In the current retail market the rules of brand engagement are in a continuous state of flux. The speed of this change has lead to a lot of knee jerk reactions from retailers as they seek to integrate digital into their offer.
But where is the framework that helps define the real necessity of in-store interactivity? How can we tell when the integration of digital into a retail environment will eventually result in a real measurable and tangible difference.
The methods of retail engagement within a store environment have always relied on the relevance and desirability of the product offer, its price position, and the attraction of its presentation display. Finding the right balance between these methods generally has us reaching for our wallet and moving to that final goal, the moment of purchase.
Retailers often assume that adding digital interaction into the mix will create new avenues of customer engagement with the brand, and that this will magically result in an increase in sales. But there is a considerable gap between a customer engaging with a brand and that same customer feeling compelled to purchase.
A lot of the retail industry’s digital desperation is provoked by the need to build bridges towards a new generation of consumer groups; digitally savvy, with a multi-purpose brains trained to receive information constantly from a wide array sources. How do we cut through the background noise to reach these over-stimulated consumers?
When digital truly succeeds is when it’s not just visual noise or innovation for the sake of it. When digital elements are seamlessly integrated into the traditional purchasing process, it’s hard to argue with the results. We describe this integration of digital media and traditional retail engagement as being ‘on the spot’ – using technology to enhance the physical experience and allow the consumer to go beyond the confines of their immediate environment. Activations that are ‘on the spot’ mix the physical with the virtual to bring the consumer closer to the product, not just the brand.
Take for instance, a recent digital display at Harrods Cellar created for champagne vintage brand Dom Perignon. For the connoisseur, the brand needs no introduction and no justification for the price, but for a less informed consumer without the help of a trained sales assistant, it might be a more complex sales process.
The display also had to promote the brand image and its collaboration with artist Jeff Koons, who created an unusual take on the packaging as part of a programme of Dom Perignon brand activations.
The process was divided in to traditional retail stages: curiosity, engagement, information and purchase. The first objective was to win the attention of the potential consumer, whether an old aficionado or a ‘nouveau drinker’. The latest 3D screen technology was employed to engage the passerbys from distance; the voluptuous contours of Koon’s creation – the Balloon Venus – lent itself to a captivating 3D film that helped to bring people closer to the Dom Perignon product in an instant.
Engagement and information were key to the next phase. As the intrigued customer is drawn closer, an interactive digital storybook, allows them to activate a number of brand stories: an insight into the various champagne vintages and their production in the caves of their old Chateau in France, the ‘nose’ of the Chef de Cave and, of course, the unique partnership with the American pop artist and his bold vision, part of which required the user to touch the bottles on display. Throughout these stories, the consumer is moving towards the all-important purchase conversion.
Direct, real and tactile connections play a strong role in connecting the visual narrative directly to the object. This simple connectivity is often missing in digital experiences that aim solely for brand engagement instead of creating a link between the consumer and object of purchase. As a direct result of this ‘on the spot’ approach there was a significant increase on sales of bottles of champagne in store and a programme of ‘on the spot’ activations is already in place.
There are other practical applications of the ‘on the spot’ digital approach that are perfect for when limited store space cannot display the full content of the offer. Take John Lewis; a traditional British brand on the move and with a vision. In areas such as furniture, it would be impossible to display in store their full range of options, colours and variations required when making a purchasing decision. The use of a ‘digital catalogue’ plays a vital role and one that the customer as well as the retailer might benefit from.
Furnishing your home isn’t just about buying individual pieces, but putting them in the context of your own home. This is the concept behind Yoo Home, another interesting ‘on the spot’ example, where their collection of furniture is shown alongside the ‘Yoo Styler’, a table-top touchscreen used to upload floor plans of people’s homes. Customers can look at a projection of their chosen room – displayed in glorious 3D on a five-metre-high wall – before dragging and dropping virtual pieces of furniture to test whether they will work within the scheme.
In this case technology takes a no-nonsense, bespoke problem-solving approach that connects the product to the consumer and brings it to life in a way that couldn’t be more real and ‘on the spot’.
Carlos Virgile, global head of retail and leisure at Imagination, and founder of Virgile + Partners