To draw connected consumers, the future of retail is about having fun with live fashion shows and virtual reality headsets, says analyst Deborah Weinswig.
“Efficiency” appears to be the operative word when it comes to defining the omnichannel experience that major retailers have adopted the last few years. The current strategies suggest a lack of confidence among retailers in their places as centers of enjoyment, pleasure, and leisure. Instead, shopping in a store is considered a chore. Consumers are impatient, the thinking goes. They want to get in, get out, and get back to tweeting. So let’s offer them mobile payment options and curbside pickup for a satisfying conclusion to the shopper journey.
To be sure, consumers are often frustrated by having to wander a maze of aisles and still not get what they came for. But when Deborah Weinswig, FBIC’s executive director/head of Global Retail & Technology, attended the second annual Entertainment Experience Evolution conference in Los Angeles last week, she came away with a different vision of what an “in-store experience” needs to be.
Among the several takeaways she reported in an analyst note, the big word was just three letters: fun.
In explaining what “fun” means in a retail context, Weinswig offered a slightly more unwieldy portmanteau: retailtainment.
Fast Times At Retail High Start To Ebb
For most of the latter half of the 20th century, the shopping mall replaced the “Main Street” ideal as the center of the shopping journey. The mall represented the perfect symbol of post-war commercial triumph, as the abundance of all kinds of retail goods, from brand name fashion to electronics to movies and even concerts, was readily available, all in a large enclosed space. Teen movies in the 1980s celebrated the mall as the center of life, not just shopping.
But then, that a sense of sameness and blandness which is the signature of the gigantic suburban mall, collided with sprawl and rising real estate costs.
And even though consumers have consistently completed over 90 percent of their purchases in physical spaces, even as e-commerce steadily rose over the past decade, malls began to seem musty and dated. In other words, they embodied excess and tediousness.
While the response to showrooming — the use of smartphones to compare in-store prices with cheaper ones available on the web — has inspired the rise of beacons and geofencing targeted deals, shopping has always been about more than convenience. And retailers are starting to recognize that.
The Coming Age Of Retailtaiment
At the EEE conference, FBIC highlighted a number of consumer tech trends that are emerging this year, starting with the emphasis on creating what Weinswig dubbed “retailtainment.”— that is entertaining store environments for connected consumers.
“Stores of the future will be tech-enabled with mobile apps improving instore execution, virtual reality headsets that recreate live fashion shows, and even robots that assist in product selection,” Weinswig wrote.
On a practical point, since the connected “omnishopper” does demand greater product information about possible purchases, all those bells and whistles, from IoT to VR, aren’t a distraction; they’re actually the key to attracting people. What keeps them coming back to actually buy something is the substantive, clear product details delivered to their phones. Meanwhile, deals are not to be dismissed either, it’s just that they’re not the be all, end all.
“The good news is the store remains the center of gravity for the omnishopper,” Weinswig continues. “A destination for entertainment value and social interaction and although value is important, promotions are key for less than 20 percent of omnishoppers.
More Food For Retailers’ Thought
The appeal of restaurants and food services has also shown retailers the way to win consumers’ hearts and wallets, a point Weinswig noted in her report. Store brands are testing light food offerings for deeper consumer connections and to increase the length of store visits,” she found.
“During the session, Creating the Retail Environment of the Future, panelists discussed consumers’ increasing demand for authenticity, be it a genuine glimpse into California’s wine country, or a farm-to-table concept where one is socially conscious and hyperlocal,” Weinswig said.
The value of the restaurants is also in creating a special identity for a place. Retailers can further extend a personality that consumers can relate to by pursuing a distinct sense style that also conforms to shoppers lifestyle in particular.
“Warby Parker was mentioned as a retailer of the future, where the shopper can procure high design at a low cost and feel connected to the brand as it fulfills its social pact with society and distributes a pair of glasses for each pair purchased,” Weinswig wrote. “Brands increasingly provide meaning, relevance and ‘cool.’”
Summing it up, Weinswig added that “food, drink and the right ambience” can revolve around hosting events such as “date nights” or “family night out” in order to promote growth at commercial spaces. Ultimately, for retailers to be successful in establishing a continuous connection with omnichannel customers, the formula requires a multiplicity of ingredients and actions.
“There is no one answer, no silver bullet for restoring traffic to shopping centers,” Weinswig said. “Retail is ultimately local, and developers have to adapt concept and design to local opportunities, constraints and customers.”