Future Stores Europe looked at many of the major themes impacting today’s retail world, but one that stood out during the two-day event was that of ‘brick & mobile’.
‘Bricks and mobile’ is a huge trend that European retailers are now embracing, often inspired by developments in ‘mobile-first’ Asia. This theme emerged strongly at the fourth Future Stores Europe conference in London (16 and 17 May, Hilton London Tower Bridge), with speakers from Alibaba to Argos focusing on how mobile devices in the physical space are contributing to unified commerce, and proving a valuable bridge between consumer demands for digital connectivity and stimulating human experience.
The WBR-organised event’s aim was to bring together retailers, store designers, marketers and retail technology experts to ‘reimagine retail’. Over two days of progressive thinking many fascinating examples of retailing innovation were shared in a packed auditorium. Breakout workshops gave delegates a chance for deeper discussion on the topics of the day, ranging from ‘embracing customer-centric digital concepts’ to ‘streamlining the payment experience’.
Future Stores was chaired by Retail Connections’ CEO, Chris Field, who probed speakers on what was felt to be the right path to transformation, as so many organisations are looking for ways to move from a traditional store portfolio, towards connecting and engaging with customers over multiple channels, and mastering the tech challenges of unified commerce.
Here are some key takeaways:
Argos wins with slick mobile site and app
Nigel Blunt, Head of Operations Development at Argos talked about the power of connecting the customer journey in real time, demonstrating how the group had progressed on its mission to fully integrate experience across all customer touchpoints.
With a user-friendly mobile site and a slick and functional mobile app, Argos’s dedication to this channel allows the retailer to better align its digital and physical worlds. The app acts as a connector between the two, designed so that customers can switch from one device to another with ease, reflecting the increasingly fractured path to purchase consumers now take.
Blunt cautioned over the complexities of integration for retailers with legacy systems for stock, CRM, and transactional data. “Be very careful how you stitch together your online and offline experiences. My advice is don’t lose touch of the human elements of what you’re trying to achieve.”
Cars sold in showrooms and with clicks
Rockar’s founder Simon Dixon gave a speedy run-through of how to set up your people, processes and tools in line with a unified commerce goal. Rockar is a ‘next generation omni-channel car buying experience’ providing the likes of Land Rover and Mitsubishi with branded platforms. The company is obsessed with ‘enabling’ – whether that be business partners, employees and customers. Working with a single commerce platform makes life easy in this respect, and Dixon described how “our stores are driven by the ecommerce platform. It’s one platform and it drives the whole organisation”. He acknowledged the simplicity of not being held back by legacy systems.
Dixon dispelled the myth that people don’t buy cars on a mobile. “People don’t need to test drive any more. They read customer reviews and do their research online. A customer recently bought a £120k Land Rover in a few clicks, all on his phone. We’re dealing with a new kind of shopper now.”
He stressed the ongoing value of stunning showrooms, and really dedicated, highly-trained staff to complete the omnichannel experience.
Smartphone activity driving shopper engagement
Neat ideas for tapping into consumer trends were discussed throughout the Future Stores conference. Tahreem Arshad, CEO of SOZIE took the audience through her ground-breaking app which gives fashion shoppers the chance to connect with other ‘sozies’ via their phones when they’re out taking photos of outfits they’re trying on. They can use the tool to generate discount points when they share details of what they’re trying on, and at participating retailers, they can use their phone to save info about the products and pay via their phone from the fitting room. Retailers such as Coast, Dorothy Perkins, Next and Superdry are partnered on the app, which is proving a big hit with millennials, says Arshad.
“In a world of user generated content, photos taken in store should be used to engage customers more closely,” said Arshad. “From selfies we’re able to provide a seamless connection to other similar consumers, and to the product itself, straight onto the customer’s phone.”
Smartphone tech gives stores a new dimension
Alibaba’s Mei Chen, who is Head of International Business for the Chinese web giant, explored the emergence of new retail, with fascinating insights into the obsession with mobile interaction in China, and how that shapes what the retailer does. She said that 90% of Chinese consumers buy via mobile today and that mobile schemes such as Alipay now dominate payment. It has 520 million users today.
However stores are the future, said Chen. Her images and videos showed that retail theatre is alive and kicking in China with HEMA stores providing live cooking, exciting dining options, vast choice, great customer service and the chance to have your groceries delivered within 30 minutes if you live within a 3km radius. “People love these stores and are actually moving to live near an outlet,” she said.
People in China want to scan products with their phone and see information and buy immediately, said Chen. She described last year’s partnership with Starbucks to provide the ultimate coffee shop in Shanghai, complete with AR technology, leveraging mobile devices to show the coffee brewing process in action.
At the launch Howard Schwartz, Starbucks’ CEO described the vast, futuristic coffee shop as “a retail experience like nothing else in the world” (see the video below).
For delegates at Future Stores, visionary examples of retail like this provided inspiration and serious food for thought. The general feeling at the event was stores won’t disappear, rather the experience of shopping is being taken to a whole new level.
Find out more about Future Stores here.