On Wednesday 10th February, YCN and Hammerson welcomed a panel of passionate speakers to explore new concepts in retail innovation and the evolution of the in-store experience.
For the first in a series of collaborative events with Hammerson — YCN Company Member and the creators of retail destinations such as Brent Cross and the Bullring — on Wednesday 10th February we explored how brand experiences are manifesting in physical spaces.
In the smart surrounds of Hammerson’s head office at Kings Place, YCN's Head of Insights Sheena Patel moderated a panel of speakers as they shared their learnings and insights on how retailers can improve customers’ experiences by rethinking the role of the retail space.
We were joined by Ross Bailey, Founder and CEO of Appear Here, an online platform that connects vacant retail spaces with brands and people with ideas. Speaking alongside Ross was Michelle Du-Prât, Experience Strategy Director at Household, a design consultancy helping clients create engaging customer experiences in their retail environment. We were also joined by Jonathan Chippindale, Chief Executive of digital creative agency Holition, which specialises in using emerging digital technologies to enrich experiences for premium fashion and beauty brands, both in-store and beyond.
Here’s what we learnt.
Experiment in physical spaces
As is proven by the host of burgeoning independent brands that began their lives in Appear Here locations, physical spaces allow people to put their products and ideas in front of new audiences in ways that make an impact.
For bigger, more established names, physical spaces serve as fruitful ground on which to test out new locations and new products. As Ross explained, some larger, more traditional brands have even used Appear Here spaces to launch “secret stores” in trendy locations, presenting their products in completely unbranded environments to combat any misconceptions about the company among younger or cooler audiences.
According to Ross, changes in the retail landscape are also resulting in a new, more flexible conception of what defines a retailer — “a retailer is anyone with an idea who wants to reach an audience.”
Evaluate retail effectiveness by experience per square foot
Traditional conceptions of retail spaces, where products are piled high and sold hard and fast have given way to spaces that offer experiences, create memorable moments, and provide things that you can touch and feel.
Michelle argues that rather than evaluating the effectiveness of retail spaces against the traditional measure of sales per square foot, we should instead be thinking of the surprise and service offered across this space instead — as it’s these experiences that ultimately motivate sales.
As Ross put it, retail spaces are marketing spaces, and having a physical network of stores is integral in supporting and driving sales online as well as offline.
Use online insights to shape offline environments
Brands with a presence both on and offline are using online data to enhance the physical, in-store experience. Working with Michelle and her team at Household, Amazon is leveraging the customer knowledge gleaned from vast swathes of its online data to open a bricks-and-mortar bookstore, where customer reviews and preferences are being used to shape and curate product selections in-store, resulting in physical spaces that are highly tailored to customer preferences. Similarly, Made.com recently harnessed its data from its e-commerce site and Unboxed social network to localise the product selection at its recent Brighton pop-up.
Technology should be a facilitator, not a barrier, between a brand and its customers
Technology featured heavily in the evening’s discussion, with the whole panel in agreement that technology should never be used for its own sake, but instead valued for what it enables. More simply put by Ross, technology is the bricks, and we should be interested in the whole building.
Meanwhile, when introducing Holition, Jonathan described the company as an anti-tech tech agency. Technology should be seen as a facilitator of communication between a brand and its customers, but in reality the majority of in-store executions do the exact opposite, acting as a barrier. In fact, at its worst technology can be ugly and unwieldy, and can distract rather than enhance the retail experience. For instance, in-store screens and tablets often prompt people to look down, and therefore away from the beauty of the product and store around them. The key to getting it right is to start with the customer need and experience and see how technology might offer an innovative solution, and to think more closely about the context in which the tech is being placed.
Convenience is still key
As consumers, says Michelle, we’re constantly being asked to make decisions about what we buy. As designers of retail environments, she sees Household’s role as thinking about ways of shaping and make those decisions easier. For customers who have become used to quick transactions online, convenience in the real world is of the utmost importance.
Starbucks is experimenting with how their stores are designed to deliver the services they provide, aiming to create ultra-efficient service journeys by streamlining how and what people are able to order from certain counters.
Making purchase decisions easier can also be achieved through engaging in-store experiences, by leveraging the storytelling opportunities they offer. For instance, TOMS recently brought shoppers closer to its ‘One for One’ initiative by introducing virtual reality to its stores, using tech to bring its brand stories to life in new ways and remind audiences of its philanthropic activities. As Michelle was keen to stress, retail should offer something unique that can’t be reproduced online.
Can there be value in a gimmick?
Many of the technologies currently being implemented in stores are still relatively new and untested, which can lead to somewhat inelegant user experiences — and often this results in the perception that retail technologies are fads, or risky investments without any longevity.
As Michelle argued, technology shouldn’t merely serve as a showstopper. Utility, convenience or experience should in some way be enhanced by the presence of technology — it’s at its best when it’s offering a service.
However, despite a certain distrust of gimmicky uses of tech in-store, Jonathan conceded that it’s fine to try new things. The development of better digital products and digitally enhanced experiences is contingent on understanding how people use and interact with technologies as they currently are.
In some ways, retail tech also has value outside of its executions. Whatever your opinion on Burberry’s use of in-store tech, for example, the brand is powerfully using tech as an idea, to say something about who it is, neatly positioning itself as both future-facing and away from the crowd.
Innovation and luxury aren’t at odds
As Jonathan explained, when he co-founded Holition eight years ago, digital was seen as too impersonal a medium on which to talk about the craftsmanship, quality and luxury at the heart of high end brands. Digital was seen to be democratising and depersonalising retail, which was perceived as anathema to the efforts of luxury brands to retain a sense of exclusivity and desirability. Luxury brands were used to talking at, rather than with their audiences and were scared to lose control. Now, however, "old school," established luxury brands are understanding that they must innovate in order to engage with a new digital consumer.
A little more about our speakers
Ross is the CEO and Founder of Appear Here, the leading online marketplace for short-term retail space. Based on the concept that renting commercial property should be as easy as booking a hotel room, Appear Here’s mission is to make retail space accessible to everyone. Hailed a "digital game changer for the high street" by the Guardian and chosen as one of Wired’s 100 Hottest Start Ups, Appear Here has become the go-to destination to make innovative and creative retail ideas happen.
Michelle is Experience Strategy Director at Household Design, where she works with business leaders to unlock the potential of innovation in retail. Driving design innovation through insight, Michelle’s work with has won numerous awards including a DBA Design Effectiveness Awards for Dunhill and Christian Louboutin at The Design Museum; a Wallpaper Magazine Design Award for Soho House, and Retail Week Interiors Awards for Wine Rack and Dixons Black.
Jonathan is Chief Executive of Holition, where he and his team collaborate with leading brands to design artful and engaging retail experiences that leverage new technologies. He's created innovative concepts for clients including De Beers, Louis Vuitton, Lacoste and Dunhill, variously using augmented reality, wearable tech or virtual try-on technologies to help brands engage more deeply with audiences. With digital acumen and more than 25 years of experience in the luxury industry, Jonathan now also shares his expertise as a Visiting Lecturer at UAL.
Thanks to our hosts, Hammerson, and to Owen Richards for the photos above.
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Start:10th February, 2016 at 6:30pm
End:10th February, 2016 at 8:30pm