Future Stores Europe: Time to dream bigger

After two days chairing the Future Stores Europe Conference in London, my head is still spinning with all the ideas I learned from both the speakers and the audience.

Trying to convey the mood of the room at the Future Stores Europe Conference if you weren’t there is impossible, suffice to say that I think we now all get that, if you are not already transforming your business to become channel blind, then soon it will be too late, if it’s not already too late.

This is beyond omni-channel, which has become largely discredited by so many retailers and analysts, because it really only describes the extent to which channels are joined together at a systems, and to a lesser extent at a process level. Where omni has failed is in the journey for customers who don’t care which channel they are on, as long as they remain identified and served consistently at every step.

Here, things go wrong almost immediately because the customer in store remains a total stranger, no matter how well identified and valued they may be on line. This is hard to fix of course but this cannot any longer be an excuse for not doing it. For the customer, friction starts here, at the point where they are having to do all the work just to get involved.

Enabling consumers

However, they do want to get involved, it is just a case of how this is enabled. Guy Smith at Arcadia pointed out that consumers want excitement, they do want to take a risk and go into the unknown, where dopamine levels have been recorded as higher than at any other time during the shopping journey. However, they are not excited at having to do work for which there is no reward – complicated and excessive registration, unassisted store navigation, constant channel re-entry, communications black spots, being told a product ‘might’ be in next week, and so on.

Excitement comes from new experiences that go beyond expectations, and when the Future Stores Europe audience saw what that might mean, it was clear that most retailers have some way to go. A lot of high street retail is dying because it’s boring and predictable; so while some people go whingeing on about the death of the high street, they should consider that some of it needs to be put to death. It’s not the high street that needs to change, it’s the retailers, and we were wowed with some amazing Future Stores Europe examples from the likes of Cosnova, Rockar, Alibaba, Build Your Own Lipstick, American Girl, Rituals and JD.

And by Popertee, which is bringing landlords and tenants together to access unused space for pop-ups, where retailers can dream is big by prototyping a new idea, the madder the better, to see what might work and grow into a real business.

These are businesses that are turning retail on its head and while some of these companies are very niche, they are challenging the old models and appealing to the new shopper who is 35 and under. And excitement doesn’t have to mean adrenaline; customers who visit Rituals talk about the feeling of coming home, breathing out and relaxing in a safe place.

Are people who they say they are?

For those retailers that feel they are still in control of the relationship with consumers, Smith suggested at Future Stores Europe we need to think again. He talked about the concept of the personal digital profile where consumers paint a picture of their better selves; the people they want to be and present to the world, but always with the option to modify it and show brands only what they want to, which will make customer profile and recommending hard, unless the retailers stick close, assuming the consumer lets them.

Added to which, more and more people don’t want to buy things, they want to rent them or access them on subscription, enabling them to access things they can’t afford to buy and also able to change their mind like the wind. Birchbox has clearly tapped into this mindset by offering samples to customers every month, so they can try and then decide to buy. Or not. And of course, this is exactly how Amazon thinks. You don’t really think that self-drive car is actually going to be owned by you outright do you, unless you are planning to go into the taxi business.

Meanwhile, it’s back to retail as usual, where the retailer often gets all the benefits and the consumer gets sore feet, stress, a pile of boxes with complex returns procedures, a contact centre number that doesn’t work, a me-too product that they could have bought anywhere for less if they could have been bothered, and the post-purchase blues because they got a product but no memorable experience.




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