‘Connected’ Retail Defined at Future Stores
By GABRIELLA BOCK | Managing Editor
Key Takeaways from the 2019 Conference
Future Stores Seattle held its annual West Coast convention and expo last week, where hundreds of key decision makers and cutting-edge solution providers gathered for an intimate exploration of the latest branding, design and tech innovations that will propel retail into 2020 and beyond.
Held at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Seattle Washington from June 4 to June 7, Future Stores was buzzing with energy as attendees heard a myriad of fresh perspectives from thought leaders from brands like Levi’s, Lowes, Nordstrom, Sephora and UNTUCKit.
And one topic that seemed to be on everyone’s mind last week was how to provide consumers with a more connected experience.
Still a buzzword among many media outlets and retailers alike, experiential retail has been challenging to define over the past few years. Some consider it the “bells-and-whistles” of tech-centered store design while others view it as the behind the scenes tools that empower employees to provide engaged, frictionless service to guests both in-store and online.
Touchscreen solution provider Elo was there showcasing its latest and greatest point of sale, digital signage and self-service devices, and while the devices were certainly not lacking in shiny attraction, Elo’s Senior Director of North America Sales, Luke Wilwerding, didn’t let them do all the talking.
“We’re reaching a point where consumer preferences and younger generations actually want to go out and shop in stores,” Wilwerding told RETHINK Retail. “They want physical experiences; they want to touch and feel materials and they want to interact with the brand. And this is really driving the need and the investment in the physical store environments.”
Connecting with young people seemed to be a common concern among tech providers and retailers alike and Future Stores attendees were quick to note the changing of the tides as consumers become more receptive to digital promotions and advertising.
“People are looking for something that’s different. They want something they can connect with,” Mary Immer, Project Manager of Store Operations at Express, told RETHINK Retail.
“And if you stay the same old retailer offering the same old clothes and same old promotions, [consumers] are not going to want to come to you because someone else down the mall is offering something cooler, something more exciting and something that they’re connecting with.”
Other retailers in attendance chose to focus on the other side of the experiential coin and left tech out of the limelight.
But what’s experiential retail without technology front-and-center?
It turns out that human interaction is still a much-desired experience among consumers and retailers that are combining digital technology with human elements are finding great success in paving the way for a new understanding of what it means to be a connected space in the brick-and-mortar landscape.
“You have to think first about the customer experience; and right after that, think equally about the employee experience,” Future Stores speaker and World Wide Technology Digital Managing Director John Hogan told RETHINK Retail.
“We should really want to take and promote the associates we have today and make them feel like higher-quality concierge experience associates that are an extension of that warmth, that personality, of the brand — and then, as part of that strategy, is developing empathy and feedback loops with your customers, studying their behavior, helping them feel like they have very simple vehicles for providing insight and feedback on experiences and then making sure that you follow up with them so they feel heard.”
To further explore this idea, RETHINK Retail caught up with custom apparel retailer UNTUCKit to discuss their methods of getting bodies into their niche-category showrooms. Despite their streamlined website and active social media presence, a quick Google search of the UNTUCKit brand reveals pages of praise for the company’s excellent customer service, both online and in their 60 + stores across the United States and Canada.
“Ultimately there is still a tremendous people component to what makes brick-and-mortar unique,” Brent Paulsen, UNTUCKit’s Director of Retail, told RETHINK Retail. “The customer wants interaction. They come to a store expecting a level of service and it is our mission to provide that.”
In this regard, UNTUCKit uses technology as a means to empower store associates with wireless mobile devices that allow them to get out from behind the counter and interact with their customers shoulder-to-shoulder.
“In our stores we have a small seating area adjacent to the fitting rooms that serves as a kind of social gathering point for friends and family of the shopper,” Paulsen explained. “And often times we are interacting with the customer by sitting next to them on the sofa — almost as if they are sitting at home on their own sofa.”
“Our intention is not to jazz the store up but really making the transaction and the fitting room experience as efficient and as convenient as possible.”
And whether it’s through voice-enabled ordering systems, scan-and-go kiosks or just good old-fashioned customer service; when it comes to shopping, efficiency and convenience will always roost at the top of the experience checklist.