer,” Pippa highlighted.
“We can advise where the industry is heading and what is relevant to a brand and their audience. We will make that recommendation and this is our role as a commercial resource.”
Mike stated, “Everything has to start with understanding who an audience is and why they buy from a brand. Physical spaces and technology are evolving, it is our role to advise and provide options. It is important to have a partner base, so important to explore options together.”
Bringing Things To A Conclusion
Whilst technology is changing how we shop, there will always be one constant, people will always want to interact with others who can provide knowledge and are welcoming.
The shopping experience will always represent a basic human need that people enjoy when it is done well and relevant to their needs.
Technology should be seen as the enabler to drive people to the bricks and mortar stores.
Technology has a role to complement, not cannibalise. When great customer service is added to the mix and interaction is invited, no amount of technology will drive people away from the in store experience.