The truth about shopping: the changing face of retail

Karl_BatesAs retailers continue to struggle with the balance of bricks and mortar and digital events Karl Bates dives into a recent McCann’s global study to take the pulse of consumer behaviour.

While many are proclaiming a slow death of traditional retail at the hands of the internet, the truth is it’s only the traditional retailers who don’t get it that are “getting it” from online alternatives. As our recent Truth About Shopping global study shows, traditional retailers who have innovatively evolved their offerings to embrace digital technologies are more popular with their customers than ever.

Here are some of the more relevant nuggets and what they mean for brands and retailers:

1. Technology has increased the frequency of shopping, and taken away the ‘occasion.’

Up until 10 years, ago, shopping was a special occasion. Now, thanks to the ease of technology, it doesn’t feel as magical as it used to. Where in the 1950s and ’60s, we would dress up to go shopping, the future looks positively scientific – shopping is becoming a lot less emotional and a lot more technical.

The Truth About Shopping study found that 52 per cent of people think shopping is too impersonal these days, while 71 per cent worry about the amount of information online stores know about them.

The question for retailers and brands is how do we keep the art of shopping alive in the age of algorithms?

The best retail stores are using technology in a physical sense, to inspire shoppers and give them an unforgettable in-store experience that reignites the romance of shopping. Marks & Spencer is trialling a number of tech-inspired ways to transform in-store shopping, including the introduction of a virtual rail in its Amsterdam store, where customers can use a lifesize touchscreen to swipe through the catalogue and see what outfits would look like on them. The screen also recommends items shoppers may like, based on their selections.

Earlier this year, Debenhams unveiled a tech-heavy £25m flagship store in London’s Oxford Street, complete with video screens and kiosks for in-store ordering, while in a simpler example, Nordstrom in the US flags its stocked items “pinned” the most on Pinterest.

In Australia, Vogue magazine’s most recent Fashion Night Out – in which it partners with retailers to create a shopping event in Sydney’s CBD – used Stackla Social Walls at strategic locations to showcase social buzz around the night through a mixture of official and user-generated content.

2. The age of personalisation may anticipate what shoppers want but may quash our sense of discovery.

Big data and personalisation is the new big thing, but it can also place limits on shoppers’ purchases and sense of discovery. Indeed, 57 per cent of people worry that they’ll discover fewer things if companies always show them exactly what they’re looking for.

What does this mean for the future of shopping? Regardless of which category or market you are focused on, there is a big opportunity to mix creativity with real human insight and bring discovery back to shopping.

Brands and retailers must find the right balance of both the art and the science of shopping. Upmarket fashion brand Burberry is doing a good job of this, last year launching a Runway Made to Order personalisation service, allowing customers to order items directly off the runway – while watching the show on their smartphone – and to personalise them by adding their initials.

The brand has also embedded digital tags in its clothes and accessories, which customers can scan on the phone while in-store to watch a short film about how that particular item was made.

3. Enhancing the social experience that often accompanies shopping.

When marketers hear the word “social”, they tend to think of social media. But the pre-Facebook meaning of the word is really important when we talk about shopping.

The truth is, so much of shopping is about connecting with other humans, whether it’s the friends we choose to go shopping with or the assistants we connect with on our shopping journey.

Just because the shopping journey now increasingly happens via technology does not mean we can’t bring the human into the equation. The smart brands understand that part of the magic of shopping comes from that human connection, and are leveraging natural social behaviours within their technology.

For example, PS Department connects customers with personalised shoppers who respond to requests via its app. And many brands are finding novel ways of incentivising consumers through the lens of social, whether that’s networks encouraging friendship groups to sign up together or the grocery market Carrefour offering special discounts to families with more than five members.

Local activewear brand Lorna Jane successfully engages a growing online community through its Facebook page (more than one million fans – the highest fan base of any Australian fashion brand), Instagram (close to 335,000 followers) and Twitter (close to 30,000 followers), while every item on its online store can be “liked” on Facebook or “pinned” to Pinterest.

This social connection with consumers is reinforced in-store, with interactive displays in certain stores allowing shoppers to photograph themselves via a reflective digital mirror and share the photo on the Lorna Jane Facebook page.

Polyvore, which has in fact been around for a while, is another great example of this trend. Described by The New Yorker as a “fashion democracy”, Polyvore is a social commerce website where users “curate” products and create their own moodboards, which they can then share with friends and the rest of the Polyvore community. It currently has 320,000 Australian users.

There are many more creative opportunities for retailers in this space. The key to being social is to enhance the social experience that naturally accompanies shopping.

In summary, if brands and retailers are able to blend technological innovation with true human insight and creativity, we are headed for one of the most exciting and innovative eras in retail history. One where the full promise of technology and creativity unite to create a personalised paradise for the global shopper.

Karl Bates is national planning director at McCann.


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