The pace of change seems to accelerate every year, month, week. When picking out innovative technology for your retail stores, how can you make sure you go for the solid trends (the tech that will stick, and bring returns), and discard the fads (the tech that consumers will forget about tomorrow)?
The best strategy is to stop and listen. To your customers. After all, they are the ones who determine what technology enhances the shopping experience, and is worth keeping.
So now the question is: what do customers want?
1. Customers want non-stop access to products and services
Opening hours are so nineteenth century. Today, people shop when they feel like it. It’s 3 am, and your store is not open yet, but here’s a shopper who really wants to buy a pair of acid green trainers, now. What will you do to help them? Sure, you could let them wait until morning, and hope they’ll be around, still in a shopping mood, when you open. Or, you could transform your store into a giant vending machine from 5 pm to 9 am. Enter “shoppable windows,” which give passers-by the option to shop at all hours straight from the store window, via a touch screen. They can then choose to have the products shipped to their home address (after all, if they’d wanted to wait until the store was open to pick up the products, they would have… waited). IKEA, the furniture giant that also sells meatballs, is using augmented reality (AR) tech to help customers visualize how a piece of furniture would look in their home. So people don’t end up buying a new sofa and lugging it all the way home only to figure out that it fills the whole living room. Preordering food while on the subway, so it will be ready for you when you are ready to eat, has now become so popular that Google has integrated food ordering into both its search functionality and into Google Maps. No need to download apps, or remember which Chinese place does delivery in your area. Go on Google Maps, find a nearby restaurant, place an order and pay via Google Pay. that’s the convenience today’s customers are looking for.
What should you do? Investigate new tech, and pick the one(s) that will help you offer customers original and inventive ways to shop when they want, outside of traditional retail timeframes and spaces.
2. Consumers want immersive environments
Shopping online can be extremely immersive and engaging. It’s a one-to-one relationship with the screen, and the shopper is in complete control over what items to view, or which sounds to hear (or mute). How can you offer the same kind of totalizing experience in your store? Many retailers, feeling the pressure, are rethinking their whole game. In the Tokyo flagship store of British fashion brand Hunter, a multi-sensory space virtually transports shoppers to rainy London. On the ceiling, a digital lightbox creates the typical London cloudy sky, while the sound of heavy rain and thunderstorms reverberates from loudspeakers, making customers feel quite at home while they’re browsing wellington boots, coats and umbrellas. In Hong Kong, Audi fans can explore the brand‘s full range of luxury cars, and even preview future concepts of vehicles, using a VR device which enables them to zoom into the tiniest detail. They can even go for a virtual test drive (which is a great way to keep your display cars scratch free). The Samsung KS store is London goes even further. There are no tills, but there’s plenty of gaming lounges, co-working and event spaces, a DJ booth, and even a travel photography workshop. This is not a place for shopping – it’s a space for playing and enjoying life, surrounded by and immersed into the spirit of the brand.
What should you do? Forget the old concept of store as a place to display items on racks and ring up sales. Instead, think of how you can surprise and engage shoppers with a totalizing experience. If used in smart ways, even technology as simple as loudspeakers playing weather sounds can help enhance the way people interact with the store environment.
3. Consumers want exclusivity
Mass production has lost its appeal. Modern consumers feel unique, and they reward brands that give them products and experiences that are tailored to their tastes. And what better way to do that than letting them make their own products? At the factory store of bag brand Freitag in Zurich, Switzerland, customers can use the factory’s tools and machinery (under strict staff supervision) to literally create their own bag. To add an educational moment to the fun, shoppers can also learn about the sustainable production processes that characterize the brand, seeing how the recycled truck tarp and fully compostable textiles get together to make the bags. Unique and ethical – that’s a winning combination. Another way to create unique experiences is to limit them to a selected few. Enter Chanel. In the luxury brand’s flagship store in Paris, the two top floors are dedicated exclusively to VIP customers. There, the crème de la crème can find personal styling rooms and a restaurant that can only be booked for private meals.
While brands like Chanel can afford to shun part of their customer base, not all exclusive experiences have to, quite literally, exclude someone. M&Ms uses personalized candy to entice customers to the brand’s M&Ms World stores. Head to the store, and you can print your face, or your children’s adorable mug on the round candies. A bag of these unique candy pieces will cost you more than the standard one you can buy at the supermarket – but who wants to eat the same candy as everyone else?
What should you do? Offer special products and experiences that consumers won’t find elsewhere. Make them feel special, and give them a unique souvenir (be it a memory or an actual, personalized product) to take home.
4. Consumers want social shopping
Retailers have been using social media as a marketing and communication tool, a sounding board for new ideas, a source of information on consumer tastes, and even a shop window to sell products. While some waste time complaining about people instagramming dishes, the smartest brands are taking full advantage of the potential of social media. It can be as easy as encouraging customers to take a snapshot and share it on on social media. When Millennial-favorite makeup brand Glossier opens a new store, every corner is designed to be instagrammable. Cue to hills of real moss dotted with wild flowers, or a reproduction of a desert canyon, complete with perfect lighting. The result? A brand that gets more popular by the day, and becomes known for embracing real beauty – because after all, its brand ambassadors are the actual customers, as real and varied as they could be.
Others brands are using social media as a sales generator. Ring Concierge, a diamond jewelry brand, doesn’t simply show its beautiful jewelry on Instagram. On every picture, each product shown is tagged with a short description and the price. This way, when an item catches a shopper’s eye it’s easy to move from “like” to “buy”. Did you think no one would impulse-buy diamonds? Here you stand corrected.
How can we react? Simply having a Facebook (Twitter/Instagram/…) page is not a social media strategy. Use social media smartly: encourage controlled customer-generated content, build accolades, and find ways to direct your social tribe to your stores.
It’s not just the pace of technological advancement that moves faster and faster. Customer demands are shifting more and more quickly, too. Retailers need to stay dynamic and innovative, track consumers’ changing expectations, and swiftly react.