Designing the Future of Retail

Designing the Future of Retail
By Mark Cameron

The retail environment is quickly being turned upside down. The barriers between in-store and online channels have broken down. For many retailers, fighting digital behaviours like “show-rooming,” where customers use mobile devices to find information or alternative deals on the products that they interact with in-store, has become a priority. More enlightened retailers know that leveraging the digital tendencies of today’s customers is what they must do to remain relevant and profitable. They have had a glimpse at the future of retail and want in.

All over the world retailers are experimenting with in-store digital experiences. From virtual changing rooms, to touch screens and location aware mobile apps. Retailers are now trying to create unique and interactive environments that embrace technology to create immersive shopping experiences to manage all aspects of the purchasing lifecycle. Put simply, the commoditization of digital technology is forcing retailers to rethink how customers experience their brand.

The leaders in this integrated customer experience retail trend are not employing technology simply for the sake of having technology. Sephora is one. They have rolled out something called “Scentsa,” touch screens in-store allowing customers to explore Sephora’s range of scents. Building on that success, they also introduced another touch screen experience called “Skincare IQ,” kiosks allowing exploration of another product range.

What is obvious is that the core values of the brand must be brought to fore of the digital experience to create an emotional connection with the customer. This is what it takes to build competitive advantage in a highly disruptive, consumer-centric environment. It’s not about technology, it’s about your brand and the magic that makes it unique.

So if you are a retailer, and no doubt feeling the pressure to engage with consumers in new ways, what do you do? How do you plan out the digital customer experience?

Initially, it’s important to put the customer at the center of the experience journey. This sounds obvious, and it is. But it is vital to build a culture that focuses relentlessly on the customer. New Zealand based energy retailer Powershop, who is currently entering the Australian market, is a standout example of this. The company designed the customer experience they wanted from the outset and have built a culture that is constantly improving on that. And customers have responded. After only a few years in operation, Powershop was one of New Zealand’s fastest growing businesses.

It is also vital that you put digital at the center of the customer experience, not as an afterthought. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on digital hardware. If you haven’t worked out how, and why your customers will interact, then it’s unlikely you’ll catch up to the way they use technology.

There is no one app or touch screen that will help you build a digital experience that will draw people into your stores and keep them there. How to employ technology is important of course. But far more important is how you create an emotional connection. And how you design your unique experience to turn customers into passionate advocates.

Mark Cameron is CEO and lead strategist of social media conversion and commercialization agency Working Three. While his agency is based in Melbourne, Australia, he works for some of the world’s most innovative and forward-thinking brands. As a regular speaker and writer on social media and digital strategy, Mark stays focused on customers and outcomes, not the technology, leading to simple strategic conclusions.

Photo Credit: N.Calzas via Photo Pin | Creative Commons