The art of rational creativity

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In recent years, there has been a noteworthy digital transformation in the in-store customer experience, and rightfully so. The global pandemic prevented customers from visiting stores, leading to doubts about if they will ever truly return. And when they did return, customers had changed so much that they desired a completely different experience from them. Economic uncertainty has compelled consumers to carefully evaluate their spending habits, and then subsequently change those habits. Retailers are now having to focus on their own offerings whilst ensuring they are not falling behind their competitors.

Consequently, expectations have soared and will continue to escalate, evolve, and undergo further changes. And yet, despite the multitude of changes, there are still more changes to anticipate and they can’t all be predicted.

So how do we create an engaging, authentic in-store experience for customers?

The answer is multifaceted of course, but it begins with ‘rational creativity’.

Designing the space with the experience in mind

When it comes to creating a retail store, there are several things that have to be considered and managed to create the experience you want for your customers. These factors range from choosing a strong location with easy access for your target audience to finding a location that has high visibility due to foot traffic. A well-selected location increases the chances of attracting and retaining customers. You can’t pick a location without the customers in mind.

The same should apply to designing your space. These aspects contribute to the unique experience each customer goes through when they are in your store. When designing the space, the customer experience should be at the forefront of a retailer’s mind. How does the building look? Where do the spaces lie? How will people be able to interact within it?

Considering the development of customer experience at the earliest possible stage will give retailers more flexibility in creating it. It can’t be an afterthought, or even something that’s moulded to fit what you have as best it can. Rather, it needs to be something carefully crafted, integrated, and at the core of everything you build.

Whatever your creative output may be, having the customer journey in mind when you design the space will give you more room to create the perfect experience.

Creating an experience that is perfectly suited to your target market

Once you have your space organised, how do you stand out? It is a daunting question in truth when you look at some of the developments we have had in retail in the last few years. In 2018, Canada Goose introduced their new ‘cold rooms’, which enabled customers to experience what it is like to wear their products in the environments they were created for. Similarly, in a bid to show that stores need not just be transactional, Lululemon opened a new flagship store in Lincoln Park Chicago which had a yoga studio, gym, meditation area and café.

These types of developments are being made by every brand, everywhere. Creating an engaging experience isn’t about investing millions of pounds into a new digital signage system for the sake of doing so. It is about carefully curating an experience that is going to support and enhance your ideal customer’s preferences.

For example, imagine your business appeals to an older demographic, one that is not as comfortable using tech as someone from a younger generation might be. Investing into interactive technology and digital screens wouldn’t be a sensible decision given this wouldn’t appeal to this generation.

Consider Dolce and Gabbana’s creation of the Casa immersive experience, specifically tailored to its ‘Home’ collection. Instead of copying trends set by other companies, they crafted something unique. Through the use of digital signage, animated pictures, emotive videos, scenic transitions, and more, all inspired by visual attributes of their fashion collections, the Corso Venezia 7 boutique immersive room offered an innovative consumer experience. It provided a full immersion into the Dolce&Gabbana universe, setting it apart from conventional approaches. What it didn’t do, was invest in a cold room or a yoga studio simply because other companies had success with it.

Carefully using technology to add a new dimension to your offering will allow you to create something meaningful.

Using data to show that all developments are being backed by facts

Planning and execution are two different ball games. It is all well and good creating a new experience for your customers, but it quickly becomes pointless if you are unable to track how effective it is. That said, investing into your in-store experience creates a wealth of new data opportunities that can help you build upon what you have started. This is where rationality begins to take centre stage.

The technology developments will enable you to acquire valuable data from digital touchpoints, which are the various interactions and points of contact between customers and the retail experience. Collecting data from these digital touchpoints, will allow you to gain valuable insights into customer behaviour, preferences, and satisfaction levels.

By tracking customer movement patterns, dwell times, and interactions with different touchpoints, you can see how customers navigate the store, which areas attract the most attention, and potential bottlenecks. This data enables you to optimise your store layouts, product placements, and overall flow to enhance the customer experience and drive sales.

Similarly, it can provide alignment between online and offline marketing. Integrating data from online channels with data from physical touchpoints can give you a holistic view of customer behaviour. This alignment enables personalised customer journeys, seamless omni-channel experiences, and targeted messaging to drive customer engagement and loyalty.

And this is just the start. Beyond deep flow analysis and the alignment of online and offline marketing efforts, effective data can facilitate targeted marketing, measure performance, and provide insights into customer satisfaction. Leveraging data analytics will empower you to make data-driven decisions, optimise the retail experience, and drive business growth. By using this data effectively, retailers can ensure that the dynamic experience that they have put so much work into remains productive, impactful and engaging.

Marrying creativity and rationality will allow retailers to truly connect to customers with the power of tech. The customer journey must be at the heart of everything done, but beyond that, all you need to do is ensure that you truly understand what your customers want. With this in mind, retailers can ensure that they create an experience that truly resonates with customers. Which is all that truly matters.

Alexios Blanos
Alexios has over 15 years of experience in Digital Engagement solutions and Global deployment. He covers a wide range of vertical markets and supports local and global brands to define their Digital Customer Journey strategy by bridging physical space and digital together. In the past he has delivered digital experiences for brands like Giorgio Armani, United Colors of Benetton and EE that have been recognised within the industry and award winning (POPAI, DBA, Retail Week).

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