Online retail keeps on growing
It was recently revealed that in 2012, online sales shot up by 17.8 per cent – the fastest rate for a year, according to the British Retail Consortium-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor for December 2012.
It’s not hard to see why. As our lives become busier and getting to the shops is more of a hassle, the lure of the internet, with its 24-hour convenience, is hard to resist. We are living in a world where we conduct our own research online and are far more likely to trust the recommendations of friends and peer groups than of advertisers. However, online shopping puts us in the driving seat, meaning we can shop at our own pace and benefit from recommendations and buyer reviews to help guide us with our purchase decisions.
It’s not just consumers who are enjoying this shift to online. Retailers love the fact that they can widen their reach, centralise their stock and showcase a full range – all with lower operating costs than in a physical store.
What’s more, they can capture valuable data about their customers, encourage online chatter and continue a dialogue with them long after the transaction has taken place.
So is the physical store doomed?
No, but it will look quite different in the future. Facebook’s global head of brand design, Paul Adams, comments that since we have always been social animals, the web is simply catching up with offline life.
We will always still crave social interaction, a bit of retail therapy and the opportunity to look, touch, smell and feel the product before parting with our cash. We are also more demanding, wanting to know the product story, where it has come from and what the brand stands for before deciding whether to buy – albeit probably on the internet.
Therefore, as online purchasing becomes more popular, bricks-and-mortar stores will need to focus more on the experiential rather than the transactional.
Because national brands are available in every city and on the internet, the new stars will be the retailers that become a destination and offer a social experience which is pleasurable and entertaining. This is where experiential marketing comes to the fore by bringing the brand personality to life and using sensory techniques to connect with people on an emotional level. We can call this ‘retailtainment’.
Take, for example, the Apple store which has changed the landscape of how we shop these days. There is no central cash register, but instead stores have roaming sales assistants, an interactive genius bar and an EasyPay self-checkout. All this makes for a much more engaging experience and it’s fair to say that the Apple Store has become, for many, the main destination in a shopping trip.
Other sectors are catching on too, for example the automotive manufacturers. Not only are today’s car buyers changing the way they research a model, but they have also changed their attitudes towards the actual process of buying a car. The dealership is no longer necessarily the first port of call for browsing. Therefore, manufacturers need to engage people in different ways and much earlier on in the decision-making process.
Last year, Fiat recognised this and launched Fiat Click – car showrooms within UK shopping centres which enabled people to browse a car and then order it online. Test drives were even available to book online and cars could be delivered to people, anywhere. So in effect the Fiat dealership was removed from the entire purchase process.
Nissan is another brand which has embraced experiential marketing. The Nissan Innovation Station, managed and staffed by TRO, is a fun, interactive brand experience based at the O2. The brand centre is designed to make the future of motoring come alive and engage people who would not necessarily choose to visit a dealership.
With its interactive games, virtual experiences, drive simulators and personalised gadgets, there’s literally something for everyone, while Nissan can succinctly communicate the story and personality behind the brand.
Retailtainment is a global trend
Last year in Australia, Google collaborated with handset manufacturers to create Androidland in Telstra’s flagship store in Melbourne. Created by TRO Australia, this was a fun, interactive Android-themed experience where shoppers could, for example, play Angry Birds on a full-size screen, ‘Androidify’ themselves or pilot the Android spaceship via Google Earth.
The execution even went so far as to tap into their sense of smell using gingerbread aromas to replicate the operating system.
Over here in the UK we are seeing brands planting their own highly trained brand ambassadors into stores allowing them control over how they are represented end to end. Elsewhere, virtual sales presenters are being used for precisely the same reasons.
In fact, stores are now maximising their areas for consumer interactions as opposed to product display. The store window is a particularly popular space at the moment for interactive advertising and enticement to come inside. John Lewis enjoyed huge success in the summer with an interactive shop window on Oxford Street, while over in Australia, Telstra has captured the attention of passers-by with the use of augmented reality in its windows.
Retail is now anywhere
Step outside the store and it doesn’t stop there. Combine experiential marketing with online retail and you can literally have a pop-up store anywhere at any time. Of course, it needs to be positioned in the right location, at the right time and executed in the right way to appeal to the target audience and their mindset at that moment.
However, the potential of this ‘mountain to Mohammed’ approach is huge. And it’s only going to get easier with the growth of near-field communication devices and the introduction of the likes of mobile wallets and smartphone apps.
Imagine, for example, clothes shopping while sipping a cocktail in a bar, ordering toiletries to be delivered to your tent at a festival or test driving and then buying a car in your lunch hour. The possibilities for retailtainment are endless and very exciting indeed.
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