The convergence of a myriad of display, content and interactive technologies has contributed to the proliferation of digital environments, enhancing the retail shopping experience and consumer engagement.
Consumer engagement is the collective interactions between a brand and its customers. These interactions are used by the brand as stepping stones towards its goals, whether an increase in sales or a push for brand recognition.
Well-thought-out consumer engagement efforts positively influence brand image and brand loyalty. The more memorable and personal an interaction is, the more likely a customer is to repeatedly return. With retail, effective consumer engagement increases a customer’s purchase frequency and order value. Customers with a high lifetime value are proven to be the most profitable.
In the past few years, primarily in the retail industry, the instantaneous nature of mobile platforms and apps prioritized prompt fulfillment rather than intimate excursions to a physical store. Brands embraced fast campaigns and online store platforms, diminishing opportunities to foster consumer engagement in physical settings.
Nowadays, consumers have started to search for storytelling and connection, rather than convenience and immediacy. Instead of online engagement, consumers want to interact with brands in a more personal, physical way.
The concept of a "physical shopping experience" has begun to shift from a transactional chore into an opportunity to create memories for prospective customers. In response, retail stores are putting greater focus on the in-person experience.
Immersive digital experiences and installations are being woven into the fabric of physical spaces across a multitude of sectors, including retail environments. With these digital experiences, the interactions geared towards consumer engagement can become more personalized and memorable. Personalization and memorable interactions increase the likelihood of a customer returning to the store.
But how can brands use digital experiences effectively to benefit consumer engagement in a retail space?
To start, digital experiences in retail stores should focus on the concept of connection — creating a personal link between a person and something or someone else. This can range from sensory connections, connections to other shoppers, or even connection to a space. Combined with a "wow" factor, connection is a powerful medium for spreading a brand’s image or message.
Within a customer’s shopping journey lies different opportunities for connection. Once these opportunities are identified, the brand can make its customer’s journey more engaging and more memorable via digital installations and experiences. These can range from personalized data-based experiences to artistic installations that amplify the identity of the brand or property.
In most retail environments, digital content acts as an add-on that supports existing sales displays and decor. However, digital content that doesn’t take into consideration user experience and design has a much smaller likelihood of success.
Brands should identify what consumers are already familiar with and can engage with and work their ideas around their findings. This means potentially integrating the technology that prompted the shift in the first place — mobile platforms and apps. Doing so can open a door to a myriad of engagement possibilities and eliminates an introduction phase, as mobile tech is already widely adopted by consumers.
Yet familiarity isn't limited to tech. There are many opportunities to look beyond the screen, or combine brick-and-mortar sales concepts with digital tools. For example, brands can combine digital experimentation with loyalty programs and traditional customer experience tactics to drive conversation. Technology isn't a fix-all concept. It should enable a solution, rather than be the solution itself.
Because so much emphasis is placed on creating a memorable customer journey and fostering connections, the goals that drive consumer engagement can be lost in an experience’s conceptualization. Furthermore, technology as a whole is quickly evolving, presenting more opportunities and challenges for producing a stand-out installation. Building a digital experience is an investment, and reducing risk while maximizing returns can be difficult.
In order to build tech-based experiences for consumer engagement in a cost-effective manner, a brand’s end goals must be clearly defined. Doing so alleviates the risk of falling prey to expensive tools that may not give the desired results.
Once goals are decided upon, brand’s must give their digital content primacy of place, then find the medium to deliver it most effectively. From there, the right technical tools can be chosen to deliver the message, whether it’s the latest content management system or a simple LED screen and demo reel.
What matters is how and why the experience was implemented, and if the interactions built are fostering steady and effective consumer engagement.
Embrace the fact that the tech surrounding a digital experience will evolve. However, that doesn't mean that a practical experience has become ineffective. The future of consumer engagement through technology in the retail sector is the enhancement, not saturation, of the sensory experience through the integration of digital media in physical spaces.
Alexandre Simionescu is principal and creative director at Float4, a multidisciplinary studio that integrates digital experiences in physical spaces to amplify their identity.