Back to the Future: Looking More Closely at the Offline Retail Experience

December 13, 2013

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Sometimes the answer’s not digital. As marketers living in 2013, it sometimes feels like every time there is a business challenge, everyone automatically turns to digital and its shiny new objects as they seek a solution.

Today’s “Emphasis on Experience” presentation at Most Contagious 2013, which focused on the future of retail and the desire to create a seamless shopping experience, made me think about how an equal focus on online and offline shopping experiences is key. Ultimately, it’s not about which medium – it’s about solving a business problem in the best possible way and keeping the customer at the center of the decision making process. And yes, sometimes that requires a throwback to offline ideas.

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For example, Maxine Bédat – co-founder of online apparel retailer Zady.com – talked about the decision to launch a physical popup store at New York City’s LaGuardia’s airport for the holiday season. While Zady’s shopping experience is all about digital (they tout themselves on the ease of shopping as well as the transparency in which shoppers can view where their purchases are coming from and learn about designers) they see offline extensions as a major opportunity to expand the brand and get in front of shoppers during this key holiday shopping period (and especially at a high-trafficked location like an airport.)

A similar approach is also currently also underway with Tesco. The UK grocery store, which across the UK often has a poor reputation for overall shopping experience (Contagious presenter Chloe Marcowicz described their Hagerston, UK store as the “worst in the world”) has recently decided to focus on their offline retail experience first rather than paying attention solely to digital. They have, for example, completely revamped key store experiences, making them more about leisure and allowing their customers to not only browse for clothing and other goods but to also grab a cup of coffee, hang out with friends and even visit attached salons.

Lastly, but perhaps most simply, is the demonstration of how Most Contagious Retail Award and Most Contagious London Audience Award winner Vodaphone Egypt has been using a low-fi tactic to improve shopping experience for shoppers and businesses. By offering a substitute (their product) for small change, i.e. “Fakka,” they both relate the brand to local custom and create more value for their products and services offline.

Overall, it is clear that innovative uses of social and digital are necessary for defined success in commerce and retail today. Through these examples, however, it is also apparent that the future is not about an exclusively digital experience. Instead, it is about paying attention to all elements and providing customers with the best experience that fits their needs – one that sometimes may very well be an old-fashioned offline experience.