Putting the heart back into retail!

Online shopping is growing ever stronger, with over $1.9 trillion US dollars spent worldwide in 2016, but alongside it, a more personal form of instore shopping has re-appeared, drawing on old-fashioned face-to-face customer service with a modern technological twist. Because of the explosion in the popularity of online shopping, retailers must now focus on how to attract and retain physical trade. A message must be crafted that expresses the brand's identity and that customers can relate to.

Customers are used to having information at their fingertips, so telling an informative, emotionally driven story from the moment they look through the window to when they walk out of the store, receipt in hand (or via email - many stores now send a digital receipt to save paper). Stores need to have an aspect of familiarity, so customers feel special enough to forgo the convenience of online shopping. Staff should focus less on the hard sell, and more on creating an instant relationship between customers & their brand, which leads to a longer commitment, and the increased likelihood of repeated custom.

Retail shopping has become more than just a shopping trip, it's a social occasion, so retailers are designing their spaces around the customer experience. Having assistants in store with tech that allows customers to order out-of-stock items, or take inspiration from fashion 'look-books' online is a way to encourage the personal theme without compromising on technology. Creating an instore coffee or dining space is the perfect way to attract groups of friends looking for somewhere to spend their Saturday afternoons. Homeware stores may have it easier because more of their customers still prefer to shop in person, but they should still make an effort to keep them engaged in their brand - the way their stores look have to inspire potential buyers to decorate their homes in the same way.

Millennials (anyone born between 1984 and 2000 in case you weren't aware) expect technology in pretty much every area of their lives, and retail is no exception. As discussed above, the ability to order items and see ideas is high on their list of their requests. Having a social media presence is essential for your brand in 2017, as customers can share their trip to your store, which heightens their experience and helps your brand get more exposure online.

Virtual Reality (or VR for short) is entering retail spaces in all sorts of different sectors. A good example is WAH Nails in Soho, London, who have centred their entire business model around it. Customers enter the store, put on a VR headset and have a virtual manicure experience, where they can design their own nail polish and nail designs. They can then order the custom designs to be delivered to the their house, or it can be sent to the nail technician downstairs, who will then apply it to the customer's nails. All of this follows the uploading of the images to Instagram and Twitter, of course. Facilities are provided too, including phone charging, free cocktails, and watching your favourite TV show whilst your manicure takes place. 

Although VR is edging into the retail market, lots of brands are holding back, as they are acutely aware of alienating the older generations, and introducing it before most people have even got used to it in the gaming market, where it's currently used most widely. In terms of building a relationship, however, this immersive experience allows customers to really feel part of the brand, and along with emotive displays and relationship selling, technology such as this is lending a helping hand in putting the heart back into retail.