Reimagining retail through the art of placemaking
Photo by iStock.com
By Gregg Sloan, chief creative officer at Amplified
Public spaces are changing, but not as fast as we are, and certainly not fast enough. Many retail spaces that were once filled with people socializing, exploring and, of course, shopping have been supplanted by the convenience of apps, online marketplaces, and digital communication technology. Without much fanfare, the climate controlled marketplaces of yore are on a swift path to becoming ghost towns. Technology has crept in slowly — an unreliable self-checkout register here, a touchscreen map there — but the world is still waiting for seamless integration of technology, architecture, and experience design that will entice, not annoy.
Online retailers have been game changers when it comes to convenience, and brick-and-mortar is struggling to keep up. Shoppers can now digitally try on clothes using virtual and augmented reality, have groceries delivered to them with the help of voice assistants, or send a gift to a loved one while avoiding common retail pitfalls like traffic, out-of-stock merchandise, and unappealing store environments.
With the rise of e-commerce elevating consumer expectations of the traditional shopping experience, how can brick-and-mortar retailers compete? We believe it is by focusing on what online shopping cannot do — create a sense of place. Enter the art of placemaking.
The art of placemaking: Combining power of technology with real physical experiences
The concept of placemaking is not something new. But in the digital age, it requires rethinking how places can be achieved and who is involved in creating them.
For years, retail has been trying to merge digital and physical shopping experiences. Think paying with a mobile wallet, price-matching Amazon at a big box electronics store, or ordering a latte on your phone so it's ready the minute you walk into a Starbucks. While a few such campaigns have been successful, few create enjoyable experiences for customers, and most represent a significant barrier to entry for the less technologically savvy consumer.
Shoppers are looking for a more sensorial and personalized experience, where the joy of discovering great products and socializing is augmented by technologies that offer price comparisons, product reviews by other shoppers and unlimited variety. Therefore, it helps to think of digital and physical shopping not as siloed experiences out to destroy the other but as complimenting each other to afford a more connected and richer experience to the shopper.
Today's placemaking efforts require the thoughtful creation of memorable multi-purpose public spaces, seamlessly integrating technology to the point that it's invisible. It merges the best of physical and digital worlds – allowing users to enjoy the conveniences that digital technologies provide, without getting their nose stuck in a smartphone or tablet screen the entire time. And true placemaking is closer than we might imagine – technologists, architects, and developers are actively designing experiences that reimagine familiar technologies in radically creative ways.
Next time you're at a mall, a big box store, or any retail environment, keep an eye out for these new placemaking efforts focused on driving customers back to brick-and-mortar stores:
• A place that knows me — Anyone who enables location tracking for mobile apps has likely started to experience retailers experimenting with geolocation and the shopping experience. This has become particularly popular in health and beauty retail, where forty-four percent of consumers say they take advantage of mobile apps. In addition to providing discounts and loyalty programs via mobile apps, retailers can also notify a customer when they're in proximity of a particular store or location via push notifications, alerting them to current sales, and even customizing specific offers based on their shopping history. In the near future, imagine having the ability to order lunch at the mall on your phone. No lines, no food court, when your order is ready, a server locates you via GPS to deliver your meal, and you choose from nearby park-style seating around the space. No consumer, and certainly not this one, will lament the veritable death of the line.
• A place that is more than just shopping — While still in its infancy, virtual reality has major potential in retail. From a practical perspective, it will allow consumers to virtually try on clothing, choosing size, color, material, with the use of a headset. Since VR is still in its early stages, we've seen retailers utilize VR in marketing to create new ways for shoppers to enter their store. For example, UK retailer, Topshop, created a VR experience in their flagship store in London that allowed visitors to ride a virtual waterslide through the city's streets. They even installed a physical slide for shoppers to ride down while wearing a VR headset. In the not-so-distant future, we'll see VR evolve from gimmick to mainstay, turning blank brick-and-mortar spaces into virtual malls with specialized stores, and beyond.
• A place that empowers the decision — Thanks to Apple's ARKit, app developers have taken immediate advantage of AR, and retailers are following suit. This has made a significant impact in home décor, in particular. How many times have you bought something, only to see that it just doesn't sit right in your home or is too big for the space you envisioned it for? E-commerce retailer, Wayfair, has solved this issue by allowing customers to use augmented reality to virtually “place” a piece of furniture in your home to see how it looks. While this example is currently being used in the home, it can greatly improve the in-store experience too by bringing accuracy to the consumer's shopping experience and significantly decreasing returns and exchanges. Additionally, retailers are using this in-store as well. For example, some have "try-on" screens that allow shoppers to step in front of a screen and virtually try on an article of clothing.
While modern retail wisdom is built on the cornerstone that brick-and-mortar is dead, the reality is that we're on the cusp of a real-life retail renaissance. The problem is the perspective. Retailers, architects, and developers won't succeed in creating spaces that rely solely on product supply and demand anymore — e-commerce has seen to it. But there's a new commodity in high demand with low supply: experiences. By creating spaces that are designed for actual human beings, not just consumers, to discover new and interesting things every time they enter, retailers can leverage a unique and expansive marketing opportunity that might just get the classic American mall off long-term life support.