In designing the retail experiences of tomorrow, brands and the creative agencies they employ are using tried-and-true tactics of the past and syncing them with modern day technologies. In the face of uncertainty, it seems utilizing a reliable springboard for further innovation and experimentation can do wonders.
“If you Google the future of retail then most images you will find are empty stores with a lot of screens and lonely people standing in front of said screens staring at them or looking sad touching a touchpad. That was Digital Retail 1.0.” These are the words of Sebastian Kemmler, an experienced communication and digital strategist and co-founder of the Berlin based creative agency Kemmler Kemmler whose steady clients include Puma, Vans, Armed Angels and Zalando. While his words and those of others in the industry paint a paradise lost there is optimism and action taking place to ensure a more exSTOREdinary future.
Attract, don’t attack
Since the opening of the first department store in the late 1800s, shopping has been a leisure activity. You could even say, shopping became a cherished social activity rather than a chore. Yet the rise of fast fashion turned brands into sales hungry, turnover driven, generic monsters. Stores are pumped full of so much product it is nearly impossible to navigate through it all. To help us poor, lost customers, brands employ attack table displays (the actual VM word), themes and signage. However, what is missing is something meaningful. There is little difference with today’s fashion retail experience than there is shopping for milk or a bag of chips.
For Kemmler the key lies in merging sociology with technology to make something significant rather than shallow. “People get off their sofas and put down their screens to not look at screens any longer. So putting a bunch of screens in a store to give infinite inventory access is not the solution.” That is not to say that the product should not play a central role. For there is nothing wrong with a focus on the product(s), but there is something wrong with an extreme focus on the sale. Brick-and-mortar stores should be carefully designed environments that instigate play, discovery, creation and interaction. “Customers are really craving; the chance to touch a real product, human interaction and having a laugh,” it is with these sorts of interactions that customers are attracted to your brand; creating a rapport and loyalty.
Wondering where to start? It helps to change your perspective on retail. According to Kemmler, “shift the focus away from viewing solely other fashion retailers as competitors and actually start to view ALL other leisure activities as competitors. Bring other functions into the store giving the user an active part.” With screen fatigue a real thing, it is about time that retail therapy becomes the solution and not the problem.
Monkey see, monkey don’t
Fashion brands far too often suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out). They become too easily hypnotized by the newest trends, gimmicks and technological gadgets. The mentality of “we gotta be the first” forgoes any chance of synchronicity between brand values and technological innovation. Instead, brands end up merely replicating the functions of the digital in a brick-and-mortar environment. They adopt and incorporate AI, AR or VR into their stores to merely present product but then on a virtual plane, which establishes little novelty or ROE (return of experience). However, we are now seeing the start of Digital Retail 2.0. “Brands are starting to remove screens so that the digital is almost disappearing,” says Kemmler. “Now more about the physical experience, technology is becoming the invisible connector, enhancing the social relationship between the customers and the brand ambassadors.” An example of a brand doing this well is Danish footwear brand Ecco.
Looking back to move forward
In speaking with Teo Pazanin, research and communication manager for Innovation Lab Ecco (ILE), creating a true retail experience of the future starts with establishing a tailored experience utilizing purpose-driven technology. Inspired by the traditions of footwear manufacturing, where shoemakers of the past handmade shoes based on the measurements of their clients’ feet, ILE sought to provide a retail experience that leverages the digital capabilities of our society to revive these traditions of the industry. This ultimately yields value to the customer based around the heritage of the brand–creating innovative, anatomically correct, premium footwear for the world.
Born from the core pillars of Ecco; material knowledge, manufacturing techniques and premium footwear, QUANT-U was born. QUANT-U is an experimental customization service that combines real-time data capturing, data-driven design, and localized additive manufacturing to create custom 3D printed silicone midsoles, in as little as one hour.
In February 2019, the first consumer launches of QUANT-U took place at the premium department stores Le Bon Marché in Paris, and Isetan Shinjuku Tokyo. These are temporary locations that expose QUANT-U to new demographics, however, W-21 in Amsterdam still remains the regular fixture where consumers will be able to access the technology.
The customer’s role in the process cannot be underestimated. Pazanin is adamant that an empowered consumer is one that has knowledge about their feet and the benefits of customization. This brings them into the experience as co-creators. “We are creating an omnichannel environment, where the function of footwear is customized based on the natural variations of people’s feet and stride. This allows Ecco to develop footwear that is unique to the wearer–because no two feet are the same.”
Start with the brand in the mirror
Worth noting and integral to creating a seamless and authentic customer experience is by considering the perspective of the consumer and reflecting that internally. Simply put, the internal structure of a brand should reflect the external image you try to uphold. If your brand is traditionally structured with a retail department, a digital brand marketing department, a digital performance marketing department, a communications department and God knows what else, there is little chance these departments are all performing on the same wavelength. This results in disjointed messaging, ultimately defective from the point-of-view of your customers.
From the example of Ecco and Kemmler Kemmler, it is essential that the maturation of a brand MUST start from within. It must be felt and lived by the brand itself before it can ever be perceived as real by anyone outside. At Ecco, innovation and experimentation has been a part of the brand since inception. Therefore it makes sense that stores, such as W-21, act as sandpits for innovation with direct to consumer experiments. At Kemmler Kemmler grouping architectural designers, digital strategists and art directors safeguards the integrity of the other, and ensures a seamless experience.
Build from your company values. Listen to your customers’ demands. Know how your customers interact with your brand and then use technology to augment their experience. These are rules for designing an exSTOREdinary retail experience. “People can’t argue with something that is beautiful,” Kemmler confirms. We have enough ugly in the world, enough screens, enough product. So think long and hard, start from your brand’s core and build a future worthy of our time.