First published in Retail Week July 21st 2017
To succeed in the demanding world of the consumer customer experience is everything – but we’ve all heard that many times before right?
A great view of the state of the nation in internet retailing and technology was on offer at the recent Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago – a gathering of retailers, vendors, analysts, which I attended as an IBM futurist.
The lens we looked through was that of the consumer. Brands no longer own their own brand. The consumer does.
Content and context are king. Engagement and experience are the foundations upon which all else is built.
“It’s important to have fun and have a sense of fun”
Retail is experiencing a seminal moment and those who realise and recognise this will be the ones who survive.
So, what resonated in Chicago and what made it memorable?
It’s important to have fun and have a sense of fun. Be fun to deal with and ensure that this is what your brand stands for.
Have fun internally and this will permeate through to your customers.
For a sense of fun, Spanish children’s retailer Imaginarium is a great example. Their stores don’t have doors, they have archways – one large size for the adults and a much smaller one for the children.
It’s all about creating a sense of fun and wonder for the children.
Consumers want and expect special brand engagement more than ever before.
After all, they own your brand and have a strong influence over it so why wouldn’t you want to engage with them on multiple levels?
“Forrester Research asked retail execs what their number one investment priority for 2017 was. The answer was personalisation”
According to Olapic, 76% of consumers view content posted by other consumers as more honest than advertising.
And in the world of fashion, Instagram, with over 700 million monthly active users, is the most popular means of engaging. Big names such as Harrods and Burberry use it extensively to bring the catwalk right into their customers’ lives.
Recent Forrester Research asked retail execs what their number one investment priority for 2017 was. The answer was personalisation.
That one-to-one relationship with the consumer is still a little way off. Being able to join up all the dots and be able to pick up the ‘digital trail’ that we all leave behind us every day will be the key to being able to effectively personalise your offer.
“It follows that people seek to be inspired by their retail experiences, which is good news for stores”
But with over a million different home pages for different customer types, Shop Direct is doing a pretty good job.
Personalisation will rapidly mature from the current, retrospective ‘ambulance chasing’ into a highly sophisticated contextual method of engaging with consumers and driving conversion.
The industry has long talked of ‘retail theatre’ and indeed there are consumer-facing businesses who actively promote the concept in-store of the shop floor being front of house – the stage, where the store colleagues are the actors.
Restaurant and pub chain Hall & Woodhouse goes beyond that and even has a staff green room in each restaurant.
“Creating an emotional attachment and excitement around a brand is therefore central and key for retailers”
So it follows that people seek to be inspired by their retail experiences, which is good news for stores because only there can shoppers feel and touch in ways that they can never do online.
The two now, of course, coexist, finally putting an end to the concept of omnichannel.
Retail is different to almost every other industry in that consumers have an emotional connection with retail brands in a way which doesn’t exist in relationships with, say, utility companies, telcos or public services.
Creating an emotional attachment and excitement around a brand is therefore central and key for retailers.
New York-based mattress company Casper is fast developing a cult following and excites and inspires in equal measure whilst Shoes of Prey could well be laying down the template for how people buy our shoes in the future.
I’ve left this to last because it is, I believe, what is required in order to fully deliver all the above.
That might sound like a bold statement. However, cognitive technologies are set to transform retail in ways that could not have been imagined until recently.
The phrase ‘know your customer’ is about to take on a whole new meaning once cognitive and machine learning become part of every operation across a retail business.
“Cognitive represents the most profound change in retail in over 100 years and the journey is just beginning”
1-800 Flowers in the US or North Face are two great examples where cognitive technology is driving brand engagement.
Cognitive represents the most profound change in retail in over 100 years and the journey is just beginning. A journey which will not only transform retail but also consumers’ lives.
Personalisation will become true one-to-one relationships where needs and wants are anticipated and goods delivered where and when people want them.
Andrew Busby is founder and chief executive of Retail Reflections and an IBM Futurist