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Mixed Emotions:
The Future of Retail

No doubt about it: retail is rapidly changing. Online, it’s highly curated, seamless and instant. But in stores, brands must lure consumers back with a play to pure emotion.

When I look back to ten years ago, it’s startling to realize how different everything was. No Uber. No Uber Eats. No Blue Apron. No Amazon Prime—let alone Amazon drones, groceries or talking Alexas. The way we shop has shifted so dramatically, I can’t help but wonder if it has also changed the way we feel when we shop. Do we get that same surge of endorphins when we make a choice on screen, type in our credit-card digits and make that click?

Perhaps. But there are aspects of the in-person brand experience that no e-commerce outlet can contend with. The change in retailing is happening against the backdrop of palpable change in consumer sentiment: they’re anxious.

If trust is what’s missing, brick-and-mortar stores [have] an obvious advantage. 

After decades of mindless consumption, consumers are increasingly skeptical of brands and marketing. “Who can I trust?” feels like the collective cultural lamentation. Gareth Kay, cofounder of the agency Chapter, says this: “[Brands] are failing to fulfill their most fundamental purpose: to be a mark of trust. … We need to foster our relationships with people and overserve them—as they have been underserved for far too long.”

If trust is what’s missing, brick-and-mortar stores stand at an obvious advantage—it’s just up to them to claim it. With tactile, in-person experiences, these retailers can resurrect meaningful engagement with their consumers—and along with it, foster trust.

So how? The answers lie in the fuzzy, nascent edges. By exploring what retailers on the fringe are doing, we can spot successful, emergent trends and pave a path toward “emotional retail” for brands of all kinds. Here are three potential approaches:

Friction-Full Commerce

The best online retailers deliver utterly seamless experiences: anything we want—when and where we want it. Physical retail, then, must offer the very opposite: a highly stimulating, almost theatrical experience that forces consumers to stop, think and feel.

Look at 24 Kilates, a high-end sneaker boutique out of Bangkok. It presents each sneaker not on shelving, but hidden within gilded bank vaults—forcing shoppers to explore and ponder each style, almost like navigating a museum. It’s a tranquil, meditative, even intellectual experience.

 

Retail Therapy

Consumers, especially the ascendant Gen-Z set, are suspicious of overt marketing and bored by impersonal, repetitive displays. As evidenced by the popularity of apparel subscription services like Stitchfix, people yearn instead for bespoke, personalized service that allows them to truly feel seen and understood—as a better version of themselves.

But that doesn’t always mean human-to-human interaction. Uniqlo Australia’s Umood delivers custom service via technology. An in-store display with a large screen measures consumer’s neurological waves in response to images of clothing, determining “perfect outfit” matches and building a personal profile for future visits. Asia’s largest clothing market has proven brick-and-mortar stores can prevail. Its success has pushed the brand into new markets like Canada, performing “well above expectations” and drawing near-record crowds.

 

The Mono-Channel Method

Shoppers have made their buying habits clear: browse in-store, buy online. 

Forget omni-channel strategies. Shoppers have made their buying habits clear: browse in-store, buy online. To re-establish relevancy, brick-and-mortar stores can offer something online channels can’t—a respite from the frenetic outside world. A prime example is Samsung’s 837 space in New York City. Rather than focusing on transactions, the space exists to enable tech immersion, a tranquil digital playground that fosters culture among its visitors.

As brand builders and experience owners, it’s our collective imperative to show up to people differently. Show consumers that you see them. That you hear them. Over-serve them by meeting their full spectrum of wants and desires as human beings.

There’s more than one way to emotionally stir a consumer. To start a deeper conversation about your business, drop me a note at ashley.edwards@lpk.com. And for more insights and ideas, follow LPK at @lpk.


Ashley Edwards is a seasoned brand strategist and trend forecaster, connecting the dots from present day to near future for some of the world’s biggest consumer brands—many within fashion and beauty. After years translating a skill set in trends and foresight into consumer understanding at Procter & Gamble, she moved to LPK where she focuses on illuminating the future of consumers and categories, while also translating cultural insights into brand-right propositions. She’s a self-professed cat lady and loves trying interesting, under-the radar wines.

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