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Shopping, Supercharged

What brands should know about the future of retail experience

Rosh Singh, UNIT9

Managing Director

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Retail experience has been evolving rapidly over the past decade, but it’s about to be totally revolutionised as lockdown restrictions ease. Recent research from the Advertising Association and WARC revealed the UK's average weekly value of e-commerce spend rose 47.1% in 2020 to £2.1bn, equating to 27.9% of all retail sales last year and putting the UK ahead of key international markets. In fact, for the first time, the UK had the largest e-commerce share as a percentage of total retail spend - a significant figure when you compare to China’s equivalent of 24.9%.

E-commerce is clearly a force to be reckoned with, and after months of getting acquainted with online shopping, an increasing amount of consumers are now well and truly digital-savvy. But that doesn’t mean they’re not longing for the sense of magic and excitement that an in-store experience can offer. And let’s not forget that digitally-influenced high street purchases breached 50% in many categories even before the pandemic. That number is now more like 70%: proof that the typical shopping journey involves both physical and digital interactions, regardless of where the transaction takes place.

This provides retail brands with an appealing opportunity to reach customers wherever they are, in-store or at home, by flexing the shopping experience’s balance of digital and physical elements with a hybrid approach.

The highstreet as we know it may be on its deathbed, but as we see retail at scale decline we will begin to see increased investment in experience centres, flagship stores that come alive with digital technology and interactivity and serve as a temple to the brand, but just one node of the connected customer experience.

The future of the shopping experience is hybrid, blending digital and physical elements across shopper environments.

Rosh Singh, Managing Director, UNIT9

The future of experience

With more digital experience plugged into the heart of bricks-and-mortar stores, shoppers will be able to enjoy the convenience of online shopping blended with the tactility of the physical experience. With their brand app acting as a digital companion, retailers can provide an accessible solution to personal shopping whilst providing a totally connected shopping experience. Browse at home and build a wishlist, have those items waiting for you as you approach the store, try on and get hands-on with the product, and then buy through the app whenever and wherever is most convenient.

These in-store apps can be used in a host of different ways. Layering augmented elements on top of the physical space to guide shoppers on their journey, as Samsung did at its cutting-edge KX outlet, not only elevates the visual environment but also provides customers with a useful wayfinding service. Burberry’s social retail store is another standout example of how smartphones can be reimagined as helpful shopping companions. Shenzhen customers can unlock exclusive content as they shop, all tailored to their interests for a personalised touch. And news that Brookfield Properties is introducing AR content in the virtual air space across hundreds of its shopping centres is a clear indication of the hybrid future.

It’s not just digital convenience that will be a big draw for in-person shopping. Another impending trend is interactivity being used to give customers an incentive to return to the high street. At its heart, shopping is a leisure activity; something that should be fun, enjoyable and social. In-store activations will see a revival as they offer shoppers a richer experience that allows them to feel connected to the brand.

Nike are the experts when it comes to this type of activation. The recent ACG BaseCamp experience at their NYC House of Innovation allowed shoppers to feel like they embarked on a trip to Smith Rock State Park, with a series of covid-secure AR-based challenges throughout the store. The brand’s earlier Reactland in-store gaming activation is another great example of how to turn the store environment into a digital playground where shoppers can immerse themselves and have a bit of fun.

Merging the physical and digital 

Brands should also consider how they blend digital and physical for at-home consumers in order to reach those who prefer to shop from their sofas. Shoppable AR has fully taken off in the past few months, with Snapchat asserting in their recent Partner Summit that users are now twice as likely to purchase when using AR try-on tools. With new tech updates like voice and gesture control, improved body tracking and photo-realistic assets making the at-home try-on experience more realistic, it’s time for brands to tap into this avenue and augment their products into users’ environments.

The benefits of AR will extend from browsing through to post-purchase. Long gone are the days of basic, printed catalogues. The future is all about digital layering. H&M’s recent collaboration with Simone Rocha was showcased with a physical lookbook that transformed into a digital masterpiece, with clothing modelled by AR versions of famous musicians, dancers and actors who twirled and danced on the pages.

Packaging is another area that lends itself beautifully to an AR overhaul. When it comes to smart packaging, wine brand 19 Crimes is a leader in the space, with its narrative-based AR experience captivating global customers. Immersive technologies allow brands to maintain the benefits of their physical marketing efforts - the feel of thick pages, the look of a beautiful gift bag, the smells of perfume samples - but elevate them with interactivity that will build deeper connections with audiences.

The future of the shopping experience is hybrid, blending digital and physical elements across shopper environments. This way, retailers can create seamless customer experiences that extend from the high street into homes for 24/7 impact and engagement, while achieving the best of both worlds.

Guest Author

Rosh Singh, UNIT9

Managing Director,

About

Rosh is Managing Director at UNIT9 a global Innovation Studio. A seasoned leader and passionate about the creative application of technologies for brands, Rosh has been involved in the agency, production and start-up worlds running successful businesses and executing innovative and award-winning work for some of the world's biggest brands. With a career history starting in Sales and Digital Marketing previous to UNIT9 he ran a record label, sold a business to WPP, where he founded an in-house OOH creative agency, leading the acquisition of a specialist technology company and founded a start-up incubator launching a new visual holographic medium, eco-friendly street furniture and a VR motion platform to the UK. Rosh has a moustache and secretly loves Rom-Coms.

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