by Andrew Candler, Managing Director, The Creative Engine
At the start of this year, Deloitte predicted a series of changes to the way consumers shop, both online and in person. Highlighting the need for retailers to act more like media companies, its post, Retail Trends 2016, foresaw the continued blurring of real-world and digital shopping, and an expectation from customers that the process of making a purchase should be an ‘event’, rather than just a transaction.
They were prescient words. It’s a long time since high street stores have only had to compete with their neighbours. Consumers are changing the way they shop, increasingly treating bricks-and-mortar outlets as showrooms before heading home to spend online. This isn’t a new phenomenon, and it even has a name – showrooming – but shops are wising up to it, and employing cutting-edge digital equipment to encourage those hesitant shoppers to buy.
Big-name retail is playing a game of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. The Creative Engine is working with premier high street names like John Lewis and Currys PC World to deploy interactive displays that directly target tech-savvy shoppers with their hero products. The idea is to give them a tactile experience that only ‘real’ shops can provide, married to the rich, screen-based content they’re used to when browsing online. We call it Retail Theatre, but it goes far beyond simply wowing the customer’s wallet out of their pocket.
Done right, Retail Theatre helps the customer understand what they’re buying, builds their trust in the retailer and lets them experience a product before they take it home. There are many ways to achieve this, from simple tablet-based catalogues on a store shelf, to interactive gondolas that simulate a product’s day-to-day use.
Retail Theatre on the shop floor
So, how does it work? Every implementation will be unique, as it’s tailored to the store, the product and its customers, but two of the most successful approaches are Interactive Kiosks and what we like to call Lift and Learn.
The Kiosk can be as simple as a locked-down tablet, running through sales messages and animations while offering intuitive interaction for the shopper. It’s perfectly suited to information you’d otherwise print in a catalogue and is quick and easy to implement thanks to its low footprint and hardware overheads. The retailer can be involved in its implementation as little or as much as they like, either providing their own content or tasking The Creative Engine with the designing and delivery of retail-effective media.
For smaller outlets, the Kiosk is an effective first step in battling showrooming, through which they can promote – and sell – a wider range of products than their floor space would permit.
Lift and Learn
Lift and Learn takes this concept further, combining dedicated hardware with bespoke software to bring a store’s products to life. This is useful for the customer, who can test a product before they commit to buying it. Gaining hands-on experience immediately makes technical items feel less intimidating and more familiar, and helps the customer evaluate how they might use them day to day. Try doing that with products that are wired down or displayed in boxes.
The set-up replaces regular store shelves with an in-store destination to learn about a range of products: multiple displays hooked up to integrated stands that give the products greater prominence and draw the customer over. Picking up a product triggers the displays to present product information in greater detail than a brochure or static product paper ticket, while the customer performs their own on-site evaluation of the product. It can also advise on useful accessories, like memory cards for cameras or cables for TVs and audio systems, not only to drive an extra sale but to send the customer home with everything they need to get started straightaway. It reminds them that the store has their interests at heart, and a desire to sell a complete solution that works straight out of the box.
All customer interactions are recorded and transmitted to our metrics platform. Retailers and Brands can log in and view the most popular products customers have interacted with by store and region. The Creative Engine can then measure the effectiveness of the content and use it as the basis for future improvements to the display and its content.
Instore digital and shop-floor staff
While Lift and Learn and Interactive Kiosks are geared towards promoting specific products, they can help the customer understand their position in the broader product landscape by demonstrating alternative models or solutions for their needs.
They also complement existing in-store staff, rather than replacing them. While many customers prefer a hands-off approach and the option to explore and choose on their own terms, instore Retail Theatre provides an additional touch point for store colleagues to engage and build a relationship with the shopper.
Tactile, meaningful experiences like this are something that the web, with all of its tutorials and unboxing videos, simply cannot beat. Neither can the web give a retailer much more than a blunt hit count on which to base future marketing and stocking decisions. Like Lift and Learn, Interactive Kiosks collect metrics that directly aid the store’s decision-making, on the basis of which they can roll out a range of products that’s of most interest to its target audience.
Why is this important?
From the shopper’s perspective, Retail Theatre takes a lot of the pain out of making a purchase. It presents them with curated, relevant content, and saves them from searching through spec sheets, reviews and comparison tables – or the need to read online manuals to find out whether a product will do what they need it to. In a reversal of recent trends, it means that shopping in person can actually take less time than online overall, by reducing the potential to make a wrong purchase along with the hassle of online returns, refunds and restocking charges.
What Lift and Learn and Interactive Kiosks have proved is that stores can compete with the web – but they have to do it on the web’s terms. Customers have unlimited choice, and this can lead to unlimited, often confusing decisions. Retail Theatre offers clarity, not just for the retailer, but for the customer themselves, so the tide is turning. Dynamic content and comprehensive digital experiences are making shopping in store, in many cases, a more convenient, simpler solution than going online.
Andy Candler is Managing Director at The Creative Engine, a digital media agency that specialises in three main areas: Digital Retail (from animated screens to fully interactive digital systems), Learning (bespoke eLearning with a difference focusing on immersiveness and engagement), and Promotions (interactive experiences that help you find the right product or service).
The Creative Engine has been producing digital solutions since 1987, making it the first UK company to help sell clients’ products and services via digital marketing.