Talking Shop: Howard Sullivan, co-founder and creative director at experience design agency YourStudio, headed to Chicago last month to discover what's new at GlobalShop. Here he shares his insights from the keynote speakers.
There’s probably no less relevant time to be talking shop than right now. With speculation as to how the retail landscape shapes up for the future, one thing we do know is that accelerating the pace of change is essential for retailers. So, I was all ears going to this year’s Shoptalk and GlobalShop summits in Vegas and Chicago. Here I reveal the top pearls of wisdom from the keynotes.
The US has been worried about shopping. What does the physical bricks and mortar experience have to offer that can outweigh the compulsion to shop online?
’Traditional retailers in big boxes are shuttering their doors but just because they haven’t worked out how to create amazing experiences in those four walls yet,’ says Philip Raub, co-founder of b8ta during the 'Innovation Town Hall' panel talk.
A couple of weeks listening to retailers from Google to Samsung talk felt like the emergence of a new confidence and some of the answers. Stats also help to give a more balanced perspective, showing that overall, retail spending was three per cent higher than GDP in 2016 in the States (Christina Bieniek, principal of Deloitte, from Shoptalk keynote 'Bifurcating Growth'). Brands like Everlane who swore ‘we will shut the company down before we go to physical retail’ (Lola Thelin, Never Say Never, Design: Retail, March 2018, Volume 30, No. 3) have now admitted physical retail is a key component to their overall future success.
Lowe's have innovated to give customers easy 3d versions of their products at home through AR
Legacy retailers like Walmart and Lowe’s are having to compete with the threat from relative newcomers Amazon. Melissa Hill, digital director of Walmart, talked about their fast trajectory and understanding that they need to get there before another company does it first. To do this, they’ve set up ‘Walmart Labs’ which continually tests new ideas, products and services. And it seems they’re not the only ones.
Under Armour have the ‘Lighthouse’, an Innovation Lab in their Baltimore HQ, Samsung have the ‘Strategy and Innovation Center’. In-house innovation hubs for mass retailers are no longer experimental but essential and are the key to them reorientation and fast-tracking their metamorphosis to keep up with the rapidly changing consumer landscape. What we’ve learned is if you continue to refine your project on and on before you launch it, you’ll be left way behind your competition.
'This digital landscape in flux will alter the physical retail space, requiring stores to be supercharged with agility, and increasingly service-led,' says Alison Gough, senior US analyst, Stylus from 'Liquid Retail' talk.
Innovation doesn’t just happen at a retailer scale. New York’s soon-to-open Hudson’s Yard is re-orientating what retail is and can be. Blending the art of living, shopping, entertainment and culture, Hudson’s Yard is the largest development in Manhattan since the Rockefeller Center and due to open in 2019. Described by Ray Ehscheid, director of client services for retail and financial sectors for IA Interior Architects, who introduced it in his talk ‘The Re-shaping of the American Shopping Mall’ as a retail destination so good ‘you don’t want to just shop there but live there’.
From Julian Boxenbaum's talk, The Future of Retail will be Physical
'Our society has reorientated itself to the present moment. Everything is live, real time and always-on,' says Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, quoted by Julian Boxenhaum, 'The Future of Retail Will Be Physical'.
We imagine the customer experience is always going to drive anything we do to create retail. As Philip Raub, founder/president at b8ta, said: ‘If it doesn’t resonate with the customer, it doesn’t matter’.
Artificial intelligence has reshaped our experience of personalised and intuitive online shopping, and as this becomes more and more razor sharp, what’s the consequence for analogue face-to-face retail interactions?
Online, preferencing, profiling, filtering and tweaking every interaction we have to the point of predicting our needs before we know them is becoming so common it’s invisible to us. So, how does the store compete on this level without the historic data-fuelled knowledge that our online assistants from Alexa to Google Voice have?
At Samsung’s venture initiative, NEXT, McCall McIntyre, venture capital investor at Samsung NEXT, talked about their drive in providing ‘care’ in store, knowing that this was the key to customer satisfaction. If you can get your phone’s screen fixed immediately in store, this will garner loyalty whilst at the same time making sense of your trip to the physical store, over a digital interaction at home.
‘The last, best experience that anyone has anywhere becomes the minimum expectation for the experiences they want everywhere,’ says Paul Papas, global leader, IBM.
Nordstrom has opened a prototype store in LA that offers nothing but services, including click and collect and returns. Suiting brand Indochino have focused their stores around fittings for your perfect tailored suit. Once they have your measurement, preferences and style locked down you’re able to continue your journey online, ordering the perfect fitting suit at leisure anytime, anywhere.
Melissa Hill, director of marketing at Walmart, summarised perfectly: 'Making the customer experience awesome, that’s one really critical way to win.'
Whether it’s being inspired by a soundtrack we’re listening to, having a link pop up on an Instagram image that we’re looking at or talking with Alexa at home, shopping is pretty much ubiquitous with every part of our lives, anytime, anyplace or anywhere. So, as retailers, how are we able to meet consumers on their terms in the right way that’s exactly suited to them, in that moment? A key shift is going beyond the idea of multi or omni-channel to the notion of one brand, one experience from the customers:
‘People only see brands, they don’t see channels. Only people who see this are business directors sitting in a room trying to make decisions,' says Boxenbaum.
And how does this ‘one journey’ approach help the experience? As with most of the future predictions, the blend of online digital analysis and physical retail space with connection and product will create the best retail experiences.
Senior US analyst at Stylus, Alison Gough’s talk ‘Liquid Retail’ discussed how 'technology enables continuous conversations with customers that tap into live behaviours - making them feel like they’re less predictable; less like consumers and more human.'
Re-thinking the way we’ve traditionally mapped customer interactions and journeys is absolutely paramount and our classic ‘channel’ approaches need to be hybridised. From a linear process, the new human customer experience is more clouded, more emotional and less process driven. The different facets of our brand interactions will range from from online chat-bot conversations to physical demos and trailing to impulsive hedonistic shopping. Who hasn’t had one of those late-night impulse moments where the click to purchase something is just all too easy?
Physical retail spaces just one part of a more interconnected steps to purchase and by seeing them all as connected we will be able to heighten our holistic experience of and connection with the brands we love.
Store as Activated Showroom
So, with all of the advances and consumer dexterity required for us to understand, how do we meaningfully reshape the physical shop? What does it do? How does it seamlessly interconnect digital and physical? How does it map all brand interactions and culminate in the most effortless and unforgettable experience?
However much we might wish for the ultimate solution, it seems noon has quite cracked that nut at the moment. The nearest I felt we heard talk about doing this was Philip Raub, co-founder b8ta. His retail spaces are described as ‘stores designed for discovering, buying and trying the latest tech products.’ (www.b8ta.com)
As he cited: 'Over 70 per cent of products we have in store customers are learning about for the first time. Many have heard of the brand but not that product or product feature.'
Designed to ‘modernise and improve brick-and-mortar retail for both product makers and customers’ (www.gensler.com/projects.b8ta), b8ta stores map your interactions with the products you play with in-store. They track and measure impressions, your engagement, dwell time and which demos you watch, building up a picture of your preferences. The stores feature many products that are only available online giving people a chance to play and experiment. However, the key to b8ta’s success is creating an environment that feels like a no strings product playground. They know their customers will be more likely to purchase tech. products when they see them, touch them, feel them and understand them.
Another strong example of this need to touch and interact physically even when online services might be streamlined and totally effortless is the store we created for US beauty subscription retailer Birchbox.
'As a company, we are constantly looking for ways to disrupt and innovate the traditional beauty retail market and our record growth last year shows that we are delivering what our customers want.'
Situated in London’s Carnaby Street, we worked with Birchbox to create their ‘With Love’ store which featured their top 100 products, gifting subscriptions and a pick n mix style assortment of products to choose from. Some pretty incredible results ensued, as a result of this, their pop-up store in Paris and other marketing initiatives which coincided. Self-subscription sales rose 93 per cent year on year over Black Friday and the company’s revenue from direct traffic to the website rose 136 per cent in November compared with the previous year. (Birchbox's London pop-up extended by two months, Gurjit Design, Campaign, January 2018)
We’re all essentially grown up kids in sweetshops if given half the chance. Experiences that create a sense of wonder, fun and playfulness, and give us moments to share with others, both in the present and online are the new ingredients for happy and successful physical product showrooms.
Beyond Reality experience toolkit
How do we create value and meaning with the new tools from AR to VR at our fingertips? With China investing S$5 billion in the next five years in the VR economy, the growth of new technology is a hot topic and one we discussed in our talk ‘Beyond Reality’. How do you take this new tech but use it in a meaningful way that adds chutzpah to the customer experience? Retailers learned from iPads that it’s not a good idea to just chuck them into the mix because you can.
Julian Boxenbaum, pricipal at Eight Inc, presented Toms 'Where VR takes customers from the store they’re in to Peru', showing them the beneficiaries of the shoes that are donated per purchase. CMO Black McKowsky talked about having to have VR ‘to have the competitive advantage’.
Tom Philpson and Howard Sullivan, co-founders of YourStudio, present 'Beyond Reality'
We talked through a range of different projects which all used technology to either empathise, personalise or wow customers. Our Topshop Splash! project was an example of a ‘mixed reality’ experience which we feel are by far the most effective. We ran a digital and physical waterslide through the Topshop Oxford St. The waterslide hung above you with sounds of splashing water and seagulls married with the scents of pineapples and coconut sun-tan cream (research showed us this was the smell of a Gen Z summer). The highlight was the window seat where you could sit in a section of the waterslide and put on VR goggles which took you on an adrenalin water ride spiralling out of the window and up and over Regent St out of London and onto a paradise bach.
We linked our work to the development of the human race on our need for talking points and gossip. Having just read the book Sapiens, Tom and myself talked about our need to believe in myths and legends as a human race. From religion to brands, our heads are programmed to see patterns and make connections, even when they’re not there.
We said and heard about a number of meaningful and spine-tingling VR projects throughout GlobalShop’s keynotes. Brian Kavanagh introduced Hershey’s new virtual reality snacking store, Go Puff, where you can game and shop for ice cream and candies at the same time:
'We’re creating ways that retail comes to life in ways that you simply couldn’t do in store.'
The Expedia x St Judes project is one that we showed and which always seems to be the most meaningful use of this technology to me to date. In a room set up with live 360º projections, terminally ill children are transported destinations via live streamed footage from an Expedia explorer in a destination the child has chosen. Giving children like this the chance to live our their dreams is surely the most incredible thing we can hope to do, and if, as brands, we have the means to, by helping issued in the world like this as well as striving for our own goals, the love is surely reciprocated on every possible level.
After a fortnight of hearing people talk shop, I felt like this was the ultimate final thought to have in my mind as I went home via New York with a renewed sense of optimism to the power we have at our fingertips to take on these challenging times and create an exciting future.