CG's resident intelligence experts headed to the Windy City for this year's 12th annual International Retail Design Conference, where the creative minds of store design, retail strategy and visual merchandising converge. Always on the lookout for common threads and surprising insights, we identified key takeaways from the conference to consider in the coming year. From networking lunches to breakout and keynote sessions to casual conversations, here are some of the big ideas we heard talked about at IRDC.
Size matters, but strategy is key. Last year the subject of big-box retailers exploring smaller, urban footprints was trending. This year, we heard some of the secrets behind just what that means: reflecting regionalism through design, localized product assortment decisions and space and adjacency planning based on the understanding of convenience and destination categories.
Generation who? Millennials matter, but let’s not forget about those that lead before them. They still have needs, too. A key age group to pay attention to is the 55-64 age group known as “Cuspers.” This group, known for their brand loyalty, is now exhibiting more autonomy when it comes to brand loyalty. This is possibly an influence from the younger millennial generation, whom they look to for advice on purchases, or maybe as a result of their desire to break the mold for what defines them as a Boomer. Regardless, they’re still a group with a larger pocketbook of discretionary spending that deserves attention.
Let me shop how I want to. Full-service retailers and brands are learning from self-serve environments, and are giving customers more freedom to shop—free of “the regimen” and the, sometimes overbearing, consultant. Skin care and cosmetics brand Clinique is taking a new approach by having customers select a wristband that indicates their shopping style—green means: “Let’s Talk. I have Time,” white: “Time is of the Essence,” and pink: “Browsing and Happy.”
Breaking down barriers, encouraging exploration. In retail, specifically the beauty category, we’re seeing the deconstruction of traditional retail spaces—breaking down the barriers between consumer and product to encourage interaction. And consultation is a BIG part of the experience. Display tables that encourage “play” allow the consumer to explore the product and access stock, but assistance is there when needed.
Contextual Commerce. Gone are the days of traditional advertising influence says keynote speaker, Marian Salzman, who sees everyday life and shopping becoming seamless as media and consumer purchasing come together. Today, consumers can page through a magazine and purchase a shirt identical to the one their favorite celebrity is pictured wearing with a single click; they can extend the feeling of staying in a luxurious hotel by purchasing the bedding they loved. Forget POS, technology will allow us to purchase at all points—only further feeding the need for instant gratification.
Last year’s multi-channel has become this year’s omni-channel. But what does that mean? It’s a seamless approach to the customer shopper experience—“integrating clicks with bricks.” Macy’s declared an omni-channel approach as a key to their strategy. Decisions are made from a customer-centric approach and, no matter how she prefers to shop, they want her to shop with them and will give her the necessary tools to do so.
Retail identity vs. brand identity. There’s always been a push-pull between environment and brand. Who owns the space? How do you “stand out” as a brand? How do you “modulate and control” if you’re the host of many brands? One thing is for sure, it’s not a one-size-fits-all application, but rather an individual exploration of what’s right for the brand.
Surprising players are innovating. With convenience and accessibility on their side, drug stores are the modern stop for today’s time-starved customer. The challenge: create a premium experience in a self-serve environment. One of the ways we’re seeing these retailers respond is by introducing technology in the form of a virtual assistant or consultant.
Create a destination. Give your customers a reason to visit. Do what e-commerce can’t do and engage the senses. Oftentimes the consumer has already researched the product online so create the optimal experience to allow them to fully engage with the product. Consider ways to offer a community connection, like in-store events that put your product at the forefront of the experience and take it from being a commodity product to a lifestyle accessory.
Shopping under the tech influence. Social shopping has caught on. Today’s younger generation already consults with friends before making a purchase. Don’t resist technology in-store, but plan it thoughtfully. Provide technology that enables an enhanced shopping experience, but not one that replaces that key elements of the in-store experience, like trying on the product.
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