Digital has greatly improved the shopping experience with quality-of-life improvements like free shipping and advanced personalization. At the same time, the drive for online innovation led by industry giants has been tough for many retailers to keep up with. But two retail industry events in New York this week painted a rosy picture an industry re-energized and well-equipped build meaningful, new connections with consumers through tech: New York Retail Innovation Week this week, which gathered together leadership from top retail brands and their innovation partners, and the NRF 2020 Vision conference.
MediaMonks participated in PSFK’s event, hosting a panel session in our New York office. Focused on in-store experiential retail, the panel featured Russell Kahn (VP of Retail, PUMA North America) and Alissa Allen (VP Group Director of Insights and Strategy, The Integer Group), and was moderated by our office’s Managing Director, Jason Prohaska.
Every person goes into [the store] with purpose and intention.
Because just over a third of retail sales are influenced by digital, it will be increasingly important for retailers to understand how to trace the journey from online to off—or totally blur the boundary between those two states. As new technologies emerge (like 5G, which allows for in-store VR and AR demonstrations with zero latency), retailers will become even better-equipped to connect with their consumers.
So even though digital technology has put pressure on retailers, Allen reminds us that “Diamonds are formed under pressure.” That sense of energy, excitement and desire to reinvent the wheel is palpable in the retail today, ushering an optimistic vision of the industry’s tech-infused future.
We’re moving into an era of selling emotions and feelings, not things.
Topics of the week ranged from purpose and intention to how retailers can offer unforgettable experiences by leveraging tech. To that point, YourStudio’s Co-Founder and Creative Director Howard Sullivan eloquently said before speaking at NYRIW, “We’re moving into an era of selling emotions and feelings, not things.” The good news: retail is the perfect stage to grant these experiences to consumers.
Retail’s Renewed Purpose
Retail faces challenges at all sides: there’s fierce competition from direct-to-consumer brands, a need to play catch-up with disruptive ecommerce giants and the increasing imperative to connect with the consumer through content and personalization at scale. A great place to begin thinking about retail’s future amidst each of these challenges is to ask why retail continues to be relevant today.
The NYCGP motorsport experience lets guests drive through a virtual New York City at high speed.
The answer? Retail offers an environment to instill loyalty by building meaningful connections that go beyond a simple transaction. According to PSFK’s Future Of Retail 2020: Retail As Personal Utility report, “73% [of consumers] are interested in shopping at a store that offers other useful services besides selling products.” This is the philosophy behind the opening of PUMA’s first flagship store in the US, which opened on Fifth Avenue in August last year.
At our NYRIW panel, Puma’s Russell Kahn mentioned how the store’s customization studio delivered on that promise by providing a personalized service to consumers, while keeping the space fresh with new partners and unique experiences (like bedazzling your new or old shoes with Swarovski crystals). “People want experiences, not products,” he said. “If they want products, they can go to Amazon. We thought about what reasons bring people to the store, and what that experience can be.”
The Rise of Experiential
Speaking of experiences, both Kahn and Integer Group’s Alissa Allen discussed the rising role of experiential retail. We’ve worked with both on high-profile experiential projects; PUMA’s store features a state-of-the-art F1 racing simulator on par with those used by real racers. And in collaboration with The Collective (part of The Integer Group) and AT&T, we built the Batman Experience, a large-scale interactive exhibition that includes an immersive virtual reality skydiving experience.
We thought about what reasons bring people to the store, and what that experience can be.
While the Batman Experience was one of the most buzzworthy exhibits at San Diego Comic-Con last year, the project began from humble roots. “We had the most boring brief ever: sell more fiber optic cable,” Allen told the panel audience. Admittedly, selling tech can be tough—so The Collective started by considering who buys fiber optic and why.
“Fiber optic is important for gamers and is even a deciding factor in where they choose to live,” she said. Suddenly, everything clicked: with AT&T having recently acquired the rights to Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ Batman IP, The Collective could showcase the strength of AT&T’s fiber optic product while delivering strong relevance to its audience. “Batman is a superhero powered by tech,” Allen said. “AT&T powers the tech that’s in the background of everything we do. So how can we take that and give consumers the feeling of having superpowers?” By going into a wind tunnel, strapping on a VR headset and gliding through a virtual Gotham City, of course.
Paying Attention to Intention
The discussion above shows how critical customer intention has become in the retail experience—whether online or off. At NRF this week, Amy Eschliman (SVP Client Engagement, Sephora) discussed how the retailer’s social content is built to support a transition from the news feed to a check-out button. Still, “In beauty, people have to deal with the products in person—there’s no other way,” she said. “So we needed to drive traffic into the stores.”
One way the Batman Experience appealed to gamers was by showcasing every video game that featured the hero.
The pinnacle of the Batman Experience is the Dark Knight Dive, a VR-enabled skydiving activation that gives participants the illusion that they're gliding through Gotham City.
The challenge, then, is getting into the consumer’s mindset, wherever they operate: understanding what they want to achieve and how to position the brand to meet those needs. In Allen’s work with AT&T, she thinks of each store as a theater. “Every person goes into that theater with purpose and intention.” Kevin Plank, Executive Chairman and Brand Chief at Under Armour, made a similar point on stage at NRF. “When a consumer walks into a retail store, there’s two things they need to understand: what’s your personality, and what’s your point of view?”
The PUMA store manages these concerns by “[placing] the biggest representations of the brand around the store, so the consumer can choose which to spend time with and build a connection.” Visitors can explore the multifaceted brand through several lenses, perhaps based on their favorite sport, for example. Measuring time spent with any of those experiences and displays is key for understanding each one’s impact and influence. “The biggest learning is the consumer journey,” said Kahn. “Tracking the user journey through the store has been invaluable.”
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