Many have debated the end of the retail store with the rise of the internet and online retailers – living in a city full of bustling high streets I’m inclined to ask if this is really the case? Instead of the end of the high street, it would be better described as the transformation of retail in store. There is the development of a multi-channel, ‘omnichannel’ approach for retail, demonstrating that consumers are not shopping with an ‘either or’ outlook, instead seeking convenience and engagement. Therefore, if we are looking for quantity changes, we can only expect to see more retail stores appearing.
As consumers become more demanding, they seek the best experiences. They want real life, physical experiences that have been enhanced to involve them. For a generation that live through their mobile devices and online presence, it can be thought out of character to see them mark their preference for the high street over online shopping, but this result is becoming more and more evident with the new generation of shoppers.
But how does this provide opportunities for creative technology and digital marketing?
There is a key trend linked with many in store improvements – the digitisation of experience. Digital can be integrated in many ways. Pay by phone, stock checking, customer recognition and suggestions of complimentary purchases can all be thought of as basic additions, while there is also the integration of more outlandish ideas such as those based on virtual reality. The multi-channel approach can also be seen as digitisation, in the process of many ordering online to collect in store, or researching the product through one platform and purchasing through the other – this can be seen in either order.
A cycle of digitisation has developed – stores have been seen introducing many weird and wonderful digital elements to their shopping experience, then the people and their devices are heading to the shops for a greater chance of content to Instagram and a cool snapchat story. As demand for an interactive experience increases, stores must keep up to remain competitive. This means an abundance of in store apps and snapchat filters are coming to fruition. Farfetch introduced an app inspired by cult favourite tinder to encourage immediate feedback on their clothing, customers are swiping for their favourite items and making it very clear which pieces aren’t their perfect match.
A massive trend is seen in the introduction of ‘beacons’ – users connect to store Bluetooth and as customers navigate through the store and connect to various beacon points they are provided with product information, offers and more. Big retailers such as Walmart and John Lewis have been quick to introduce this technology into their large stores.
There has been a significant number of online only retailers adding ‘bricks and mortar’ shopping to their repertoire – the likes of Birchbox and Missguided that have always operated solely from their e-commerce sites have been welcomed to high streets and shopping centres and are engaging customers in totally new ways to the existing competition. Keeping it digital, the stores host a significant number of interactive screens, social media spots galore and a digital POS.
A famous example came as Rebecca Minkoff launched her flagship store in LA and introduced the ‘digital fitting room’. Offering smart walls in the shops allows you to request the items you want to try on which will be promptly supplied in your changing room which a text coming directly to you to notify you that the room is ready for you and you can proceed to try on.
Digitisation of this nature is no longer isolated to a minor number of boutiques, it is seen across the board in all manner of retailers, not dependant on specific characteristics of store or consumer. A potentially surprising retailer to get involved was Marks and Spencer, perhaps one of the most traditional high street stores, M&S jumped onto the Virtual Reality bandwagon with their home range. The popular shopping empire allowed users to step into an interior designers’ shoes, providing them with the choice of virtual apartments to design and explore.
But what does the future hold for retail stores? Digitisation is only expected to continue. There are clear forecasts to suggest that more stores will adopt in store navigation via beacons, pay by smart phone, the demise of traditional checkouts and the movement of loyalty schemes to digital platforms. Introduction of store concepts that allow customer interaction and engagement will be key.
The primary task for modern day retailers, whether online or in store, is to optimise their consumer experience. Digitisation offers an abundance of opportunities through which to do this.
For creative technology and digital marketing agencies, the growing demand for interactive consumer experiences is providing lots of new and exciting challenges.