Purchasing with purpose
By Nina Oswald
The use of digital platforms and social networks has not only changed the way we live—it’s also fundamentally changed the relationship between brands and consumers. Specifically, it’s enriched the path to purchase and reset our expectations in terms of how we'd like to engage with brands. What does this mean for the retail experiences in the future? Does the role of retail brands have to change?
By now, most of us are used to living in a world in which shopping is a seamless, convenient 24/7 activity. We can purchase anything we want online, anytime, day or night. With their fingertips, customers are more empowered and discerning than ever before. What, if anything, can retailers do to keep us walking through their doors when we have exactly the same amount of purchasing power while sitting comfortably on the couch?
These five trends will dramatically influence the retail experience of the future:
Beyond time and space Shopping does not require a predetermined sequence of events in a certain location in which a person needs to close the deal. Online and mobile shopping makes it possible to gather information, choose products, pay for merchandise and organize delivery outside of a brick and mortar store, fundamentally changing the economics of retail space. Some consumers will still go out of their way to see and experience the merchandise first hand. Instead of focusing on the actual retail sales, it will be more significant to see how many people are convinced to purchase before, during or after their actual store experience. Physical retail spaces will need to take on a new role, offering an integrated experience – a unique, memorable moment within the shopper’s journey. It will be important to connect and stay connected with shoppers before and after they walk through the store. This will also change how we calculate the profitability of individual retail spaces.
From an omni-channel to a brand experience A touch point can have a stronger impact when people interact with it in a different context. Strategic partnerships frequently extend the physical retail experience into mobile environments. For retailers, services such as "shopkick" make it possible to embed content in a browsing routine and place targeted incentives to draw customers to retail locations, resulting in planned buying behavior in a highly competitive retail environment. Retail brands need to understand that a holistic service experience and specific mobile-based service offers are key differentiators in their overall brand experience, and very effective marketing and selling tools to drive revenue.
A stage or a curator? Many big multi-brand stores and shopping centers arrange personalized brand concepts next to each other like a chain of pearls. Retail managers rarely take an active role in curating the elements that make up the overall experience. The stores compete for attention while the actual retail platform plays a less visible role. The focus of these efforts is on maximizing the profitability of each retail brand and space, not on creating an overarching experience. Increasing numbers of retailers now realize the potential of strengthening the platform to become more desirable space with carefully selected individual experiences. This new role challenges the authority of world-class brands and demands a more customized, localized approach to each unique retail environment.
As curators, retail manager need to be venue creators, not just store managers. Today’s consumers no longer depend on stores – they can do just about all of their shopping at the touch of a button. Retailers need to work even harder to create a unique multisensory experience for their customers, and offer something that is unavailable online. This means creating more memorable in-store experiences, communicating a strong point of view, developing captivating environments, and encouraging audiences that are hungry for more.
Purchasing with purpose Many retailers have successfully moved towards a conscious design and evolution of their merchandise categories. Products and brands are selected based on their fit within a greater theme. Shoppers return to discover new stories brought to life through dynamic arrangements of products and artefacts. Concept stores, like 'This is Story' in New York, reinvent themselves on a regular basis. Digital and interactive interfaces augment the space and become storytelling devices. In becoming a new "third place" for mobile people to relax, shop, work and be entertained, airports need to meet customer expectations and tell overarching stories. People want to purchase with purpose: Confronted with mind-boggling volumes of information, consumers now expect brands to act as filters and curators. Faced with a surplus of choices, consumers tend to engage only with the content and offers that are personally relevant to them. Today, many people are better acquainted with their screens than their neighbors – and a desire for genuine connections and authentic, meaningful experiences remains. Brands that understand these needs – for the complex to be simplified, the random to be made relevant, and the impersonal to be made personal –have opportunities to get closer to consumers, play a key role in their lives, and connect in new ways.
Getting personal As tech innovations continue to dominate the global marketplace, consumers long for a personal touch when it comes to their retail and brand experiences. Our interpersonal connections greatly influence our perceptions of authenticity. Direct contact with experts, such as craftsmen, producers, and artisans, can convince us of the quality of a product or service. Employees who emphasize service and “live the brand” enhance the customer experience and build trust. While the connection between authenticity and performance may be challenging to quantify, the experience – along with all of the human moments and personal touches that bring it to life – definitely contributes to a brand’s value. To stay ahead of the curve, retailers will need to provide high levels of personalized service and experiences. They need to not just fulfill, but anticipate the needs and preferences of their customers. Data is the key – collecting, gaining insights from it and putting these findings to work. In this sense, adopting digitally integrated mechanisms offers a huge potential advantage to retailers.
Summing it up: It's all about relating. It is not the branded product you buy and it is not where you buy it – it is ultimately the purchasing experience that stays in your memories. Customers seek a unique shopper experience that tells an overarching story, giving purpose to their purchase and connecting with them on a personal level. Today and in years to come, retailers will need to focus specifically on relating to people than on just selling their brands.