2020 shocked. 2021 reset. 2022, and beyond, will define. Retail's next frontier promises infinite possibility – but it won't be for everyone. Moves made today will decide retail's leaders versus laggards. Which will you be?
According to Verizon's CEO, Hans Vestberg, "As COVID-19 spread around the world, we leapfrogged five to seven years in the digital revolution" and many studies back his assessment:
- Stores are no longer the default shopping channel, but 72% of consumers still rely on stores as part of their primary buying method. (IBM)
- Over the next five years, leaders are buying into the prospects of digitization of the physical world. (Deloitte)
If the future is being defined as digital, what is a physical retailer to do? The universality of smart devices and pervasive acceptance of digital tools has created an evolved consumer who no longer sees online and offline shopping as distinct experiences. Therefore, as brand owners and experience creators, we must envision a new realm of boundless retail.
From one corner of the globe to the other, fringe concepts to household names, the team at ChangeUp identified three key themes that should frame up your next move:
1. Liminal Defiance
The opportunities of the metaverse remain to be seen, but a pure-play or biased approach, be it physical or digital, is no longer an option. The world, with retail as one plane, is wavering in a liminal precipice – a clear break from what was, yet unclear of what is to be. Today, people drift in a fluid state of always-on consumerism, not chained to any specific journey or destination. As such, our perspective must evolve from in-store or online to non-spaces: brands thriving in an undefinable and malleable existence.
Burberry's transitory pop-up entitled 'The Imagined Landscapes on Jeju Island, South Korea' was conceived to blend "nature and technology, indoors and outdoors, the real and the imagined." Visitors were met with planes of existence colliding to build something foreign but much desired – a space of inspiration and interaction.
As we traverse this new and ever-changing landscape, there must be an acceptance of and appreciation for liminal brand experiences that are not built as physical or digital, but rather created to achieve a certain objective – tools and tactics agnostic.
2. Cognification Commerce
Siri and Alexa have wound their way into our lives, rattling off our tongues with the same frequency as a significant other or child's name. Smart devices are nothing new, nor are all the data points they are collecting. However, the way in which data from devices is being collected, analyzed, and used is evolving. Increasing the "smartness" of store speeds up the time between gathering insights, making decisions, and seeing results, ultimately driving a synergistic and multiplying effect across all channels over time.
Uniqlo's Harajuku Flagship includes a wall of 240 touchscreens that leverage image-recognition technology that allows customers to browse photos shared by brand fans and influencers and match the outfits with similar products sold in stores. Uniqlo can then pull the data to impact decisions on best adjacencies or merchandising strategies.
Armed with of-the-moment intelligence, proactive retailers will be able to make stores as responsive and addictive as the algorithm that controls their shoppers' TikTok feeds, transforming the store experience at the speed of a swipe.
3. Untethered Experimentation
The onset of the internet was a ripple that turned into a tidal wave, wiping out companies that hesitated to get online. Once again, we find ourselves at a divisive point in history. The unknowns of XR, including AR and VR, will cause many to pause in a wait-and-see position. Leaders will not. They will see this melding of worlds not as a hypothetical outskirts idea to be ridiculed or ignored, but rather a brazen expansion of our universe and in turn, expansion of their profit.
The Simone Rocha x H&M collaboration launched in March 2021 was a first foray into uncharted formats. Leveraging AR, the traditionally flat lookbook sprung to life in a fairytale-like setting blending fashion, photography, and physical space.
Taking full advantage of an experimentation mindset, leaders will embrace the conceptual nature and bend it to their benefit, seeing opportunity for creative exploration, data collection, and ultimately, growth. Freefalling into this new reality, they will adopt a fresh philosophy that releases "success" from traditional KPI expectations and ROI evaluations, instead adopting new metrics as they test and learn.
With the world seemingly changing over entirely from dusk to dawn, understanding what trends to pay attention to, what technology will be most prevalent, or what move to make next can be overwhelming for physical retailers. Leaders, however, will see the maze of unknowns as pathways to discovery – discovery of brand opportunity, consumer loyalty, and ultimately, business growth – if only they are willing to step across into a new retail frontier.