In the past few years, change in the global retail sector has accelerated beyond even the boldest forecasts. Technology, media and consumer behavior are shifting at the speed of light. Although retailers try to keep up with consumers’ growing expectations, many of them are failing when it comes to delivering the type of experience consumers look for.
The digital experience
Take physical stores. Although e-commerce still only represents less than 10 percent of total retail sales, it has already set the benchmark of what a great shopping experience means. People have come to expect speed, convenience and a large variety of options, whatever the channel – but offline, stores are hard-pressed to match the quality of experience e-commerce offers. Many retailers are trying to digitalize their store to increase their appeal with high-spending, young shoppers, but these attempts are often superficial, limited to a few screens and mobile devices here and there on the shop floor.
The physical side
Retail futurist Doug Stephens believes that these attempts to play catch-up with webshops, for example adding screens in-store so that customers can search for products, are misguided and downright counterproductive. The thing is, people don’t need to come to your store to scroll through a list of products on a screen; they could easily, and more comfortably, do it from their sofa. When people make the effort of entering your store doors, it’s because they want something different from what online shopping offers. Doug Stephens is adamant: consumers crave physical experiences. Technology in-store can make you more competitive, but only if it supports the physical nature of the store, helping consumers become more engaged and immersed in the environment. “The true joy of a store,” Stephens says, “is not looking at digital representations of products on a screen but being able to touch, feel, taste, smell and experience products.”
The retail show
Experience is key in retail, and Stephens suggests that in order to give customers a time they will remember, retailers need to steal a page from experts in entertainment. Retail should be treated like a performance; and for the performance to be successful, you need the right stage, set design, actors and technology. All these must work together seamlessly towards the ultimate goal: giving people an experience they will want to relive again and again.
Author and internationally renowned consumer futurist Doug Stephens will hold a keynote at conneXion Madrid, during which he will tell how creative, daring brands are reinventing themselves, and what retailers must do to keep a place in consumers’ hearts in this era of radical transformation.