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GUEST COMMENT What does the future hold for retail experiences?

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Today’s retail landscape is changing rapidly, remapping how retail brands try to influence the consumer purchase process. 

At the beginning of 2020, a consumer survey highlighted that eight out of ten people would buy a product once they had tried it out first-hand and 84% would feel more inclined to buy from a brand in the future after a demonstration experience. With the ongoing situation of Covid-19 that has rapidly impacted the retail sector, retailers are having to re-evaluate their strategies to ensure they create compelling shopping experiences further than the shop floor.

The Covid-19 pandemic has taught retailers and businesses across the world that they need to embrace an omnichannel approach to their marketing strategy. Not only will this help develop rich communications with consumers, it’ll help capture a new online audience and connect buyers and sellers directly across regional and even national boundaries.

In-store product demonstrations

It’s no surprise shoppers are keen to explore their options, experience them at close quarters and arrive at a fully educated conclusion before making their final choice – because choice is exactly what shoppers have in today’s retail market.

Over the past few years, the high street has transitioned into a place where consumers can explore, discover and most important of all, experience. With a recent survey highlighting that 85 percent of respondents confirming that product experiences would encourage them to buy a product, it’s clear retailers need to adopt this strategy across all touchpoints of their business. 

Building a community of interest around your product is a powerful tool to address customer concerns and create a conversation that generates great word of mouth. Stores are beginning to realise the power of in-store demonstrations to tempt customers through the doors and interact with each other, and your product can be at the centre of that community.

With the high street slowly reopening for business over the next few weeks amidst the pandemic crisis, it makes complete sense for retailers to direct their marketing budget towards the product demonstration approach to guarantee greater success at point of sale, as consumers today demand more from the bricks-and-mortar shops they choose to visit.

Virtual retail experiences

Consumers value outcomes and unique experiences – they want easy shopping customised to their individual needs and curated choices.

In the face of these enormous changes, retailers must take on the challenge of finding ways to serve individual consumers tailored to their needs and desires – in-store and online. Shoppers expect a seamless shopping experience across online and offline channels, with integrated virtual and physical operations. The retailers most likely to survive the current transition are those that can provide the personal touch of a bricks-and-mortar store while also offering multiple options to engage with consumers at numerous touch points. 

Virtual shopping experiences offer such huge potential and retail businesses must look forward to adopting technology to improve shopping experiences for consumers, and with a growing demand in the near future, shoppers will be expecting to be able to shop from home with a virtual experience similar to what they have in a store.

Digital disruption has brought huge changes to retail over the past few years and brands are continuing to invest in their physical retail as consumers prefer to try products in store with a hands-on approach. Retailers have incorporated numerous experiences such as product demonstrations, product sampling and pop ups which gives the consumer the ability to see, touch and feel products in real life.

But it’s key for retailers to embrace an omnichannel approach with their strategies, which has been highlighted throughout the lockdown, to address the issue of enhancing brand and product knowledge for online audiences. 

I’ve seen an increase of retailers and brands creating a community for potential consumers through the use of social media such as hosting live video streams. The brands hosting experiences such as live video streams are helping to build communities and in turn will bring people together as they connect through their discoveries of a brand and their products.

Over the past few years, virtual reality and augmented reality have increased in popularity which is providing retailers an opportunity to create an interactive and personalised customer experience. VR and AR allow retailers to help stimulate an immersive environment and takes customer engagement to a whole new level by providing customers with virtual tours of a store or product from the comfort of their homes.

Not only will these technology options strengthen customer relations, virtual reality experiences will help companies retain their customers and achieve profits even in a highly competitive market as it will help increase confidence in a purchasing decision.

We predict there will be an increase in demand for short-term retail for product launches, events and experiential retail. This is a trend we were already seeing and believe the impact the global crisis will have on consumer behaviour will only accelerate physical retail’s evolution into experiences.

With this in mind we can see virtual reality experiences becoming part and parcel of regular high street stores. When you’re popping up you want to maximise the impact you have so increasing your reach with a digital version of the same store will be key.

While deemed a crisis, it’s clear that there are indeed opportunities for bricks-and-mortar stores to minimise the risk of losses seen by those in ecommerce who are making gains in a growing market. If you make the right business moves now, with your customers at the heart of your strategy, you might just reap long-lasting benefits when the storm comes to close.

Anna Brettle is founder of Stellar

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