Since the dawn of ecommerce, experts have predicted the death of physical retail.
Bombarded by a revolving door of platforms and providers, today’s consumers expect big things from their favorite brands. But even in a world that demands a digital presence, a report from brand intelligence firm L2 suggests 72% of online shoppers worldwide consider the brick-and-mortar experience most important when making a purchase.
Now more than ever, forward-thinking retailers are seeing value in looking beyond price and service to create an immersive shopping experience meant to tug at heartstrings and capture customer loyalty, even for a short while.
Emerging technology makes it easier to blend the physical and digital retail experience to provide better insight into customer behavior and intent — and create a truly unique immersive experience for their customers. Retailers can use this complete picture to create a more personalized shopping experience, drive conversions, improve customer service, and set themselves apart from their competition.
Let’s take a look at a few recent memorable (and successful) experiences that some retailers have created to set themselves apart from the competition and pique the interest of overwhelmed shoppers.
1. Interactive mirrors shake up the fitting room experience
Ralph Lauren revolutionized the fitting room experience with the introduction of interactive touch-screen mirrors in their flagship location in New York last November.
It’s clear that the brand considered the end-to-end experience of trying on a potential purchase. While in the virtual fitting room, shoppers browsed through real-time store inventory, interacted with a sales associate, and could request a different color or size in an item, all through the touch-screen mirror.
Patrons also had full control of fitting room lighting, ranging from settings like “Fifth Ave Daylight” to “Evening at The Polo Bar.” The mirror also auto-generated suggested items to complete the look based on what’s being tried on, which was a great opportunity to personalize item recommendations and to cross-sell.
For those shoppers who weren’t quite ready to commit to their purchase, the mirror texted the details of their merchandise so consumers have time to mull it over. This also creates a lingering interaction with the brand, and offers the perfect opportunity for Ralph Lauren to follow up with customers long after they’ve left the store.
Since the interactive mirrors were installed last year, Ralph Lauren has reported a 90% engagement rate, which is higher than the brand expected. It’s also given the company access to meaningful data about their customers, like which inventory is frequently making it to the fitting room without converting to a sale.
2. Hunter brings a taste of Britain to Japan
Photo credit: Hunter Ginza
Hunter recently opened its second global flagship store in Japan, affirming its commitment to a full-blown sensory retail experience. Much like its sister location in London, the store is designed to appeal to the visual and auditory senses via massive digital displays and custom soundscapes meant to keep customers engaged.
Shoppers enter the 3,200-square-foot store in Tokyo through an imaginary forest equipped with life-like birch trunks that pierce the first floor. The ceiling is composed of a 570-square-foot digital lightbox that emulates a typical cloudy sky. A four-meter-high digital screen loops branded content and broadcasts live events from around the world.
While browsing the store for their perfect pair of wellies, customers can take in the sounds of heavy rain and thunderstorms. Regular weather updates from around the UK are aso displayed along with accompanying custom soundscapes to reinforce the brand’s British roots.
3. IKEA launches pilot app experimenting with virtual reality
As if a trip to the Swedish furniture store wasn’t stimulating enough, IKEA is asking shoppers to weigh in on their first foray into virtual reality with a test app called the IKEA VR Experience.
A growing number of retailers are eyeing VR as a means of easing purchasing decisions on big-ticket items. Foreseeing a greater integration of virtual reality into the everyday life of the consumer, IKEA’s pilot project tests how the company might bring the emerging technology to its shopping experience in the form of a virtual kitchen.
The app combines 3D renderings with a VR headset, giving customers the ability to customize one of three different kitchens. Customers are able to change the color of cabinets and drawers before taking a virtual tour of their creation. The tour can be taken from the perspective of varying heights to get the feel for how others (including children) might navigate the layout.
4. Adobe prototype gives retailers a glimpse into the future
Adobe’s “Store of the Future” prototype in Las Vegas embodies the perfect marriage between a physical retail location and the Internet of Things (IOT), and how both can add value for retailers and customers alike.
The Adobe Cloud platform powers the store, and features radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip-enabled shopping bags and beacon technology that blur the line between the digital and in-person shopping experience.
Imagine visiting your favorite brand’s online store and adding a pair of jeans to your cart. Wanting to make sure they’re the perfect fit, you visit their retail location where you’re handed a “Smart Bag” containing the jeans. As you browse the store and add new items to your bag, the chip-enabled shopping bag updates to reflect your potential purchases on all of your devices.
As Adobe explains it, the experience doesn’t end there. When you head to the fitting room to try on your items, a flat screen will render all of the items in your bag. When you finally decide to buy those jeans, you can cash out using your app before even leaving the fitting room.
Adobe believes that optimizing the shopping experience is a more productive (and profitable) way for retailers to engage with their customers.
The technology is now available for retailers to adopt and several are testing its potential use in “clean lab” simulated retail spaces.
5. Samsung storefront is anything but retail
Samsung takes customer experience to a whole new level with Samsung 837, an experiential flagship location in New York City.
The company created a multi-functional “digital playground” based on the belief that consumers no longer want transactions, but desire interactions instead. The general public is encouraged to connect with Samsung in a variety of new ways, from exploring the state-of-the-art smart kitchen to discovering a new artist at one of their live concerts.
Workshops give early-adopters the opportunity to test the latest Samsung gear. A virtual reality tunnel allows visitors to meet “their digital alter ego in a dramatic fashion” by displaying their Instagram account. And a full-service staff can help fix your phone or provide tips on exciting new features.
Samsung regularly refreshes the content, encouraging customers to come back to interact with the brand in new and innovative ways.
Create Your Own Immersive Retail Experience
Now that you're sufficiently inspired by these impressive examples, take a few moments to consider whether immersive retail is right for your brand. Not many retailers have the budget of the IKEAs and Ralph Laurens of the world, but it's possible to cultivate a highly engaging immersive retail experience without breaking the bank.
If you're interested in trying out an immersive retail display, you can jumpstart your planning process with the following questions:
- What's your story? What story would you like to tell through your immersive retail experience? And how does that tie into your brand's overall story?
- Who is your target customer? Describe them, their habits, and any barriers that stand between them and becoming a customer of your brand.
- What actions do you want shoppers to take? Through the course of the immersive experience, do you want customers to interact with specific products? Make a purchase from your recent stock? Subscribe to your mailing list, or share info about your brand on social media? The desired action is integral to planning the look and feel of your immersive experience.
Once you've answered these integral questions, you can really get started on creating your immersive experience. And keep these tips in mind when considering the additional details of your exhibit:
1. Try an Informational Display
One of the primary goals of an immersive retail experience is to encourage customers to interact with your products — so give them a bevy of reasons to do so with an informational display. Serve up plenty of details on your product in an engaging way, like in BaubleBar's recent New York City pop-up shop. The online jewelry retailer curated a display of five carefully selected statement pieces. When customers picked up a necklace or bracelet, the movement activated an animation and the display revealed more information about the jewelry in the customer's hands. The interactive display also offered tips on how to style the jewelry, unique anecdotes about each piece, and included a "Spotted On" feature showcasing Instagram shots of models and other customers wearing the same jewelry.
Ready to create your own? You can try your hand at a DIY display (i.e. whip out the hammer, nails, and building materials!). For more details on building your own immersive display, read "The Secret to Telling Your Brand's Story With Immersive Retail Design."
If don't have the time or energy for DIY, you can hire an interactive agency to create a custom experience for your brand (like BaubleBar did with New York-based design firm Perch Interactive).
2. Lean on Technology
In the above examples, most of these merchants incorporated all sorts of high-tech wizardry to create interactive experiences for their customers. When telling your story through your immersive exhibit, you can lean on touch screens and digital signage to catch shoppers' eye, relay information, and ultimately keep them in your store longer. Retailers looking to procure this kind of specialized interactive signage can consult with companies like AOPEN and BroadSign.
Above all, technology should put the customer in control — they should drive the experience, and be able to guide themselves through the story your immersive exhibit is telling.
3. Engage All the Senses
While weaving tech into your immersive exhibit is a great idea, it isn't absolutely necessary to invest thousands of your hard-earned dollars into one exhibit. Evaluate all aspects of the in-store experience (including the "low-tech" facets). Immersive retail experiences aren't just about fancy tech. It's about engaging all five senses — and this is where creativity is key! Use sights, smells, and sound to transport them to a new world, as Hunter Japan did with their flagship. Customers were transported from the bustling streets of Tokyo, the country's largest city, to a forested landscape complete with faux birch trees and the sounds of rain. That's a truly creative — and immersive — experience.
The Bottom Line
It’s becoming more difficult for retailers to stand out from the competition. But by designing a truly immersive retail experience that connects with shoppers and gives them greater control, you can help ensure your brand’s survival through increased reach and breeding loyal advocates who will be more likely to come back for more.
About The Author
Jessica Bianchi is the Manager of Online Content at Canada Post. When she isn't helping brands build their online presence, her interests span content creation, user experience, analytics and all things digital.