There’s a simple reason online shopping hasn’t steamrolled physical retail stores. Consumers want experiences, especially the non-digital kind.
We may be addicted to our smartphones, but we still crave the ability to use our five senses and engage with authentic experiences. A recent editorial in Business of Fashion highlights Coachella’s enduring popularity as an example of this human characteristic: Even in the context of music, a physical experience is preferred over a static experience delivered through technology. Music fans can listen to their favorite artists and songs whenever they want — and yet music festivals draw fans by the tens of thousands.
Granted, a retail store isn’t as dynamic as a world-class music festival. But the principles of its appeal are similar: Compared to the convenience and amenities of shopping online, brick-and-mortar locations still have plenty to offer in terms of engagement and authenticity.
That doesn’t mean mobile tech can be abandoned at the front door. Digital is essential in the physical retail space. The trick is striking the right balance.
Supporting The Physical Experience
The physical quality of a retail store — the ability for consumers to touch and experience products, even testing them out or trying them on before buying — is the single-greatest selling point of the brick-and-mortar location.
Mobile technology shouldn’t be used to distract from consumers’ physical engagement of a store. Instead of building an experience through mobile technology, the focus should be on using that technology to enhance the physical retail world into which consumers have arrived.
That means leveraging mobile solutions to make physical retail better — not just something more akin to online shopping. Augmented reality can enhance shopping touchpoints and infuse a physical space with new experiences. Smart shelves can relay inventory and product information, and smart dressing rooms can improve and optimize the process of trying on clothes.
Retail apps are very valuable, but only to the extent that they can bolster in-store shopping through push notifications, beacon-activated promotions, and other forms of personalization.
In the same way, Coachella isn’t a tech-averse event on its own. Mobile technology — in particular, social media — enhances the experience for festival-goers, giving them additional ways to relay and enhance their own experience at the event. But the experience of the technology itself never replaces the actual event — and that’s the trick to bringing mobile into the retail space.
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