It’s been over 6 months since the coronavirus pandemic forced the global retail environment into hibernation. Now we have all heard about the negative impact the virus has had across all industries, but pandemic survivors weren’t those who focused on their inability to continue regular working procedures, but those which looked beyond limitations imposed on them to reach their target audience, where they feel safe.
New procedures and behaviours which will define our ways of living in the future.
As we naturally begin to adapt to living in our renewed environment, we look ahead to new procedures and behaviours which will define our ways of living in the future. From taped flooring to sign posts ordering social distancing, you see many makeshift efforts to reduce contact and limit crowds. However, brands that aim to stand out have to go beyond sanitization protocols and offer experiences which not only provide convenience and engagement, but make the customer feel psychologically safe in the retail space.
Highlighted below are brands that took the initiative to reassess and revamp their customer experience journey to fit the new living norms we have come to know, allowing them to reach their audience in new and innovative ways.
With online shopping being most people’s go to, it is worthwhile asking yourself as a brand, how am I differentiating my online experience against competitors? Whilst most online shopping experiences where built to fulfil a ‘digital transformation‘ tick box at the start of the decade, the Gen Z tribe have demanded heightened quality and personalised experiences from the online world, especially now that it’s their go to get information, fulfil their shopping needs and connect with their favourite personalities.
Innovative brands like Nike dived into their digital playbook of solutions and came up with ideas to engage with its consumers in a unique way during the pandemic. An example is when the sports brand offered its NTC Premium streaming workout served to 30% growth in its digital business in the region.
Sports brand Under Armour also took the innovative route when they launched an online version of its “Turf Games” competition that gathered sports enthusiasts, aspiring athletes and professional athletes to compete together and get a chance to win free merch and get reposted on their Instagram. This move not only increased long term customer loyalty and engagement but translated into increased sales revenue.
Even digitally laggard brands like Aldo have taken a dive into the digital realm too. They introduced an integrated and interactive in store touchpoint that’s linked to a mobile app that helps customers with all their shopping needs. As a result, Aldo ended up providing high levels of contactless engagement to shoppers, which led to a 20% increase in sales.
Now with brands having locked down the formulation for digital experiences, they have started to shift their attention back to safe physical experiences, aiming to cater to those who are willing to venture back out to the physical realm.
Currently, customers are in a sort of psychological limbo state.
Currently, customers are in a sort of psychological limbo state, wanting to go out to experience an escape, but afraid that going out will have them exposed to the virus. In combating this, brands need to work extra hard on providing experiences that make the customer feel brand love intrinsically, rather than explicitly through the five senses. As we move forward, retail spaces should be treated as an escape, with a focus on light, sound and smell to evoke memories and feelings which can be directly linked to your brand.
For example, when Nordstorm opened their flagship in NYC last year, it was the epitome of experiential retail. It had everything from restaurants, spa, personal styling lounge and so many instagrammable spots – all set in a 7-story building in the heart of the city. However, since the pandemic hit, Nordstorm has been finding ways to bring their most loyal customers back in stores. They’ve quickly introduced a virtual styling guide on their website and encouraged its customers to sign up for their virtual styling services, and in-person personalized consultations that would take place in their stores.
Creating a closer relationship with customers that isn’t just focused on the transactional act of shopping should be brands biggest focus during these unprecedented times. Adding immersive and contactless experiences in-stores is just the start to welcomingustomers comfortably back in. One brand that is known for taking immersive shopping experiences to a whole new level is the Korean skin brand SK-II. Its experiential concept store in Shanghai incorporated all facial recognition, computer vision, and AI technologies to its physical store experiencehe store is filled with end-to-end experiences that includes a digital wall which moulds itself according to the facial expressions and body movements of customers who were in front of it, skin scanning booths for deep skin analysis and a specially-designed bracelet that customers can use to receive personalised recommendations based on their skin.
Other brands like Lululemon have brought in a new concept in which it intends to build a community around activities like sports, group workouts, meditations and event workshops. In fact, Lululemon’s flagship store in Chicago hosts group workouts, events and activities (while maintaining social distancing) – a smart way to have customers come in and visit the store to interact with the brand. However, with online still being the most comfortable route for some, they provide virtual activities and activities which customers can join from the comfort of their home.
Ensuring you stay top of mind with customers.
So what can we learn from all this? Whilst it may feel overwhelming to look at this checklist of brand executions and try to implement them all, it’s worth focusing on where as a brand your budget will have the biggest impact. Is it through amping up the online experience, ensuring you stay top off mind with customers as soon as they go online? Maybe it’s through integrating digital store experiences which enhance the shopping environment or maybe it’s taking an imaginative route and creating a unique pop up store which acts as more of a showcase than a retail space. Whichever you chose, remember there are artists, technologists and designers all aiming to support and execute your vision, working together to a more spirited and stable future.