The evolution of physical stores: Using technology to create powerful experiences

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It has been a tumultuous journey for physical stores in recent years, with brands having to adapt to new customer expectations. After a tremendous surge in the e-commerce industry, high-streets have been put back on a pedestal, with 67% of marketers investing in more engaging in-store experiences to attract people back to the high-street.

Much of this investment is going towards creating innovative experiences that find new ways of connecting with every type of consumer persona. The in-store experiences Generation Z expect will be different from the experiences millennials desire. Whether it is through advancing technology or creating more social spaces for customers, brands need to create an emotive experience.

So what can brands do to evolve their physical stores to create new powerful experiences for their customers?

Reimagining the physical to go beyond the physical

In-store shopping has, on the whole, long been approached as a transactional process. You go in, browse the products, maybe ask a few questions to staff, buy the goods you want and leave. To the emerging generations, this paints a very old-fashioned looking version of what they anticipate when heading to the shops.

Shopping now isn’t – or shouldn’t be – just about the products and service. It’s about the whole experience. It’s no longer just a physical space, but a social space delivering a journey for the customer and creating an immersive experience into the brand.

Selfridges, for example, has long prioritised the customer experience, mixing product stalls with cafés, hair salons and bars to entice consumers in for long social periods. Likewise, stores like Hollister have used electronic screens and decor to transport customers to new settings like the beach, triggering an emotive connection to its products and the location.

These ideas have evolved further. The modern store can integrate branded zones, artwork and interactive features for social media snapshots. And the virtual can meet the physical on new levels, with VR headsets cultivating the augmented reality experience. There’s an infinite variety of possibilities available in truly wowing your customer.

Activating autonomy with digital signage

Bringing e-commerce into the brick-and-mortar world has become an essential part of the evolving physical store. In a world that’s getting quicker, more visual and swayed by reels, memes and TikTok videos, stores can replicate this approach in-person. By merging the two, it offers an opportunity to differentiate the in-store experience from e-commerce shopping.

Digital signage has a range of visceral and emotive possibilities that can enhance both the brand and customer experience. LED displays can convey the brand story, advertise certain products and deals and have interactive features to search for items and even ‘try them on’ virtually.

It’s no surprise that our survey discovered that 48% of Gen-Zs don’t like speaking to customer service staff and would prefer digital solutions to discover information. For example, at Apple, there’s no need to initially speak to staff as customers can use iPhones and iPads to browse products, discover specs and answer a variety of questions. The instore staff are on hand to provide more advanced advice and technical support, keeping that vital human element available.

It’s an interactive, touch and visual experience curated to constantly enhance the customer journey. But it’s missing another vital element – and that’s accessing the power of audio.

Enhancing brand identity with audio to sync up

Shopping is a multi-sensory experience and, as such, should be treated as one. Music has the innate power to sway moods, recall memories and entice customers into zones and towards products. But it has to be utilised correctly.

There are three key areas brands have to account for when weighing up their audio options: the brand personality, the target customer and the time, date and season (a.k.a ‘the atmosphere’). It’s a tricky but rewarding balance to perfect.

Firstly, it’s about knowing your identity and replicating that effectively with your song choice, selection and genre. Are you upbeat funky beats, or luxury soothing tones? If it’s not fitting with the brand’s identity or product, it’s going to be a jarring experience.

Secondly, it’s about creating harmony between your sound design and target audience – this is often a given from your brand identity, but can be adapted and tailored depending on certain campaigns and targeted demographics.

Thirdly, and finally, what’s the atmosphere’s role in all this? Seasons, weather, day of the week, time of week, time of the day and events all have their say in dictating mood and adapting people’s core habits and traits. Making shifts to your music, even subtle, can help match this mood and connect with your consumers.

Taking just these three considerations on board can make all the difference in amplifying your brand identity and the customer experience.

A new era for ‘physical’ stores

The digital age and a surging e-commerce boom has triggered stores to reinvent their purpose, pulling power and, crucially, the experience that they can offer. Different generations are seeking different experiences, so stores need to discover innovative ways to entice their target audiences to make the in-person journey.

By reimagining the physical to create a broader social experience, brands can go beyond the limits of traditional shopping. It’s now about creating an immersive brand experience. Crucial to this is using technology to bring the virtual world into the physical one, capitalising on digital signage to activate customer autonomy and an emotive response. Add in a tailored sound design that epitomises who you are and connects with your customers, and you’ve developed a hub of tools for the customer journey.

It’s joining the physical with the virtual, fashioning an immersive customer experience for a new era in instore shopping.

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