The Future of Retail: User Experience

Opinion

Picture this: you walk into a Home Goods store where the in-store designer has already picked out new lamps, rugs, and decor based on your online browsing history, color scheme, budget, and personal taste. You select a few items and hold up your mobile phone, where the store’s app can show you how they will fit in spatially and visually with your existing living room. With the push of a button, you’ve paid for your new items through the app, and the store ships it to your address within days.

This scenario may feel like a fantasy, but it’s not so far off. Ikea’s Place app already lets you visualize how a product will look in your home. The app allows users to swipe through Ikea’s 2,000 products, including sofas, armchairs, and coffee tables. Select your piece and then use the camera to place the digital furniture anywhere in a room. Users can see how a desk will fit a space, or whether a chair goes with a sofa, before pressing the buy button. It’s just one example of how winning retail brands are putting the customer experience at the heart of their offering.

Continuing our series on the Future of Retail, this article will outline how the user experience in retail is changing.

Why and how is the user experience evolving?   

“Retail is dead” became a popular headline following the financial recession of 2008. But, as new data shows, retail isn’t dead – ”boring retail” is.

Despite prophecies of doom, the numbers don’t lie. E-commerce sales accounted for more than 10% of US retail sales in 2018. Yet, according to most estimates, about 91% of retail sales are still conducted in a brick-and-mortar location. Brands like Warby Parker, Glossier, and Outdoor Voices that started as e-commerce brands are making the move to brick-and-mortar, forcing traditional retailers to rethink their customer experience.  Glossier’s flagship store in New York City is designed to put discovery and connection front and center. In the location, there’s no cash wrap or shelves stocked with products. Instead, as the Glossier SVP of marketing describes, customers come to get lost in an experience, trial and conversation. Showroom editors offer recommendations and check customers out on an iPad anywhere in the store. The product is then delivered from the sky via a conveyor belt. It’s the future.

Key to this online/offline presence is a blended, consistent customer experience across digital and in-store touchpoints. Digital natives like Casper and Allbirds aren’t limiting themselves to the online world. Casper, the mattress brand, sees the stores as an extension of its product story. The focus of each location is not to drive sales. Instead, Casper store design is “more intimate and focused on guiding customers through the store in a “playful way.” The stores include semi-private sleep pods where customers can try out a mattress, as well as lounge areas and bright, cheery decor. Casper is just one brand understanding the demands of the consumer – which have evolved over the last few decades.

How are user experience demands driving innovation and technology in the retail industry?

How can brands provide a holistic, consistent customer experience both online and offline? At the forefront of the retailer-customer relationship is people-centric content. Millennials, who hold a majority of the purchasing power, overwhelmingly want products plus experience. According to some estimates, they aren’t alone: almost 75% of Americans prioritize experiences over products. Not only do they want a great experience but they want it to be tailored to them. 79% of consumers want a personalized in-store experience.

Savvy retail companies are putting people at the forefront of their user experience by connecting digital tools, technology, and innovation with their products. Companies like Nordstrom, Nike, and Apple embrace technology to deliver unique customer experiences that blend online and offline channels.

Nike’s ‘House of Innovation’ experiential stores in Shanghai and New York begin by engaging with customers through the Nike app, where users can reserve and try different shoes and workout gear before arriving on location. Nike team members leave items in digital lockers for shoppers to unlock with their phones; through the app, they can later complete the purchase. Within the store, barcodes can be scanned to search the model, color options, and online and in-store inventory for every outfit shown on mannequins. NikePlus members receive custom content and offers triggered by a geofence that personalizes app content as soon as they arrive in the store. Overall, shopping is seamless, efficient, and tailored to each specific customer.

What part of the user experience is critical for brands to get right?

There are a few ways brands can evolve to meet the demands of consumers. First and foremost is to invest in omnichannel marketing to bridge the e-commerce and in-store experiences. Brands like Ikea and Muji have already mastered this transition:

Research by SAP, Siegel+Gale, and Shift Thinking found that today’s most successful brands treat their customers as users, not buyers. They make life easier. They build relationships with their customers. They inspire loyalty and advocacy, not just one-time sales. These companies craft their brand experience as a designer would, thinking about every touchpoint–before, during, and after the purchase–from the user’s point of view.”

For Muji, that means shifting the use of their space from sales to experiential marketing and education. In London, the brand hosted workshops and events covering lifestyle topics such as bullet journaling, skincare, and Instagram photography. Instead of going straight for the sale, the brand fosters a longer term relationship with customers by offering a more holistic experience.

Mobile can play a huge role in making the customer experience more enjoyable and personalized – in particular, mobile payments. Customers love mobile payments – which is why stores like Glossier and Nike’s House of Innovation locations have made it possible to pay through an app or contactless technologies like near-field communications (NFC).

Customers who use mobile payment love it, and cite it as their ideal payment method above credit cards, according to a Square report. Convenience, security, speed, and utility are the best aspects of mobile payment for consumers; and retailers who capitalize on these qualities to complete transactions provide the best experience for their customers. Converging digital and physical spaces and making mobile payment part of the experience allows retailers to build loyalty, increase user engagement, and, inevitably, continue to grow profitably.  

The Future of Customer Experience

Customer expectations of retailers have never been higher. Retail is changing rapidly due to mobile – and potentially, AR and VR. Experience should be at the heart of all retail investments for the future, as customers demand more personalization and more of a role in how they find and explore their products. That includes experiences that excite, but also experiences that simply make things like payment easier.