As growing numbers of retailers and brands look to entice customers back into store with an array of immersive experiences, Craig Summers, UK Managing Director, Manhattan Associates asks how retailers can reinforce innovative omnichannel experiences with the quality of in-store associate interaction.
The concept of retail is being turned on its head as innovative brands and more traditional retailers, begin reimagining the physical retail environment as a destination to ‘do’ as much as ‘buy’. From yoga and meditation to cooking, photography workshops, and even virtual reality enabled room designs, innovation is increasingly creating a new, immersive customer experience.
While brands are focused heavily on creating a new form of engagement, for traditional retailers the addition of new activities to traditional physical retail stores is increasingly recognised as being the key to reinvigorating consumer footfall, especially during seasonal peaks. The creation of events and activities that are compelling enough to entice consumers back to the high-street is essential in persuading customers to fall back in love with the physical shopping experience.
This shift in thinking is exciting and brave, with brands and retailers making significant investments. Primark’s flagship new Birmingham outlet – it’s largest ever - not only includes cafes and hair salons but also recycling options, customised garment printing and a Hogwarts Wizarding World area; while Samsung has opened a 20,000 sq. ft store in London’s redeveloped Kings Cross full of sofas, cafes and events – the latter doesn’t even have products for sale, although they are on display.
Immersive buy and immersive do
While brands may be able to use expensive store locations for engagement alone, the vast majority of retailers will need to carefully consider the integration of the experience into the existing retail model to ensure the quality of the experience is consistent at every touchpoint, be it digital or physical. Can customers easily segue from a photography workshop to making a purchase? Or, are the store associates as engaging and informative as the individuals presenting workshops or breakouts?
A great experience has to be delivered at every touch point and that means ensuring every store associate is empowered by technology with information on both product and customer. The latter point is increasingly recognised by independent retailers – especially those involved in hobbyist pursuits such as cycling. Store associates are selected for their enthusiasm and experience, as well as their willingness to become part of a community.
The result is not just a store but a club, with group cycle rides, live screening of the Tour de France and helmet fitting for children – all of which represent ways of creating a destination or community that draws individuals back again and again.
But do they buy? And, if they try, how good is the purchasing experience? There is no point in enticing consumers to experience a great event if a store associate is not empowered to deliver a next-level purchase experience. Ensuring store associates can combine their enthusiasm with immediate access to the latest product information is essential. Add in, where available, customer specific information (such as a wish list or browsing history), and personalisation can immediately reinforce the overall immersive experience.
Physical retail is clearly in transition as we start the new decade & immersive experiences are without doubt essential to enticing consumers back into high-street shops & helping them to fall back in love with retail.
It will be interesting to see where the tipping point between traditional floor space usage & more creative, experiential approaches begins, as there is now a strong & clear case for brands to disrupt their existing business models when it comes to the usage of their square footage.
However, the key remains (increasingly in a connected digital age), creating a quality of experience that remains seamless at every stage, from in-store experiences; to more empowered, informed store associates; through to café time, browsing & ultimately purchasing.