Picture your local high street. Okay, now picture it ten years ago.
It’s changed a lot, right?
Many once bustling high streets now more closely resemble ghost towns, lined with stores that are permanently closed or plastered with shouty posters promoting the latest mega-sale.
In July this year, consumer spending figures were the month’s worst since records began in 1995.
As the world changes, so too do consumers’ requirements, expectations and desires. Adapting and staying one step ahead is critical for retail brands to survive (and even thrive).
Here are three trends transforming modern retail as we know it.
The past decade has seen a discernible shift globally in consumers shopping online rather than in physical shops. But rather than see these as two distinct spaces, innovative retailers are merging the two to create seamless, on-brand and memorable user experiences.
Take a look at furniture brand Made.com. The online retailer has showrooms in the UK and Europe to allow shoppers to see pieces in real life, but has incorporated digital elements to enhance the experience and elevate it beyond a standard retail store.
Its London flagship store is now a 1,100 sqm space in Soho featuring interactive tablets, big screens promoting offers, items and brand messaging, and the ability to make a purchase by scanning an item’s QR code with your smartphone.
Made.com’s chief creative officer Jo Jackson commented: “For us being a digitally-native brand, online will always come first, but we know a human connection with the brand can be a valuable midpoint in our customer journey. We are doing something different with our physical spaces. They are not shops, they are brand experiences.”
That brings us nicely onto our second trend…
2. Experiences: offline
With 74% of Americans prioritising experiences over products, retailers face a major challenge: how do you sell things to people who want experiences?
The answer is simple: by presenting things as experiences. And even better if that experience builds upon a sense of community.
In Dr Martens flagship store in Camden, shoppers are regularly welcomed to enjoy free music concerts (complete with free drinks from Brewdog and Jack Daniels) in its intimate 60-person Boot Room. Performers to date include Shura, Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes and The Pigeon Detectives.
That’s not all. Last year, Dr Martens embarked on a 47-stop customisation tour across Europe alongside talented local tattoo artists – not to tattoo its customers (for now, anyway), but to uniquely customise their favourite pair of DMs.
… and online
Despite rapid technological advancements over the past decade, the e-commerce experience has remained relatively unchanged. Though more convenient, scrolling through endless grids of products is a far cry from the all-encompassing experience of wandering through a store.
Enter Obsess, a software company that’s built virtual reality shopping sites for the likes of Farfetch, Levi’s and Noémie, and has raised money from a venture fund backed by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.
Self-described as “creating the next generation e-commerce interface for today's consumers and brands”, Obsess uses web-based augmented and virtual reality to create immersive, mobile-first online shopping experiences that lets shoppers move around virtual boutiques and see products in 3D. It’s all the benefits of shopping in a real store, without any of the stress.
Every marketer knows the importance of targeting messages to different customer segments. But all too often, this means making mass generalisations about demographics – not every over-60, for instance, is a slipper-clad pensioner interested only in stairlifts and practical knitwear.
According to Salesforce, more than 75% of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. It’s no longer enough to address consumers as part of a much bigger group.
Nike is one example of a global retailer localising its offering across channels. Last year, it opened the doors to its Nike Live concept store in California, a digital-meets-physical retail pilot.
The Nike by Melrose store is open only to NikePlus members and uses their data – buying patterns, app usage and other trends – to determine decisions like which products to stock. The physical in-store experience is complemented by mobile to streamline its offering and encourage engagement with its app, which features highly tailored content like local communities for users to train with. The store includes a digital vending machine, dynamic fit zone and sneaker bar.
Staying one step ahead
To keep pace with this fast-changing backdrop, it’s vital that retailers look beyond traditional metrics to truly understand how their customers think, feel and behave at different points in the customer journey.
That’s why we recommend promoting referral to customers at a point of delight – for online retail shoppers, this is on the post-purchase page, when they’ve just placed their order and are feeling excited about their latest buy.
There’s no denying the retail landscape is radically changing, but rather than see it as a threat, it should be seen as an exciting opportunity to evolve and connect with customers in new ways.
In the words of retail consultant Mary Portas, "The high street is not dead or dying. It just needs to be reimagined.”