When Selfridges first opened its doors in 1909, it drew crowds by turning shopping into an adventure, using theatre and innovation. Bleriot’s monoplane was displayed there fresh from its maiden Channel crossing and John Logie Baird chose the store to first demonstrate television to the public.
Fast-forward to 2022 and technology is again helping retailers put joy into shopping. They’re leaning into all that we’ve missed during the pandemic: spending time with friends and family; trying new experiences, being inspired and entertained.
Displaying the reality
Technology is being deployed to bring stores’ products to life in new and compelling ways. Timberland has been using digital theatre to compel window shoppers to enter its stores. The outdoors wear brand places augmented reality-based ‘magic mirrors’ in windows that passers-by can stand in front of to see what they would look like wearing its jackets.
And with the sustainability of goods increasingly influencing purchases, Nike has been using augmented and virtual reality in its stores to showcase how committed it is to this cause, by creating “Move to Zero”, an online AR experience that raises awareness of their journey toward net zero carbon waste.
New thinking for the high street
Psychologically, we’re hard-wired to be excited by what is new and different. With this in mind, US giant Macy’s has created ‘Story’: a store within a store. Story changes its ‘theme’ every few months, curating products from across Macy’s brand partners to bring each new theme to life, creating unpredictable experiences that compel customers to come back again and again.
And to overcome the purchasing barrier of customers not being to visualise how in-store items might look in their homes, IKEA has developed ‘IKEA Studio’. This smartphone app allows the customer to superimpose their potential purchase onto an image of their bedroom, bathroom or anywhere else they are considering buying it for.
Surprising and delighting
With 68% of consumers revealing that they are willing to pay more when a brand is known for good customer service, many stores are engaging in ‘surprise and delight’ strategies, whereby staff give out unexpected gestures of gratitude. Prêt à Manger customers will sometimes be told that the coffee or pastry they just bought has actually been given to them for free. Elsewhere, retailers (such as Rituals) are waiving delivery charges or placing unexpected thank you’s in packages for the customer to discover. Such ‘delights’ can also be used as a retention technique, driven by electronic point of sale (EPOS) or loyalty card recognition and tailored to the current or projected value of that customer.
And on the subject of retention, tech can certainly help make loyal customers feel valued. Data from a loyalty scheme or purchases linked to a customer’s email address can flag to a sales assistant that they are serving someone who frequently shops at this store or with this brand – and, similarly, it can help to identify the highest value customers. The member of staff can then access highly tailored prompts, such as details of the customer’s previous purchases, offers for tailored deals or invitations to an upcoming store event. Fashion brands, supermarkets and building societies such as Amazon or Sephora - have all excelled when using this practice.
There’s no doubt that were he trading in 2022, Mr Selfridge would relish getting to grips with what tech can offer today’s retailers. Happily, his successors are able to do just that, and have the opportunity to take their businesses to heights even the so-called 'Earl of Oxford Street' never would have imagined possible.