Nine tenets of retail experience strategy
Having executed immersive retail experiences for several big-name brands across the world, I’ve observed nine simple tenets that ensure companies get maximum impact and return-on-investment from their activities. Of course, it may not be immediately possible to hit all of these aspects in the first iteration of a digital engagement (in this case the digital reinvention of a bricks-and-mortar location), but the plan should be to properly explore as many as make sense for the strategy, budget, brand and business context.
We need to immediately capture the eye and imagination of consumers as they pass by a location. This can be done by teasing the interior experience of a store, so that the sense of space and merchandise within it is not lost. Ultimately, solutions should not block a prospective shopper’s view of the interior.
There is too much of an assumption today that installing a video wall alone – pure digital signage – will be enough to stop potential customers in their tracks and get them to enter a given store. Though these tactics can have a dramatic emotional impact in the first few seconds, a higher degree of interactivity, something that goes beyond a moving image alone, creates a deeper and longer-term connection with consumers.
As “experience architects” we need to unlock each individual’s potential and tailor custom moments that create loyalty. In order to deliver the fourth tenet of “Personalisation”, technology should be used to actively or passively allow shoppers to let the brand know who they are. A swiped loyalty card can sometimes be enough, but the next generation of mobile technologies will allow identification to be voluntarily shared with the store via RFID, branded apps, voice or facial recognition, and other methods.
3. Brand “Ownable Moments”
We need to be faithful to the brand and customer first and foremost and not lead with technology for the sake of it. A monitor or a touchscreen is not a brand experience in itself. It is what is upon the technology that consumers connect with. Every brand has unique differentiators and our task is to identify these “Ownable Moments” and translate them into superlative user experiences. It’s how the technology is creatively used and how it maps into brand strategy that will make all the difference in the end. Otherwise, we risk an unplugged and silent kiosk in the corner of a store [also see # 8].
We need to use technology to create the potential for millions of unique experiences. No two shoppers are exactly alike. Therefore, technology can be used at scale to make experiences unique and tailored to personal interests and tastes. Personalisation not only drives a relevant and targeted experience, it also yields loyalty in return. Additionally, from the enterprise perspective, the data you get from your customers’ interaction with technology can help you understand more about them and drive fundamental business decisions such as inventory choice and product line design.
We need to think of a store as an inter-related continuum and vigilantly monitor data capture, success metrics, uptime and system integrity. By thinking “platform”, we can have applications talk to each other or to other services (website e-commerce, mobile apps, social networks, other locations) outside the store’s physical parameters. This allows the brand story to be built as the shopper moves through different phases of experience. Crucially, we need solid infrastructure to stitch all of these variables together.
I like to call the platform the “groundwater” that flows under the store and connects everything in an unseen way. Interactions at one station can potentially influence a subsequent interaction at another. Stores can re-theme for an individual or for more broader seasonal shifts. Managers can easily see scanned visualisations on dashboards of customer density and where the hot products are on shelves. Data is continually captured and added to consumer profiles to drive superior anticipatory customer service. The entire store becomes a next-generation way for companies to understand consumer behavior and deliver differentiated experiences.
6. Way-finding + Discovery
We need to demystify the depth and location of what is offered within a location.
For larger stores, we can use interactive display technologies, physical queues or apps to help shoppers understand where to go. For smaller stores or departments, interactive technologies can be used to demystify a process or flow and illuminate the inventory in surprising ways – sometimes finding something means finding it outside the store itself. This is where the concept of the much discussed, rarely executed “endless aisle” emerges. But the bottom line is to help people get to what they want as fast as is humanly possible.
7. Service + Transactions
We need to answer customer needs in real-time and shave seconds off the duration of a transaction. Queues are to be thought of as an evil to be vanquished. The staff should be empowered to solve consumer challenges whatever they may be and wherever they are, all without having to disengage and run off behind the counter or into the back room. Recognition should be given to loyal customers. A customer may ask “What’s the balance on my rewards card?”, or “Do you have this in stock right now?”, or “Can you order one for me for delivery tomorrow?”, or “Can I just buy this from you instead of waiting in line?” and the technology will reliably be there to create a magic and “ownable” moment in customer service.
8. Staff Acceptance
We must not ignore the needs of those who own customer experience directly and must ultimately be enabled by the technology. It is critical to involve floor staff, managers, and operations in the requirements and design process to make sure they will ultimately embrace the technology as a way for them to better service their customers as opposed to a mandate from above. They are the ones in the moment and face-to-face with the shopper, so they need to feel a sense of enablement to do their jobs better and faster. The technology will provide this capability seamlessly and with their full support.
9. Measuring Success
To do all of these things and not have an objective measure of success invites criticism. A solid return on the investment must be an early goal and proper measures should be agreed upon in the development process to help drive the ideas and the platform. Dashboards that help drive actionable optimisation of the experiences are critical. A team should be funded to respond to the issues pointed out by consumers so that the product experiences become ever more fine-tuned and effective.
If you feel there are others that contribute to a greater vision for next generation retail experience and technology, please drop me a line.
Peter Rivera is the Executive Creative Director and General Manager of Infusion’s Digital Agency