Chris Igwe, Global Retail Expert, ICSC Brand Ambassador and moderator of the upcoming ICSC Retail Innovation Forum, tells Commsmatters about the ways #technology and #innovation are changing the #retail industry and making life easier for the customer. He also highlights for us some of the most #innovative concepts he's seen on his recent travels. And, as Chris has a lot to say on the subject, 3 questions were not quite enough .....
How is technology changing retail?
There are many ways in which #retail is being transformed through #technology. Not so many years ago we were focused on the smart phone and its use by the customer, and how that was being tracked even before he or she left their home, seeking to accompany them along the journey to the store.
Today, it is more about how to provide the customer with the very best #experience not only along that journey, but once in the store, or indeed online.
Funnily enough, we focus most of our conversation on the impact of technology and how it relates to the customer, but the real impact is behind the scenes – the stock management, assessing what is available or not, what product is in which store or warehouse, and so on. This is no less major in its value to the customer.
What innovations are likely to affect retail the most over the next couple of years?
There are many #innovations affecting retail, but probably the most significant ones will be the fact that retailers have to stop competing in terms of products and price. No one today really needs to buy another product; least of all when they already have it. Nor is price the deciding factor. Rather, the consumer needs to be told a #story, understand the ‘why’ of the retailer and then they can engage and make a purchase, or not, but at least they will have enjoyed the #experience. As such we are seeing more and more retailers, especially brands, who have staff called ‘Experience Managers’ whose role is to bring the consumer into their world (the store) and simply share. Brands such as Nike, Adidas, Apple, Lululemon, Microsoft, L’Occitane and others are doing this, but smaller brands, such as Aesop, or even unknown brands as well, such Sophie Ferjani in Marseille. The motto is “come in and discover our world”.
So how can brands create enjoyable and memorable experiences for their customers?
By creating places or #placemaking! This will continue to be a growing #trend and goes back to providing a place where people can be together and interact – the Third Place (after home and work). We are social animals and need to be amongst other people. This can be taken advantage of through such technologies as Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality where people come together and enjoy some form of entertainment together.
One recent example is the partnership created between major shopping centre owner and developer Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield and The VOID, an American company to open the concept up in many of their centres. The VOID have developed a unique AR concept which takes the consumer to a whole new level of immersive reality, in a safe environment, appealing to all the senses. I tried it out when they had a Pop Up in Westfield Stratford Shopping Centre in London. It was indeed phenomenal!
Yet, I think the ultimate measure of the power and use of technology will be to respond to the question “How can I make my life easier when it comes to shopping?” One great example of this is comes from IKEA. Not only are they building smaller stores within some 30 global city centres, but they are seeking to optimise not only the space within the stores with the products that the consumer wants (so smaller stock rooms, with incredible efficiencies of deliveries and replenishment), but also how the consumer gets his/her products from the store back home using various delivery methods, from transporting the products one’s self, to having them delivered at minimum cost. Even better, IKEA have developed an App that allows you to design and configure your space even before you go to the store so that you know how it will all fit together. There is a keenness to provide a seamless experience and gain and keep your loyalty to the brand.
And finally what are the most innovative concepts you've come across recently?
I am privileged to travel a lot so it is hard to select, but here are a few:
Le 4 (by Casino) – Paris. A 24/7 supermarket but also a Co-Working space on the upper floor. The check outs are all digital and unmanned
Shinola – at the Grove, Lifestyle Center in Los Angeles. They sell watches and bicycles, as well as other vintage goods, from leather goods to old vinyl records in a beautiful store where there is no pressure to do anything but sit and enjoy the moment
Starbucks, The Roastery – Milan. Like no other Starbucks you have seen. A place to hang out, and drink coffee if you want, but it is not easy to find any coffee!
Media Markt – Barcelona. How do you go from a 10,000m² store, as they have in Germany, to a 200m² store to display the range of products available without technology before and in-store?
Tommy Hilfiger – Regent Street, London. A huge digital wall where you can research, and find what you want in the store and try it on or order it
CityLife shopping centre – Milan. A fabulous area on the ground floor of the shopping centre dedicated to space where people can come and have a coffee, eat and hold meetings or just work alone, recharge their equipment and so on. It is what we would call a ‘Food Court’, but without the pressure to eat, and indeed is designed and configured in a way that invites you to consider it as your own lounge or sitting room.
Yas Mall – Abu Dhabi. You could shop all you want and call a service via an App or a phone call, to collect your shopping, wherever you are, and with however much you have, which they would collect and either hold at the centre or have delivered to your hotel. What a way to shop!
Breitling – Zurich. I have only seen pictures and had the concept introduced to me, but the combination of the café, bar and the power of the brand, all in a beautifully designed space speaks volume about the brand and how it is getting closer to the customer.
Fomo – Gothenburg. This is taking the Pop Up store to a new level through the housing of brands and concepts within a space that is itself a Pop Up. The Pop Up stores themselves and housed by a Pop Up – ingenious!
Chris will be moderating the ICSC Retail Innovation Forum taking place in London on 25 and 26 September 2019. To register to the event and meet Chris there, go to: https://www.icsc.com/attend-and-learn/events/details/retail-innovation-forum1