Retail + Digital Designers Talk Shop(ing) at Xlab 2015

Retail is great theater for digital technology in physical spaces, but the jury is still out on what it can and can’t do to drive sales and engage customers. At Xlab2015, a rock-star retail panel will tackle personalization, smart technologies, the omni-channel world of shopping, and how digital technology can make it more fun (for shoppers) and rewarding (for retailers)!

Retail is great theater for digital technology in physical spaces, but the jury is still out on what it can and can’t do to drive sales and engage customers. At Xlab2015, a rock-star retail panel will tackle personalization, smart technologies, the omni-channel world of shopping, and how digital technology can make it more fun (for shoppers) and rewarding (for retailers)!
<David Kepronis creative director in the Brand Experience Studio at Little Diversified Architecture and the author of Retail (r)Evolution, his 2014 book on how brain science, culture, and digital technology are shaping the shopping space of the future. Joe Karadinleads physical space design at ESI Design, the New York consultancy that specializes in integrating technology in physical environments. Neil Reddingis a creative technologist at Gensler, working with design teams and clients to explore how digital technology can be harnessed to improve user experiences. 

This dynamic trio makes up Xlab 2015’s Transforming Retail panel Nov. 5 in NYC! We had the chance to speak with all three recently for a sneak preview of Xlab.

On the importance of digital technology in Retail:

Neil Redding, Gensler
Since it’s clear that people live in the digital world essentially all the time, I’m increasingly exhorting clients to invest in digital ecosystems that enable them to deliver value to and be present in their customers’ lives 24/7. At the moment this mostly shows up as mobile apps  that customers can use throughout the day. In the near future, more retail brands will follow Target’s lead and integrate Apple Watch and other wearable devices into these ecosystems.

Joe Karadin, ESI Design
It’s not about technology for the sake of technology. It’s about solving design and experience issues and enhancing the overall customer/user/visitor experience and making it better faster, easier, and more seamless. If we can perfect the service and transactional aspects, that will allow the engagement aspects to act as the primary driver for the overall experience.

On Digital Trends in Retail, and What’s Working:

Neil Redding, Gensler
People have learned to expect personalized experiences in the digital world—like recommended products and services, search results, and content, all curated based on preferences and behavior—and savvy retailers are starting to fulfill these expectations in physical stores as well. Personalization will remove the existing pain points and friction in the shopping experience and replace them with such easy and enjoyable customer fulfillment that both shopper and retailer will wonder how shopping ever existed without it.

Joe Karadin, ESI Design
Augmented reality is popping up here and there in fashion retailing, but whether it can adapt to other forms of retailing is yet to be seen. I think the real advancement in the coming years will be in smart technologies such as beacons. The software behind these systems and data mining will easily prove out the value of smart technologies.

David Kepron, Little
Lately everyone is on the multi-touch digital wall and beacon wagon. Unfortunately, I still see a lot of screen proliferation in many locations that does more to add to the visual noise of already-cluttered shopping places than connecting to customers in relevant ways that enhance the experience.

What’s working? This continues to be the big question facing those who are integrating digital tech into customer experiences. While I don’t have the hard data to substantiate this claim, my impression is that much of what we anticipate in terms of customer engagement with digital technology often does not really deliver on its claims. I would hazard a guess that this is because often those who are considering the digital integration are missing some critical research that factors in some profound truths about customer behavior born out of good neuroscience—what is really going on inside customer’s heads when they are confronted with multiple stimuli in shopping environments?

On retailers leading the pack:

Karadin, ESI Design
What Rebecca Minkoff is doing with fitting-room interactivity in the Soho store is really interesting. Whether it pays off in the long run is yet to be seen, but it is a fantastic experiment. URL

Redding, Gensler
Rebecca Minkoffrepresents one of the more innovative applications of interactive technology in a retail store. Touch-driven surfaces look like mirrors when inactive, but respond when approached to offer product browsing, fitting-room access, and high-touch service items such as champagne and coffee. In the fitting room, additional display-backed mirrors are enabled with RFID sensors that identify items you bring into the room, presenting these items in the context of curated fashion looks and making it easy to see additional similar and related items. The brand is also working on a mobile app that will connect customers’ shopping activity and behavior with store inventory and functionality, setting the stage for a highly personalized and curated experience. Rebecca Minkoff has reported that clothing sales have tripled since the technology was installed.

Kepron, Little
For some time, people in the retail world were excited about the digital wall and fitting-room application at Rebecca Minkoff. While I applaud them for trying to augment the customer experience with a large interactive digital screen and fitting room interactive technology, I would love to see some third-party research about actual customer interactions across the shopping day/week and the number of sales that this technology drives.

Redding, Gensler
At the other end of the retail spectrum, Target is rolling out new digital capabilities at a rapid pace. Their mobile apps and Apple Watchapp already support browsing and adding items to your shopping list from wherever you are, then make the in-store experience relaxing and fun by physically guiding you to where each item sits on the store shelf. As they roll out beaconsthat support location-enabled functionality on these mobile apps, Target has made it clear that their plan is to create a completely personalized in-store experience that rivals that we’ve come to expect in the on-line world.

Karadin, ESI Design
What Bed Bath & Beyond did with their interactive storefronts was really interesting but is really specific to the New York City context and so may not have a global application.

And PayPal is not a retailer per se, but their technology could really transform the transaction experience in the coming years with regards to mobile checkout and convenience shopping. But what hinders that technology is the multiple platforms and who will win out (Apple Pay, PayPal, Android Pay, etc.). 

Kepron, Little
Let’s be clear: Sales figures do not tell the whole digital story. To assume there is a direct relationship between digital in-store and increased sales would miss the point. “Going digital” is a step toward addressing a changing paradigm in the shopping world. That said, if the expense made is not connecting customers to the brand in a profound way and doing more than applying digital wallpaper in the space, it is not likely to influence customer interaction, drive increases in sales, or foster long- term relationships with customers.

On Retail projects they’ve been working on:

Karadin, ESI
With Studio Xfinity,Comcast is doing some pretty innovative stuff not just around technology and the media platform but how that technology integrates into the overall experience, and to me that really is the point. The focus shouldn't be on the technology itself, but rather on how it integrates seamlessly across the other channels.
URL

Kepron, Little
The Crutchfield Discovery Storein Charlottesville, Va., combines the insight and experience of years of selling consumer electronics in catalogues and on-line with a unique forward-looking vision toward retailing in the 21st-century. Intelligent interactive store fixtures help to reduce the SKU count and increase clarity for shoppers, curate a broad inventory, and engage customers in product education. The concept relies on personal interaction with knowledgeable sales associates to make shopping for consumer electronics a whole different paradigm.
https://www.crutchfield.com/retailStores/discoveryStore.aspx

Redding, Gensler
The award-winning Harman international flagship storeon Madison Avenue in New York is a fully interactive branded product experience center for all of Harman’s audio brands. Digital surfaces both monumental and intimate fulfill Harman’s mission of celebrating its history and enabling visitors to explore each brand’s audio products via expression of lifestyle, musical preference and taste, and price/quality sensitivity. The shopping experience becomes quite personal, and you leave with a deeper understanding of what matters to you in the realm of listening to music.

On on-line Retail versus bricks-and-mortar:

Kepron, Little
The world of Amazon has commoditized almost everything and made it less expensive. But what the online experience still can’t provide is the emotional connection fostered in a 3D environment. Customers still want to go to the store—not because of the stuff but because of the relationships they build, the connections they make with sales associates and other customers, and the way they write themselves into a brand narrative by actually participating in the unfolding of the story of their shopping trip. The experience of the place ultimately matters more then the things they carry home in the shopping bag.

Karadin, ESI
We always think about omni-channel experience and we believe in connecting all the channels (on-line/in-store/ROPIS/BOPIS). Customers want on-line and in-store to work seamlessly together (right now it really hasn't "clicked into place" yet). We’ll always have both, so the key is seamless integration.

Redding, Gensler
I use the phrase “digital retail ecosystem” to describe Gensler’s vision. It’s what retail becomes as the physical and digital worlds merge. Customers live in the digital world, and they’ve grown to expect attention to their preferences and behaviors. This is how Amazon, Netflix, Google Maps, Facebook, Uber, and all the leading digital services work. Shoppers will quickly develop loyalty to the brick-and-mortar retailers that bring this kind of personalized experience to the physical store as well.

Get more of the good stuff on how digital technology is transforming physical spaces and improving user experiences. Get registered today for Xlab 2015!
 

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