A Technology and Digital Thread Integrated into Our Daily Lives
The COVID-19 pandemic has given retail a rare opportunity to stop and consider what we want the future of retail to become. Yet, while we wait for life to return to normal, we have seen two fundamental shifts in our attitudes and behaviour: an increased sense of empathy for others, and protection for ourselves. On the other side of this pandemic, retail will need to respond to these new needs of customers and find innovative new ways to create brand experiences. We have identified several areas of emerging attitudes and have outlined how they lead to exciting opportunities in retail in a series of articles.
How are our branded physical moments woven together by a digital pathway?
Many of our new online purchasing habits during lockdown will remain after this pandemic. Some people have come to realise how convenient it is to have groceries delivered every week. Others realise that sending back a pair of shoes is quick and frictionless. As these habits persist, we might see segments form a clearer division between online and offline. The things we want or need to see in a store will become more focused, and so too the experience we expect.
Our increased time online has inevitably exposed many more automated services. With reduced staff, many retailers have scrambled to update their operations to sell more online and incorporate AI interaction where possible. The stigma surrounding AI is slowly eroding, and we'll see a greater acceptance moving forward. The unknowns of AI interaction among many consumers will dissipate. Like it or not, we'll all know what to expect and curb our service requirements in AI-powered contexts.
Technology has become integrated into our lives by force, and more people are using video calling than ever before. We've all become accustomed to digital social connection. People are having parties and sharing a drink over Zoom, or dancing to a DJ set being streamed live on Instagram. We are taking part in cultural activities, normally highly dependent on the physical sensory experience, via video. Chinese streaming services are hosting 8-hour museum tours, and global viewers are attending concerts of artists performing from their home.
WHAT THE FUTURE MIGHT HOLD…
Our willingness to use video calls means that we can receive human service on our mobile devices at any time in any place. We could engage in a video call with a store advisor or even personal stylist while on the shop floor. A Japanese tourist visiting London could video call an Adidas stylist based in Tokyo while in the Adidas flagship store on Oxford Street. Language, location and expertise are no longer barriers for customers or businesses. Using video calling, staff can interact in-store in the same way that we use chat-bots online at home. Experts can be available at the moment we need them. Store staff don’t need to be trained experts at every product or service your brand offers, because an expert to anything can be just a video call away.
In-Store Live Streaming
In-store live streaming services are starting to be utilised by brands, but how can this evolve? It's possible that brands will have specific stores used entirely for live streaming services to deliver a personalised, streamed shopping experience. Some customers might be 'live-streaming' to experience the flagship store from their home. Flagship stores, typically only located in major cities, can be made available globally. The launch of Nike's latest limited-edition sneaker in a flagship store in New York can be viewed live by a customer in Sydney. That customer could take part in the event, perhaps even purchase a pair of shoes at the event.
As more people adapt to the inclusion of new technology in their lives, stores have a great opportunity to integrate the technological capabilities that customers carry in their pocket. Several brands have their own apps, but these need to provide greater convenience and a more integrated store experience. Customers should be controlling every node of their digital experience within the palm of their hand. They should be using their phones to access product information, call assistants, order items and pay for products. We can make the store experience feel interconnected with our daily lives by integrating apps that customers already use.
The Store as a Set
It may be common for all major experiential stores to be streaming events live to home audiences via a designated media channel. How will this impact store design and aesthetics? The 'selfie' changed female face make-up culture with the popularity of contouring; it's important what your skin looks like on camera. Instagram changed fashion culture with 'instagrammable' outfits; aesthetics trumps quality. Will stores use materials and colours that translate to video backdrops above all else? If the quantity of video viewers exceeds local foot traffic coming into the store, surely what people see through the lens of a camera is the top priority. Will stores have designated sections for streaming content or connecting with live virtual audiences across the globe? Crowds might gather around this part of the store like they do around sets of live news shows. Or perhaps stores might become the ideal stage for product photo shoots. Imagine the synergies in customer journey by connecting an online product display to products you display in store.
Technology has been forced upon us and integrated into our lives in many ways. None more so than through the use of video calls and live streaming. While spending more time online and attached to our phones, we have established a digital social connection as the new norm. Our readiness to use our phones and make video calls is a huge opportunity for retail. Customers can connect to stores anywhere, while access to knowledge or expertise can be accessed in any store, no matter what the location. The prevalence of digital connections will change the way the physical store is used across many retail sectors.