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Creative ways of improving the in-store experience with digital tech

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27th Oct 2014
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Recent research conducted by eBay found that the majority of UK retailers are under-investing in in-store technologies. But it’s not the cost that’s proving a barrier to adoption, rather knowing which technologies they should be investing in. 

When the term 'retail therapy' was first coined in the mid-80s, it would have been difficult to envisage this taking place anywhere other than the High Street. Now, terms like ecommerce, social shopping and Big Data CRM are part and parcel of the retail phenomenon and consumers have really turned up the heat on bricks-and-mortar stores with a legitimate gripe: 

What is the point of going to my local High Street, when I can access, compare and purchase an infinite number of products from all over the world, online from the comfort of my home?

But shopping is about more than the end product; it is the journey that consumers go through to make that final decision. If retailers can reconnect with consumers in-store by identifying the right technology to bring the experience into the 21st Century, then the prospects for the high street are promising.

So what can retailers do to continue attracting consumers through the door, and to make sure that physical stores still turn a healthy profit?

For many, retail is a segue in their daily routine, between the workplace and home. It provides not only a physical space for people to do something practical (i.e. shop), but also a mental space for people to escape, find inspiration, and be exposed to new possibilities, experiences and cultures. Retail is a concept far beyond a simple transaction, but an experience offering up distractions, learning, socialisation, and entertainment away from everyday life. That is why it is and always will be on people’s agenda.

We recently produced a report analysing 10 retail projects launched on our crowdsourcing platform for global FMCG brands. These projects produced more than 500 innovative ideas from our community of creators and despite the popularity of online shopping, we found that an attachment to the physical shopping experience is still highly prevalent. Yet there is a need to improve to be on par with the convenience provided on digital platforms. So how can we make the physical shopping experience better?

Does my bum look big in this?

Generation C are defined as consumers that thrive on creating content and sharing it with their community. Because people today want interactivity with everything around them and demand constant connection and entertainment, one of the key suggestions for making the retail experience more appealing was to transform shopping into a social moment, driven by friends and content. Our community suggested integrating gaming devices and interactive designs into in-store displays.

eBay’s survey suggests that 40% of consumers want to see virtual fitting rooms and mirrors for when they try clothes on. But with the rise of the “selfie”, the natural evolution of this concept to engage the public and enhance the in-store experience is to integrate a virtual photo-booth into such systems. This would enable customers to post these in-store photos on social media, with a location tag embedded, to get real time feedback from friendship groups. Although shoppers may not always get the feedback they were looking for!

Personal shopper

eYeka’s community also suggested retailers enable shoppers to leave their own personal mark, through interactive store displays, or even products. With displays, customers could write their own story or comment on the product. Personalisation has become a major trend and technology has a big role in facilitating this. Why not try enabling it in physical stores?

For example, Coca-Cola invited people to write names on the packaging so that they can choose and share their own, before launching a range of bottles with some of the world’s most popular names on them. This provides retailers and brands with valuable information about customers’ preferences which can be collected and analysed with big data technology to create a more comprehensive and relevant CRM system, as well as more targeted advertising.

Public space, personal experience

Time magazine ran a cover story earlier this year entitled ‘The Mindful Revolution’, which was all about finding peace in a stressed-out, digitally dependent culture. Retail stores and supermarkets are actually in a good position to offer people in the modern world a personal space to immerse themselves in and be mindful.

Many of eYeka’s creators suggested creating “stores within stores” for individual customers to engage with a particular product. This personal space could be designed to engage all senses through music, lighting, touch and where appropriate, even scent and taste, so that a customer can enjoy a moment by themselves, with the product. Obviously, creating a unique environment to cater to every single shopper’s needs, wants and desires using traditional displays is totally impractical, but technologies such as augmented reality, delivered through smartphones and in-store displays, make the personalisation of the shopping experience a reality.

So yes, even in the mindful revolution, technology has its part to play. But technology that is used to facilitate such a personal space, should be ‘mindful’ of its raison d'être; this is about filtering out the noises and distractions from the outside world, not shouting over the top of them.

Beyond the transaction

Touching, interacting and examining products in the flesh simply can’t be replicated through the web. However, to keep consumers engaged with physical stores, there need to be changes. Technology shouldn’t just be used for technology’s sake. But as the way we interact with one another through instant messaging, social networking and information sharing, has changed, so too must the shopping experience evolve from merely being a transactional one to an emotive one that succeeds in getting consumers excited about in-store shopping once again.

François Pétavy is CEO of online creative crowdsourcing platform eYeka.

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