The retailers crafting the store of the future are like the best science fiction writers.  They are reimagining their physical worlds and creating new concepts and solutions rooted in real-life experience – it’s futuristic but never fantasy.  The innovators understand that customers buy experiences alongside products.  They recognise that shopping is part of the fabric of leisure time and are creating experiences that go beyond transactions.  Brands with a laser focus on experience retail are gaining a competitive edge by creating compelling reasons for customers to visit them, browse, be entertained, dine, make things and get creative.

Research by Salesforce found that just 32% of consumers visit a store because they like the overall experience.  As online sales continue to bite, consumer confidence falls and the economic headwinds get stronger, we are seeing more and more stores close.  Creating an exceptional experience is therefore becoming a hard-to-ignore imperative in the fierce battle to capture dwindling footfall on the high street.

Technology to help, not hinder

Forward-thinking retailers understand that the path to purchase starts and ends where the omnichannel consumer wants it to.  They are developing solutions that blend offline and online into a seamless experience, which is easy, convenient, personalised and interactive.  Those experimenting with value-add technology – AI, robots, apps, augmented reality and virtual reality – are creating solutions that enhance, improve and personalise what customers experience.  But technology is simply not being used for technology’s sake.  It’s designed to help, not hinder.  Cool can quickly become lukewarm when tech looks smart but does little to make things easier and solve problems.

Making it personal

The pioneers are working out ways to unlock valuable customer data collected in stores to synch it with online data to make personalisation easier.  The new Store of the Future from luxury e-commerce platform Farfetch is a great example of this.  The solution includes sign-in stations that collect customer data when they visit.  Sales assistants will then have access to customer profiles and any wish lists that they have saved online.  Connected clothing racks will record items that customers pick up and selections are saved in an app for editing.  In the fitting room, digital mirrors will help customers request different sizes and colours to try.

Coop Italia’s flagship Supermarket of the Future in Milan also merges the physical and digital.  The new design, fuelled by consumer insights, provides shoppers with tools and information to make their shopping experience more immersive, personal and convenient.  Products are displayed on interactive tables and smart shelves.  Real-time data visualisation helps consumers make informed choices about what they are buying.  Sensors and digital mirrors above the tables display augmented labels as shoppers reach out to products.  The labels display helpful product information on nutritional values, allergens, provenance and more.

Try before you buy

Ikea customers can use Ikea Place, its augmented reality app, to preview how 2,000 products from its catalogue such as sofas and armchairs would work in their homes.  They can see how life-size products fit in the places and rooms where they want them to.  Customers can reserve items in the app, which directs to the retailer’s website for purchase.  No need to try and squeeze a new sofa into a living room or get the tape measure out.  Or leave the house even.  The store of the future could be in the home.

See how John Lewis rolled out the ultimate try-to-buy experience in our recent post – How to improve customer advocacy in the experience economy.

Check in, but don’t check out

Checkout queues, we’ve all been in one, at the end of one, trying to find the end of one.  Amazon could be about to change this.  It has opened its first checkout-free convenience store in Seattle – Amazon Go.  On arrival, customers check in with the Amazon Go app at the turnstiles.  Cameras and sensors then track what people select and items are added to a virtual basket.  Customers then walk out and pay a few minutes later by credit card, which is on file.  It could be some years before checkouts are consigned to the history books.  However, Amazon is sending ripples through the sector.  It’s redefining convenience and raising customer expectations on a seamless shopping experience.  More convenience stores are planned in the US, although there are no plans to scale to its Whole Foods chain.

In the UK, the Co-op is trialling pay-in-the-aisle technology whereby shoppers can scan and pay for items on their smartphones, making the buying experience more frictionless and complementing other shopping and payment methods.  The retailer is currently trialling the technology at a store that is not open to the public.  Tests at the Co-op at Microsoft’s HQ in Reading will follow.  A wider rollout for customers is expected by the summer.

Smartphone payments could significantly change the way stores are staffed as till transactions are reduced or replaced.  This could impact jobs in the future, depending on how and where retailers deploy this technology and levels of consumer uptake.

It’s not all about customer-facing technology

The most innovative retailers understand that immersive, participatory experiences make them stand out.  These brands are introducing lifestyle services, places to play, make things and get creative. Tesco’s new ‘shopping and leisure’ destination in Watford brings together new food concepts, general merchandising and dining zones to offer consumers a revitalised experience and more compelling reasons to visit, browse or dine.  Sarah Page, Creative Director at design consultancy Household thinks the store sets the benchmark for future large-scale retailers:

“[It] is an example of what large supermarkets can offer the customer that online grocery shopping doesn’t – a destination experience where shopping is engaging, fun, inspiring and underpinned by a leisure mindset”.

These are just a few examples of how retailers are experimenting to improve customer experience, loyalty and market share.  Ultimately, consumers will decide if these reimagined stores are enough to entice them.  As more data is collected in stores, consumers will also make judgements about the privacy trade-off.  The pioneers are working hard to make that customer decision easier.

If you would like to know more about how cp2experience, a customer experience consulting and training company, can help you shape your organisations CX strategy, please contact us today.