Yesterday, GDR attended a fascinating panel moderated by David Takeuchi of Ernst and Young on the blending of digital and physical spaces in retail. We were particularly taken by the format, which approached a concept that can become hopelessly bogged down in abstraction from three directions that were kept admirably concrete and real-world: branding, tech, and store architecture.
Branding was covered by John Hazen, SVP for Direct-to-Consumer & Omnichannel for denim label True Religion. His key point was the need for clarity in your goals as you incorporate digital and physical: with the list of options nearly infinite in practice, the technology needs to be deployed with a clear ROI in mind. At True Religion, Hazen’s aims were to slow the customer down to make a sale more likely, and the use of ‘endless aisle’ machines to allow customers to order products themselves and free up associates for more hand-on assistance. Digital signage was deployed to better reflect the brand – interestingly, Hazen’s team found that slow-paced, single-shot content was much more popular with customers than anything involving the faster-paced editing we associate with traditional advertising. Customers prepared to take the time to travel to a bricks-and-mortar store in a world where we can buy almost anything from a phone are more likely to spend, and savvy retailers should be removing every barrier to a sale possible. Staff who are free to engage with customers instead of doing backroom admin tasks are a key element in this – the personal touch seldom goes unappreciated, although this makes staff motivation levels even more important than they traditionally have been.
Next up, Minson Chen – business development manager at Samsung – discussed the company’s flagship location Samsung 837, which GDR has covered previously. Not selling a single product other than coffee, it’s instead a brand positioning exercise where the Korean giant provides a cultural venue for a range of events, including cooking demonstrations, music performances, and fitness. Naturally, if these events happen to feature Samsung products, all the better.
We regularly talk about the importance of this kind of integration into the lives of customers – avoiding the hard sell and instead becoming the client’s ally in their day-to-day lives. One element to this that was stressed by Chen was the need for flexibility – much as a digital offering exists only on a hard drive and as such can be tinkered with almost endlessly, the creation of adaptable physical spaces can deliver in the real world the flexibility digitally-conditioned consumers now expect.
This theme was elaborated on by Jason Chen, Retail VP of WithMe, a company that offers bespoke multi-channel retail platforms. Samsung 837 has flexibility built into the very fabric of the building; its main hall is deliberately designed to be modifiable in a huge variety of ways. Jason Chen’s point of view was that every store should have modular design built-in from the moment of conception now, producing a dynamic, flexible space.
In short, all four panellists were in one voice regarding the meeting of the physical and digital: regarding them as two totally separate channels is an outdated way of thinking, and just doesn’t reflect how people live their lives today. Offering an experience actually worth leaving the house for is one route to a sale; so too is embracing frequent design changes to mitigate physical retail’s slow-paced nature.