In September 2009, we reported on a Wharton study that identified brand experience and engagement as the strongest drivers of customer loyalty (see Buying Experience). Now, manifestations of this ideal buying experience – characterized by an exciting store design and user-friendly atmosphere – are taking shape, particularly through the use of technology.
Last week (Feb. 15), Time magazine’s Erin Skarda wrote about how retail technology formerly associated with online shopping is making its way to brick-and-mortar stores.
“The latest digital innovations seamlessly bridge the gap between the online and offline worlds, creating user experiences that are interactive, socially integrated, personally tailored – and ingrained into our everyday activities,” she wrote. “It may very well be the next wave of a technological revolution, and at its core is one of the most social hobbies we partake in: shopping.”
Skarda goes on to describe how in-store shopping is evolving to include interactive interfaces, augmented reality and social media integration, customizing the experience to each individual consumer. This evolution was evidenced by presenters at the NRF Big Show in New York last month (see NRF-Interactive Retail).
“Intel Corporation unveiled its Connected Store concept, a two-story, 2,400-square-foot experimental retail storefront, equipped with the company’s latest advances in interactive in-store shopping,” she wrote. “By partnering with brands such as Adidas, Best Buy, Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble, Intel introduced new ways that retailers can engage with their customers – and revealed what may be the future of shopping.”
The idea of giving customers an entertaining and interactive experience has been working for Disney, which recently put an Apple-store-inspired spin on its storefronts, using mobile checkouts and placing massive animated screens in the entranceways (see Disney).
Back in November, Disney CEO Bob Iger told Julia Boorstin of CNBC.com that the company’s strategy focused on interactivity with children and their families, as well as the visual appeal of its most popular cartoon characters, to allow visitors to simply play and have fun within the store. While there may be less pressure to explicitly buy something, visitors are soaking up the Disney brand the entire time.
As Boorstin notes, the ultimate goal is not about selling stuffed animals, it’s about simultaneously promoting Disney’s other businesses: theme parks, musicals and movies.
Apple has long embraced its store-as-a-place-to-hang-out identity, which has brought with it high profits, customer loyalty and an enviable brand experience. Last summer, consumers polled from a pool of 11,000 consumers rated Apple stores the highest for mobile phone buying experience (see Phone Buying Experience).
"(Apple stores) encourage lingering, with dozens of fully functioning computers, iPods and iPhones for visitors to try – for hours on end," wrote Katie Hafner of the New York Times (Dec. 27, 2007). She described how some Apple Stores take an almost Internet café approach to letting customers use devices such as laptops, for free. Patrons have been known to stay as long as they please, or even bring food into the store.
"Whenever we ask consumers to cite a great retail experience, the Apple store is the first store they mention," said Jane Buckingham, president of the Intelligence Group, an L.A.-based market research firm. "Basically, everything about it works. The people who work there are cool and knowledgeable. They have the answers you want, and can sell you what you need. Customers appreciate that. Even the fact that they'll e-mail you a receipt makes you feel like you're in a store just a little bit further ahead of everyone else."
**XQ, iQmetrix’s new Interactive Retail platform, transforms the in-store experience with a suite of dynamic digital media solutions that entertain, educate and guide shoppers through the process of buying a mobile device. With customer facing screens, touch screens and interactive product displays, wireless retailers can draw shoppers in and provide a remarkable experience they’ll be sure to talk about with family and friends.