Here’s an excerpt from a phygital retail report I have been working on. My favourite subject! #longread
Retail 4.0: Defining Retail’s Fourth Industrial Age
Retail’s Fourth Industrial Age, aka Retail 4.0 is here. This dynamic new marketplace is causing seismic shifts in the world of retail and with consumers who have a new set of expectations for how they go about their shopping across multiple digital channels.
As we approach mid-way through 2017, Retail 4.0 points to the physical store continuing to be augmented by digital platforms; experts talk of the rise of smart, autonomous devices, machine-led customer service and a maturing of consumer behavior towards physical-meets-digital hybrid shopping practices due to an increasing familiarity with new technologies.
Frictionless, boundary-less convenience
Retailers that are early adopters for 2017’s wave of nascent supply chain and AI-driven personalization tools will steal a march on competitors; brands will need to focus on developing geo-location-based customer services that combine digitized personal preferences with frictionless convenience.
In a boundary-less retail landscape, physical store destinations are increasingly becoming a hybrid of new format convergence stores, where collaborations provide opportunities for brand associations and convenience shopping turns into exploratory dwell time. Stores need to become brand zones that mimic the one-touch and hyper-connected online world consumers inhabit; simultaneously these total-service focused brand spaces will appeal to an always-moving global ‘transumer’, they can inspire a fresh sense of social-commerce driven ‘influencer’ community in-store, and they should facilitate rediscovering the art of experience.
Over the last decade, a raft of mobile-first led technological innovations, coupled with seismic shifts in digitally savvy consumer behavior – blasting through retail’s second and third revolutions in quick succession – has fundamentally changed how, where, when and why today’s Generations Y and Z consumers shop.
Generation Z, driving the progressive shopper age
Today we live in an always-on digital world. This means consumers expect a total, seamless retail experience controlled by them. With 4.8 billion people expected to own a smartphone by the end of 2016, according to Forrester, and 34% of online shoppers believing their mobile will become their main purchasing tool (PwC), the shift in power has well and truly swung from brand to consumer.
By 2020, Generation Z, today’s 14-19 year olds, will be the largest group of consumers worldwide, making up 40% of the US, Europe and BRIC countries and 10% in the rest of the world, according to PwC. It is this group of progressive young consumers entering their prime spending years, who will drive the Retail 4.0 revolution. Unsurprisingly their future spending habits are centred on online activities, and the gradual shift the industry has witnessed from physical retail to online shopping has huge impacts for how to evolve the role of the physical store.
All eyes are on digital driving sales. In 2017, one-fifth of all retail sales belongs to the US online market, which will reach £457bn in value by 2020, and almost double by 2026, according to FTI Consulting. In the UK, online will remain the fastest-growing channel with 68% growth by 2021, according to IGD. Also in 2017, according to e-commerce specialist Criteo, mobile will account for 70% of all e-commerce transactions. For web-influenced sales, or consumers that undertake research online and make purchases in-store, the share was 38% of all retail sales in 2016, according to Forrester Research.
Phygital retail’s shifting sales share
However the physical store is not going anywhere any time soon. The reason to visit a store will evolve and incorporate more phygital attributes. ‘There is rising demand for convenience-led retail strategies,’ says Michelle Grant, head of retail at Euromonitor, ‘this is being pushed by urbanization and today’s hyper-connected consumers that have increased expectations for seamless shopping experiences,’ she says.
The share of digital vs non-digital retail sales will change over the next five years and, in order to maintain interest in physical stores, retailers will need to focus on ‘retailtainment’ says Grant. By 2021 retail sales in-store will account for 86% of global retail sales, down from 91% in 2016, according to Euromonitor estimates. While the m-commerce share of retail sales will see the biggest growth, up from 4% in 2016 to 8% in 2021.
Retailers need to take their e-commerce cues from online media, whether social or editorial, the online media world has finally woken up to shoppable content-driven retail experiences. Over the next few years, successful retailers will bridge the offline and online shopping experience with original, inspiring and functional solutions.
One omnichannel-era defining retail moment was when brands recognized the practice of consumers showrooming in-store as positive. While retailers caught up with this digital shopping behavior and scaled back on SKUs on the shop floor, it meant they could focus on more interactive and experience-led merchandising in-store, introduce experts on the shop floor, plus they had more space to dedicate to lifestyle defining characteristics, or community driving initiatives.
LuluLemon is a brand that has built its DNA on community. The Canadian activewear retailer is innovating in this space by combining technology in-store, bespoke experiences and community building across its offline and online worlds. Early in 2017 the brand opened its first solo men’s space in Toronto, with an emphasis on running, instead of its usual headline sport of yoga. A touchscreen provides local running routes and related amenities such as coffee shops, plus options for connecting to the store’s local brand ambassadors. Furthering the brand’s long-running focus on community, there’s also a long coffee bar and communal table for running meet-ups or freelancers who wish to work in-store, while a series of rotating pop-ups introduce affiliations with local brands, such as grooming line Way of Will.
Nike has also focused on running and community with dedicated running clubs in Tokyo and Beijing. While at its newly renovated Soho, New York flagship the sportswear brand has dialled up its personalisation services from exclusive trial spaces to product customisation – across all sports – utilising the latest in performance tracking technology in-store. ‘We’re leading the transformation of sport retail, creating a seamless link between Nike’s digital and physical platforms’ says Heidi O’Neill, Nike’s president of global direct to consumer. The focus in-store is on the promise of personalised performance. ‘Powered by immersive digital trials and in-store experts, this store is about elevating every athlete’s potential,’ she says.
Changing consumer shopping behaviours
Westfield’s latest How We Shop Now study reflects how consumers are changing their physical shopping habits, where virtual retail experiences and enhanced assistance were key trends.
‘Consumers don’t want a remote online shopping experience,’ says Myf Ryan, chief marketing officer for Westfield UK. They want to step away from their screens for a super sensory or educational experience that drives them to seek out something special, she says.
‘Enhanced assistance is the point of difference where technology in-store can aid rather than replace the retail experience. That’s the ownable area for physical retailers. As technology evolves it defines how and where we shop. This shapes what a shopping journey should be – and that’s more sensory as a whole experience.
Shoppers are looking to retailers to provide an overloading of the senses with extraordinary sensory experiences. All five senses were deemed to enhance the shopper experience, according to the survey. Vision and touch came out top, but just under a third of shoppers also identified smell and hearing. Taste was also important to more than a fifth of shoppers (28%). The largest share of UK shoppers said that touch and feel, and trial of the products, was a main benefit of physical stores (73%).
Mobile drives omnichannel interaction apps
An upgraded wave of beacon-enabled apps that sync shoppers’ personal purchasing profiles with their wider cultural preferences, are now enabling retailers to appeal to customers with more relevant promotional content. This is the age in which retailers increasingly need to recognise the continued prowess of the mobile device as a ‘remote control for consumers’ lives’, according to Sundar Pichai, CEO Google.
One department store retailer pushing its app content into more augmented territory, is Barneys New York. In 2016 it launched personalised recommendations for customers that use the Barneys app in-store, via multimedia content lifted from its editorial blog ‘The Window’, and showcased product recommendations based on their customer profiles which reached them at appropriate times, for instance, when passing a product saved into their wish list or online basket. This type of in-store geo-location tools are enabling retailers with new reasons to connect with consumers while they are in store.
On-line vs off-line: in-store customer experience is a point of difference
When incorporating technology into store, retailers need to place experience and the idea of ‘total service’ at the top of the agenda. While the latest connected screens, scanners and beacons will help facilitate a more seamless, enhanced visit in-store, it is customer service and brand experience, that provides the reason for customers to return to your store.
Instead of searching out convenience or price-comparisons with online shopping, consumers still choose physical stores for the one-to-one service on offer. 53% of consumers prefer the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience due to the unmatched customer service they receive, according to a recent Salesforce study.
Retailers need to use digital to highlight that now it’s all about experience rather than product. It is service elements that will amplify a customer’s store experience and retailers should have an arsenal of digital service tools at their fingertips to really offer excellent customer service. ‘There is a real opportunity for stores to embrace phygital thinking – the knitting together of online data preferences to better serve each and every customer in physical stores. We will see more and more of this with an example such as online retail platform FarFetch buying into the physical boutique Browns, as an experiment for how to innovate around data-driven preference shopping habits of luxury stores,’ says Sam Conti, of WWD.
Well over half (65%) of UK consumers feel confident touchscreen features would encourage them to visit a physical retail store, while 57% confirmed they would prefer to visit a store with ‘smart’ fitting rooms, according to a recent Barclays New Retail Reality report. The same survey found a significant proportion of shoppers also view mobile and contactless payments in great esteem rather than as gimmicks, and according to Barclays, retailers should consider creating POS systems for interactive mobile use in-store, facilitating devices that allow access to special offers, which will grow in use over the next few years.
Machine-learning for personalisation
Retailers will need to start using machine-learning strategies to enhance one-to-one relationships, as personalisation at scale starts to become a reality. Previously CRM-driven, personalised, exclusive, customer service messages will be orchestrated by the role that AI will fill in retailers’ machine-learning playbook. ‘Nascent at this stage (particularly when applied to the fashion and retail space), we’ll see significant uptake next year and beyond, whether that be around driving recommendations, offering natural language search responses or building out more intelligent customer service,’ explains digital fashion and retail consultant Rachel Arthur, founder of the Fashion & Mash website. The retail dream has long been to apply one-to-one customer preferences knowledge to merchandise planning in-store. Now in theory, retailers will be able to keep improving the in-store experience each time a customer visits, and the retailers that utilise AI-led machine learning successfully will also win over new customers with significant value exchange, both online and in the real world.
Ebay’s Xmas retail space The Ultimate Do Good, Feel Good pop-up shop, was designed to incorporate bioanalytical technology, which measures consumers’ reactions, and then show on-screen gift suggestions from brands such as Bang & Olufsen and Boohoo. Users sat in a specially adapted booth, which measured their ‘muscular micro-shifts’ before running it through software by emotion technology company Lightwave. The concept was designed to alleviate the stress of Christmas shopping by allowing consumers to shop for items in a more passive way and the environment was adapted accordingly, with low-level blue lighting to create a zen-like experience.
AI heralds a new era of frictionless shopping
Looming on the horizon is a fully integrated and truly seamless consumer shopping experience that leverages AI, as the age of the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes fully realized, according to a new report by advertising agency JWT Intelligence and fashion industry news site WWD. The Frontier(less) Retail report advises brands that the physical store and the digital realm are set to merge in new ways with the introduction of machine learning technologies that are also reshaping how consumers connect to one another as well as how they experience shopping.
Calling today ‘the age of the omnichannel consumer’, the report says digital is infused throughout the buying process, and it is increasingly difficult to separate e-commerce from shopping in general. Furthermore, this digital end-to-end experience is due an added dimension with AI. Sports brand The North Face is cited as an early mover in AI-powered retail after it partnered with digital commerce firm Fluid to create a messaging tool that is powered by IBM’s Watson cognitive computing technology.
While it is clearly time for retailers and brands to investigate AI applications that can be brought to market soon, consumer expectations are already anticipating AI’s arrival to the shopping experience. According to consumers polled by JWT, 72% of US Millennials believe AI will be able to predict what they want and almost as many (70%), would appreciate if a brand or online retailer used AI technology to show them products that are more likely to be of interest.
Streamlining off and online retail
As consumers continue to flit between bricks-and-mortar and online shopping, brands are looking for new ways to mimic the speed and ease of online shopping, in-store. Retailers need to look at introducing features such as virtual shopping baskets, or quick payment processes that lend the key characteristics of e-commerce to the physical shopping experience.
Content-commerce is the premise behind Marie Claire’s beauty and wellness website, Fabled and its physical manifestation has launched via a collaboration with UK online grocery retailer Ocado. The new London store carries stock that mirrors the content on the site and touchscreens display key products such as editor’s choice or seasonal colour tutorials. Everything is shoppable with customers’ selections stored until they are ready to leave when there is one final payment. ‘The consumer is browsing online, so bringing some digital content into the store makes an instant brand connection,’ says Gregor Jackson, co-founder of GP Studio, the design company behind Fabled.
Another beauty brand Sephora, is utilising the consumer preference for researching online and buying in-store with its new Flash store concept in Paris. This streamlined retail experience is focused on a core range of cosmetics products that Sephora knows its customers consider as staples or replenshiment items, while touchscreens give instant access to a digital catalogue of 14,000 items which can be collected from the store or delivered at home.
AI is just one of several automated retail trends set to keep retailers moving up the phygital agenda in 2017, according to digital fashion and retail consultant Rachel Arthur of the Fashion & Mash blog.
‘For now, AI is largely being applied in the messaging space for ‘conversational commerce’, and was especially prevalent for the Christmas/Holiday shopping season in 2016’, says Fashion & Mash’s Arthur. Burberry, Nordstrom, Tommy Hilfiger, Sephora, Everlane and American Eagle are just some of the fashion and beauty brands already experimenting with chatbots – machine-led customer service tools on Facebook Messenger or dedicated platforms such as Kik. It felt like brands were finding their feet with chatbot led commerce in 2016; the first raft of campaigns were relatively basic, based on typical gifting conversations around hero products. ‘Looking further into 2017 however, the software is only likely to improve as it learns, but so too are the brand approaches to nailing this as a channel, especially as retailers start to take the concept of conversational commerce more seriously and joining the dots between both online and offline shopping up ahead,’ says Arthur.
The noise around conversational commerce has been getting louder throughout 2016, now it’s time for brands to pay attention and start to implement their own strategies. Brands should be using AI to experiment with new chat interfaces that enable consumers to engage with their services in a relaxed, informal way that slots into the messaging platforms they are already familiar with. ‘Chatbots give people a chance to interact with a brand in a more personal space,’ says Peter Gasston, senior creative technologist at +rehabstudio.
For Generations Z and Y especially, it’s a tool to boost customer service and create more meaningful, effective conversations with customers. According to JWT, 60% of US millennials and 53% of UK millennials would prefer talking to a chatbot to a human when it comes to resolving questions about online shopping.
‘Where robots are starting to be seen as concierges and tourist information booths, at this stage it is nothing more than a physical representation of a targeted Google search. But this tech will improve,’ says Dom Burch, founder and MD of digital marketing agency Why Social.
‘With developments front of house and AI advancing behind the scenes, at some point the human element will be squeezed out of the middle entirely’ says Burch. But as the lines increasingly blur between human and AI, consumers will be less resistant if ultimately they get what they want at the right time, and feel good about the experience, he adds.
Augmented and virtual realities in retail
Over the last two years augmented and virtual reality technology in store has started to generate significant buzz. In 2017 retailers will ignore these digital realities at their peril, as they start to steam forward in consumer expectations for enhanced brand or store experiences.
Goldman Sachs suggests retail will be one of the first industries to be truly disrupted by the two combined, leading to a $1.6bn market based around 32 million users. Already there are plenty of examples of both augmented and virtual retail applications across the fashion, luxury, beauty, alcohol and travel spaces. So far consumers have witnessed through a lens or a screen everything from luxury brand storytelling to 360 degree fashion shows, with Burberry, Topshop, Tommy Hilfiger and Johnny Walker all examples to note. There have also been practical applications for trying on beauty looks from the likes of Dior, Sephora or Charlotte Tilbury, and virtual trips from Thomas Cook or Virgin Holidays for the travel retail sector. It’s these type of functional customer experiences that will continue to gain traction in 2017 as digital realities placed in-store look set to help both shoppers and brands alike in numerous new ways, and should be one of the first automated retail tools to explore.
Automated retail & self-check out
Already frictionless and automated retail examples are starting to turn from theoretical ideas into agenda setting convenient ways to shop and this is being driven by the ascent of technology in the store. Now that ever-demanding consumers expect to shop in-store as they do online, technology in-store has surpassed gimmicks, and we’re moving into an era where technology applications in the retail environment have to work hard to provide a seamless service point of difference. Future thinking brands will want to transform their customer experiences by analysing all the customer sales data they have at their disposal, in order to find a meaningful point of differentiation.
Welcome to the automated, self-checkout era of retail that is starting to mirror one-touch payments online. After all the talk about the Internet of Things, this will finally elevate the concept of connected stores – with their interactive walls, RFID kit and responsive changing rooms – to the ultimate customer-centric experience in-store.
It is thanks to a trio of key examples in late 2016: the self-checkouts at Rebecca Minkoff, a US fashion retailer, concierge-style payment options at US e-commerce operator Everlane’s first physical store, and a new checkout-free grocery store concept, Amazon Go in Seattle, that all indicate automated retail is finally set to change the status quo in omnichannel retail.
The Amazon Go concept is a trial for Amazon employees and enables shoppers to walk around the store, collect the items they want to buy and then walk out unsupervised. After checking in to their Amazon Prime accounts upon entering the store, customers activate sensors that record what products are picked and then everything is charged together at the end when they leave. While the entire experience is automated it is also smartphone activated and has been seen as a wake-up call to the retail industry to ascertain if this is equally applicable to other verticals.
At US designer brand Rebecca Minkoff’s store in New York, the designer opted for a self-checkout service in partnership with technology company QueueHop, that meant customers had the option of a completely sales-associate free experience in-store. The QueueHop system pairs merchandise with RFID tags that bring items up for payment on an iPad and an anti-theft device that only unlocks after the payment is authorised. ‘More and more we are seeing millennials want to be in complete control of any and all of their shopping, and that includes payment. Long gone are the days where you needed to depend fully on a sales assistant to request new sizes or to ring you up,’ says Uri Minkoff, CEO at Rebecca Minkoff. He highlights how this type of new technology could be a call to action for other retailers. ‘If we could shave off time, would that spur consumers to go into stores more? Could that spur a return to retail?’ he asked.
For online ethical clothing retailer Everlane’s first physical store loction in San Francisco, the premise is also self-checkout but the service element is elevated by a concierge that greets visitors at the entrance and offers them the opportunity to leave payment details, with the promise this will reduce time spent at the till to an average of 30 seconds. Once they enter the store, customers are left on their own, to browse, try on a full range of sizes stocked on the shop floor or they can interact with shop assistance if they wish. ‘Traditional store shopping is broken, and we are seeing how we can make it better,’ says Everlane CEO Michael Preysman.
Both the Everlane and Rebecca Minkoff self-checkout examples are compelling arguments for more retailers to provide frictionless retail design, merchandising and customer service options centred on automated, mobile-driven retail systems that mimic the online experience.
Obviously automated retail’s immediate appeal is within the grocery sector, but what about other convenience consumer goods categories, when standing in line to pay is no longer an acceptable way to spend time in a store – eg confectionery, beauty, electronics or even food and beverages? Time will tell if it’s applicable to fashion and luxury, where brand storytelling and personal customer service seem a world away from automated retail.
Retail Planner takeouts
- The near future of a Retail 4.0 landscape will include an array of phygital store attributes to help drive the travel retail sector into a more automated, online shopping driven world.
- These will include check-in stations, virtual shopping baskets, AI-driven chatbots, conversational commerce messaging, virtual customer service assistants, mobile concierge, frictionless payment options, social-network connected mirrors in changing rooms, RFID-enabled merchandise systems, beacons to drive personalised and aisle-specific promotions and virtual or augmented brand experiences on the shop floor
- Customer preferences captured by advanced interactive technology will drive future sales across multiple retail categories such as fragrance and cosmetics, wines and spirits, confectionery and luxury accessories
- Interactive, digital wall displays will provide detailed, personalised product information for specialist retail categories such as consumer electronics or beauty, where virtual assistants will handle payment
- Voice-activated self-service combined with automated payment systems will transform the convenience and fast-food sectors