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Contemporary retailers have a serious challenge: how to connect their bricks and mortar shop experience to shoppers’ digital lives. Carnaby Street retailer, Social Suicide, totally understands this dynamic. A miniscule men’s boutique in the heart of London’s ground zero of pop-up shops and trendy independent retail, Social Suicide is currently running a discount campaign based on the amount of mentions the shop gets across various social media platforms.

Put simply: the store is in constant listening mode – monitoring Twitter and Facebook and quantifying their mentions in the form of a user-generated discount that changes dynamically in realtime. Social Suicide is not only tapping into behavioural patterns encouraging users to ‘tweet’ for their own good (ie. to get a lower price on a suit), but also building viral awareness. Social Suicide understands where the conversation is happening, and how to drive that conversation by directly connecting the desired behavior with a compelling end result. Traditional media such as style magazines and newspaper supplements, though still highly important, have zero capability to drive this type of realtime interaction and engagement.

Clever marketing tactics and branding are a good start, but retailers need to continue to innovate to bring their physical and digital brands together, and to bring this converged experience to shoppers. How often do you see a retailer’s website and other digital profiles out of sync with their physical shopping experience? Shoppers view a brand from all angles (read: channels), and they notice such discrepancies. If a retail shop does not provide an enhancement or a uniquely differentiated experience to buying online, what will keep the customers coming in?

Shoppers also have new information tools, such as mobile applications Red Laser and Shop Savvy , to help them make purchase decisions. Both enable the customer to quickly scan a product barcode and find the most competitive price – often not the shop your are in. Is this pushing shops towards being places to browse, touch, feel products, but not places to purchase? Sample Lab in Harajuku, Tokyo is a store where brands pay to have their products displayed and browsed – but not purchased. Customers get free samples and can buy online. But how sustainable is this as a business model? How many bricks and mortar storefronts are needed to drive enough online commerce for brands to see a significant ROI?

Will the extreme efficiency enabled by some of the above technologies result in vacant malls, and streets full of empty shops with dusty ‘for rent’ signs? We don’t think so. See the examples of streets like Lamb’s Conduit Street in London, Bleecker in New York, Greville in Melbourne, and many of the most interesting and eclectic independent retail thoroughfares in Paris, Rome and Berlin.

These are cases of fantastic retail experiences providing customers with curated, focused products and highly personalised service. The next step is to marry these brand and service principles to the digital layer as well as physical spaces.

Mobile and location-based marketing, brand experiences that extend beyond the four walls of the shop and into people’s pockets via their smartphones, vouchers and discount campaigns like Social Suicide, mobile commerce – all are ways to ensure that customers can interact with brands and retailers on both physical and digital levels.

Multi-channel retailing in realtime means that all of these things are now possible, but they also require a fundamental shift in the traditional retail mindset. Inside retail organizations where most management teams are still grappling with the silos of bricks and mortar vs. online, this hybrid beast of an integrated multi-channel offering is a challenging one to harness.

For one small shop in Carnaby Street the decision to integrate online activity with in-store promotion is a simple one requiring minimal processes and executional capability (read: one guy and a laptop). Scaling such activity across tens or hundreds or thousands of real-world locations plus adding another layer of integration with an e-commerce offer is a different animal entirely.

Which retailers will understand and be able to manage the logistical complexity to emerge as winners in this space? Tell us what you think: from big name department stores to global brands to your local mom and pop: who do you see doing this well and what are the critical success factors?

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