Brick and Mortar . . . and Pixels
While the news continues to remind us of retail's decline as an industry, 85% of consumers say they prefer to shop in physical stores, a 2016 study by TimeTrade finds. Even when the same specialty product can be ordered online many of us will still schlep out to a local brick-and-mortar retailer to get it. Why? The more our daily lives become centered on screens the more our visits to brick-and-mortar retail become an act of choice rather than a necessity. Offloading bulk orders of toilet-paper to amazon is one thing, but creating tactile and engaging user experienceis quite another.
Marketing continues to emphasize UX as the new frontier of marketing with the highest ROI in longterm growth, so what are the trends that will continue to play a hero role in saving the retail climate in the upcoming year?
1.) A consistent and unified customer experience
A streamlined design strategy and thoughtful approach to interior design is one of the most important characteristics of a successful retail experience, and not just because people will want to instagram it. Apple is among the most obvious examples, but what about international skincare line Aesop, whose design strategy is not so much in architectural uniformity but in a hyper-localized approach to store design.
Aesop has turned into an international juggernaut while retaining the customer's sense of intimacy and discovery. In large part, this is due to collaborative approach to spacial design. They hire local architecture firms to constantly reinterpret the brand's mission and ethos into a spectrum of materials, lighting accents and even acoustics. Each customer touchpoint is thought of as a medium to communicate spirit that can be further explored via their website The Taxonomy of Design.
By inviting a rotating cast of creatives into the process they create memorable and site specific retail experiences with high connectivity. They also achieve this balance by providing visitors to physical stores with consultation experiences, whereby customers can discuss their skincare needs with trained specialists and try out the best products for them.
2.) Digital Signage, Interactive Displays & The Internet of Things (IoT)
Over the past 5 years, we’ve started to see more in-store LCD (liquid crystal display) signs displaying rich video content about products, alongside announcements and promotional content. Many retailers have thought of creative ways to use interactive touchscreen displays to provide a more engaging tactile interaction with the brand.
This past fall, IMPAX, a company that provides a video marketing platform that’s mounted at the checkout lane to display branded content, was recognized as the “most disruptive” innovation technology at the Retail Tomorrow conference in San Antonio, Texas,
For customers, watching these displays has been said to shorten their perceived wait times. Impax’s screens also have sensors that track traffic and attention metrics — fully anonymously, of course — to provide marketers with insights into customer patterns so they can create better and more engaging shopping experiences.
The key however is not to just create visuals for the sake of more stimulation but to create compelling content that continues to evolve the relationship of visitor to product. How do we communicate better? With higher visual accuracy and invite visitors to feel more invested in the backstory behind their consumer choices?
3.) Beacons and Wearable Technology
In the past three years beacons have come a source of success for museums and cultural institutions who are seeking new ways to redefine the museum-goer experience. The Guggenheim utilizes Estimote beacons throughout the structure to push proximate content to visitors. With the Guggenheim app, you’re free to wander the spiral ramps of the museum at your leisure, be it from the bottom toward the top or from the top toward the bottom, as intended by the architect himself. Armed with your phone and headphones, content is pushed to you depending on what artwork you are closest to. Want to know who painted it, what it’s called, or the story behind it? The Guggenheim app provides you with contextual information, and Estimote beacons surface this information as you walk through the space.
Now imagine that such a technology could also be used in retail to help bolster the storytelling sales strategy of a piece or to stream a video of the maker in his or her studio? imagine that we could bring you closer to the source of the product? It would not only increase the value of transparency but the value of ethical practices whose value you can better communicate to your customer. Think about it as mainlining site-specific information.
4.) Virtual Reality
While it's easy to get sick of hearing about virtual reality games and tools for augmented reality, it's only recently that they have finally begun transforming how people buy.
As the technology becomes more refined and affordable, we'll continue to see them used as addendum to physical stores, further blurring the line of brick-and-mortar and e-commerce. In fact, they are in many ways the ultimate version of brick-and-mortar, bringing you as close to the complete purchasing process as possible in that they offer rich experiences that fully utilize our visual and even auditory senses.
VR also supports improved product visualization. Home improvement and furniture stores have provided shoppers with custom 3-D renderings depicting possible home designs via flat screens for years now, but recently, Lowe’s and Marxent Labs partnered to create “Holoroom” kiosks that allow customers to visualize home design via a within-the-room experience using virtual reality. This type of solution allows for try-before-you-buy in the case of larger-scale products and services.
With relentless demand for immersive, visceral, evocative shopping experiences, the ecosystem of marketing and retail technology companies is doing everything in its power to roll out innovative products.
As we grow more used to an inter-connected lifestyle, retail must adapt to the shifts in consumer behavior. Finding seamless ways to integrate these tech advancements as more than just accessories but as value-added innovations that address how the buying experience can be made more personal and in tune with individual attitudes and preferences.