What we are experiencing will evolve on a number of different levels into the new ‘normality’, and also the purchasing experience – whether it’s digital or physical – will emerge completely transformed. It is accordingly particularly important to understand how consumers have changed in recent times and what they are looking for in their purchasing experiences. An interesting study on this topic that tried to reply to address these issues is that of Massimo Curcio – Associate Partner at KPMG Advisory, which was presented during the ‘Retail transformation summit’ of the IlSole24Ore newspaper.
The data collected first points to a consumer who is more aware about sustainability and social responsibility than they were in the past, and who is accordingly more inclined to reward brands capable of going beyond mere profit to include individual well-being and respect for the environment among their priorities.
This aspect was also underlined by sociologist and founder of Future Concept Lab, Francesco Morace, who spoke of a ‘chain of trust’ that must be gradually established and developed concurrently with the traditional ‘value chain’, which is destined to become increasingly important in the near future: the pandemic has accelerated certain phenomenon, like digital technology, but it has also heightened the awareness of consumers, while opening our eyes to the fact that in a context where the common good is important, even more important are those who do good. This has led today’s consumer to grant greater recognition to and show more interest in brands that are committed on a territorial level to the protection of the environment, mankind, and workers, and in this context the store takes on a critical role since it is the physical meeting place between company/brand and consumer.
Another important trend that directly affects the world of retail is the rising popularity of glocal, with local stores returning as protagonists, thanks to their direct and more in-depth understanding of consumers and their needs that includes a more personalised and friendly approach, made up by the advice and support of sales personnel.
Naturally, the outbreak of the pandemic also led to a huge leap in digital purchases, which consumers are more at ease making today with a more ‘exploratory’ attitude towards them. Now more than ever before it is accordingly important to ensure these channels are safe and easy to navigate.
With the various lockdowns, also the role of the home changes, becoming a bona fide ‘hub’ where different life experiences occur – from work through smart working to remote learning, from socialisation to shopping – with the search for new and unusual consumer experiences. According to Curcio, new consumer purchasing experiences will first be based on a multimedia approach. The offering of the physical store will accordingly have to include experiential moments connected to the purchasing experience, while also developing new valuable proposals centred around customer service, which range from home delivery to providing information on products. The winning store will accordingly be the one capable of offering gratifying experiences capable of recovering part of the experience of socialisation lost during the months of social distancing.
Concerned for their health and limited by restrictions, today consumers are in search of smaller niche environments for their purchases, both online and offline, where the experience is unique and personalised. It’s no coincidence that those most at risk today are above all shopping malls (-256% in earnings this past year according to a study published on CNBC), which over the last 50 years had grown at a rate double that of the United States’ population and which nevertheless today appear unsuitable and uncapable of replying to the needs of a transformed world. New sales solutions like slow shops are instead circulating and making headway, like the solution adopted for example by Bigi Cravatte Milano, which, as is already true of private sales, can only be visited by appointment. Visitors to the store can accoringly rely on the expertise of those who genuinely understand the features of a garment or accessory, allowing themselves to be guided and advised in their purchasing choices.
According to Leonardo Comelli from M-Cube, the role of the store in the near future can be summed up in three key words: entertainment, communication, and emotion. According to the data collected by M-Cube on leading retailers, if from one end, they are closing stores with a low income, from the other end, they are making large investments in flagship stores, because they are capable – more than any other sales channels – of recounting the story and spirit of the brand. In this return to the physical iconic store of the brand, technology leads the way in reinforcing the identity of the brand, while creating an emotional experience, accompanying the customer in the discovery of products, and offering customised products. An example of this latter aspect arrives from Lenovo technology, which has developed digital tables for in-store use that are capable of scanning garment labels and recommending matchings with other garments or accessories, as already done by similar services on the web.
In fact, as confirmed by sociologist Francesco Morace, more and more often we will hear the term ‘onlife’, which is the integration between online and offline, for an evolving retail scenario that is increasingly pervasive in the different experiences and moments of everyone’s lives.
In this context of integration between online and offline, there is also the increasingly popularity of avatars, perfect replicas of ourselves, which in a future that is by now around the corner, will even be able to try on clothes in our stead and help avoid problems with sizes and returns.
Already a reality are the avatars of celebrities and influencers present at fashion events like those of Chiara Ferragni and Dua Lipa, which allowed them to take part in the ‘digital’ version of the latest edition of Milan Fashion Week. There is then the phenomenon of ‘fashion gaming’, which sees virtual characters from videogames called upon to try on designer labels and the latest fashion trends on our behalf, as seen with the little anthropomorphic animals of Animal Crossing that were dressed by Valentino and Marc Jacobs.
Further up the supply chain, also the work of buyers is increasingly dual natured, with physical showrooms increasingly being flanked by virtual showrooms, where it is possible to see the entire collection in complete safety and without having to travel anywhere, while interacting with personnel in a way that is extremely similar to offline life.
Technology can also be of direct help to stores during a moment as difficult as this one by managing customer contact lists and developing specific promotions and sales strategies. One example in this sense is the app Shoplà, which allows customers to be managed digitally while bringing together in a single app all the essential sales-related activities, from the database, to the agenda, marketing campaigns by SMS or e-mail, and video-sales. It is also possible to insert personalised tags like the size of the customer, preferred brands, style, kind of purchases, etc. to then send ad hoc communications or organise video-sales without having to turn to other digital environments, thereby maintaining a direct and immediate relation with customers even if they live abroad or in another city, or create and manage appointments with them in the store or through videocalls.