As news comes in that an average of 14 shops have shut down each day in the UK this year, it seems an appropriate time to discuss the need to revolutionise retail space and how to harness tech in doing so.
In recent years, brands and retailers have lost out to the ease and efficiency of online retail stores, causing a decline in footfall and changing high streets drastically. But how can we try to buck this trend and tempt customers back into real-life experiences?
Many brands are beginning to answer this question with immersive and sensory experiences, both in-store and as one-off specials.
In a world where we are overloaded with technological and sensory experience on a daily basis - largely received through the screen of a smartphone - the fight for attention has become increasingly difficult. Customers feel desensitised and less personally invested in brands than before; we have become numbers on a big data spreadsheet, rather than individuals with personal interests and social lives.
But that is starting to change.
Many retailers are rapidly catching on to the need to develop their in-store experiences, and respond to customers who want to have real-life interactions instead of ordering blindly off a website with no guarantee of what the product will really be like.
US grocery superpower Walmart has most recently combined technology and face to face contact with their introduction of new scheme “Check out with Me”. Staff have been equipped with handheld gadgets that can allow customers to check out and pay for their products anywhere in store, so customers can avoid queues in the busiest areas of the store. It not only makes the process more efficient for busy customers, but also provides an interactive experience and a little bit of human charm to an often mundane task.
Similarly, the ever-innovative Tech giant Apple host daily talks and workshops for free in hosts of its retail stores. From learning to draw on tablets, to making music, to perfecting the art of camera-phone photography, they offer free, interactive and varied sessions to educate and inspire. Customers can use and experiment with the products, with staff on hand to advise and help each individual make the most out of their experience. It serves to enhance the perception of Apple as a ‘community’ of tech lovers, looking to share with the world.
But it’s not just in-store experiences that brands and retailers can harness.
Perhaps the greatest interactive shopper experience of all is Ikea; you can physically immerse yourself in their design and products, feel the quality first hand and effectively walk around in your future home. Fancy a nap? Try one on one of the beds and experience it first hand.
But it’s not just in-store experiences that brands and retailers can harness. One-off experiential events are increasingly common as brands fight for audience discussion and brand love. And the possibilities really are quite endless.
Recognising the volume of people who would be going to Glastonbury in 2017, and of those the amount of wellbeing and beauty-conscious individuals there would be, Benefit built a Brows & Beauty Drive thru just outside of the Glastonbury site, inviting cars on their way to the festival to pull over, chat with the beauty assistants and pick up a takeaway bag. Punters could take away their chosen combination, from sun screen to loo roll, from face wipes to an all-important eyebrow styling brush.
So how can brands change the doom and gloom speak about retail environments? It takes a little bit of personality, and a lot of interaction. Sometimes we want to be reminded we are humans and not just a number on a sales report - and what better way than to use physical touch to remind us of that?