This is the first in series of articles by Creative Director Andy Barlow that looks at how creating ‘content’ experiences can bring brands can get closer to their customers both physically and emotionally:
As we are all aware, the world of retail has changed. Customers now, more than ever, demand more than product on shelves; we expect to be entertained, inspired and educated; made to feel empowered, encouraged and comforted. Content experiences need to be a constant feature of the customer journey, across all channels; peaking and responding, predicting and supporting as the customer’s needs change throughout their purchase experience. Brands and their partners are now faced with developing customer-focused retail experiences that are linked seamlessly across all channels to offer full on-line/off-line integration.
It’s not difficult to see why when likes of Tommy Hilfigger recently reported that 80% of their sales are now being influenced by mobile technology and Screwfix has demonstrated 99% sales growth on mobile and 26% annual growth on their website. But the truth is that 85% of customers still prefer to shop physically in store… That’s why stores need to be smarter and the retail experience needs to be more differentiated from competitors and focused more clearly on customer needs. However, to be truly differentiating and omni-channel the traditional customer experience lines need to be blurred with what I’m calling Experience Osmosis and this is where things start to get exciting…
What we are seeing is a switch to creating in-store experiences that help the customer to shop for larger items like kitchens, if you’re Wickes, at the same time as educating about the brand and how it fits into your life, I’m thinking about the new Samsung 837 concept in New York, that describes itself as “not a store, but a new kind of place filled with ideas, experiences, and Samsung’s cutting edge devices.”
‘Show rooming’, a simplistic term used by a number of retailers to help customers envisage a lifestyle through their purchases, rather than just selling individual items is becoming more normalised, think Ikea in its more basic form, or with one of the best bricks to clicks examples, Made.com, where customers are encouraged to choose lifestyle, furniture products in store, order online with the help of very knowledgeable and approachable staff, then… hey presto… delivered to your home. This blurs the lines between the online and offline customer experience… come into store, engage with colleagues to help create the physical and emotional connection, then use the online channel to make your order with no fuss… very nice. Experience Osmosis.
So if you think about this in terms of the brand building an emotional connection through the use of digital in store, it no longer becomes just about throwing screens into the mix to keep up with the Joneses and having digital solutions at all points across the customer journey. That’s not to say that adding VR and AR to the in-store experience can’t help engage customers and be legitimately helpful… if included at the right points on a customer’s journey and to fulfil a specific task where these tools are relevant and helpful. It’s just that it is well known that having great people to emotionally engage with customers through innovative and physical experience helps build loyalty. Well trained and empowered people, however, cost money and that can be huge operational headache for retailers like supermarkets. Nonetheless, it’s an important consideration in a world where customers are visiting stores for shopping ‘experiences’ rather than necessarily to shop for ‘things’. Reframing the customer journey in this way helps show how empowering their people, along with targeted digital support, can offer brands an emotional and competitive edge.
Andy Barlow is a Customer Experience focused, Creative Director for brands operating in the retail sector. An Architect of Change. Leading brands through the creative process of changing their retail position from seller of products to customers, to commercially savvy champion of customers needs and fulfiller of dreams.