Evolution is imperative: rethinking the shopping experience

Last month, Saudi Arabia gave citizenship to a robot named Sophia in the latest – albeit bizarre – case of the continuing digitization of the world.

One industry transformed by the digital revolution of the last decade has been the retail market.

Shopping can now be done almost entirely online, yet – with Dubai being a prime example – bricks and mortar stores still continue to thrive.

But with shoppers hooked on tech, is it essential for outlets to start incorporating digital elements into their interior design?

We caught-up with Brett Cameron, Managing Director at D3-based ServicePlan (SPX), for his take on shop design heading into 2018…

Let’s dive right in: how has the shop floor and the offline shopping experience changed in the last, say, five years?

Sadly, there has been little change in general. Of course there are exceptions, but there is a distinct lack of innovation when it comes to enhancing a brand-living experience that presents the physical retail space as an extension of the always-on appeal of the digital universe. The Virgin Megastore is a great example of a brand that has diversified and now presents itself almost like a walkthrough of the ‘what’s cool’ section of Google.

Are new ways of doing things in regards to shop design driven by consumer habits or just exceptional innovation by designers and tech firms?

Retail is under threat. While malls are as popular as ever, the desire for the convenience of home delivery at the best possible price means the retail space needs to offer a lot more in return for a customer investing their valuable time in visiting the store. This is where the mid-level brands struggle. They can’t offer the luxury personal service that premium brands offer, and they are not easily forgiven like the budget/discount brands. Therefore, they need to innovate. However, it is difficult to even find a video screen showing TVCs, recent fashion shows or any other brand videos, let alone an integrated and enhanced experience driven by technological innovation.

Is it imperative that the shop floor adapts to advances in technology?

Evolution is imperative. Customers are looking to be taken on the digital to personal journey in the retail space. There really is an opportunity for some brands to stand out from the competition at the moment by embracing this change. Disruption is all around and customers are looking for brands to do things differently.

What are some of your favourite examples of the digitization of the shop-floor?

Brands such as Adidas & Nike have invested heavily in some pretty impressive tech over the years. This is always interesting and exciting, however, I think these are a step too far for most. Firstly, because they are cost prohibitive for many brands, and secondly the ROI is difficult to justify. The reason being that they are often require a significant departure from the shopping habits of their customers. From my perspective, those that are doing it right include Apple, Virgin, as mentioned earlier, and the bricks and mortar concepts being developed by traditional digital brands like Amazon, AmazonGo & AmazonFresk Pick-up. All of these examples embrace technology but they also remain very human centric.

With these successful examples in mind, what – in your opinion – must designers consider when planning a shop in 2018, that they perhaps wouldn’t have given thought to in 2013?

As always, so much is left to the designer. However, it is the brand that needs to consider the change, because the evolution is much more about the thinking, motivation and process than it is about the look and feel. You can design and build two identical stores, but if you want the staff to deliver an ‘expert’ experience like the Apple Store Genius’ then the spend on training and handheld tech will be considerably higher. However, the experience will also be extremely different, despite the fact the two stores could essentially look the same.

What current innovations most excite you heading into 2018?

Brands are beginning to embrace Experience Designers to develop the brand-living environments that best depict their story. Design-thinking is being adapted to challenge and sometimes disrupt the full length and breadth of the customer journey. Of course, an environment demands that an interior designer is involved, but as mentioned previously, the expectations of the customer go so much further. They might first encounter your brand digitally, but then they want to see how you enhance this experience in the physical space, which ultimately they can share throughout their own digital universe.

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