Blend Space: Study Examines the Potential Solution to Fragmented Retail Experiences
Retail was derailed by the 2020 global pandemic, but there were already pressures facing it from e-commerce and direct-to-consumer business models before we went into lockdown. Today, the brick-and-mortar store has become a hybrid, part showroom, part neighbor, part shipping center. No longer is the physical store the final destination for shoppers; instead, it's just the most tangible node in a network of connected brand moments.
Addressing the current state of shopping, EPAM Continuum recently released a report on the concept of “Blend Space,” an approach intended to create more resilient retail operations and experiences. The report explains how experiential flow and physical-digital touchpoints can accommodate a range of needs and shopping modes. Blend Space recognizes that a viable shopping experience must be as malleable as those it serves and creates more intuitive relationships between customer and brand.
Unifying the Shopping Experience
As the number of ways customers buy things increases, each new channel creates greater complexity, weakening brand relationships. To lessen these effects, Blend Space anticipates the multiple shopping modes that a customer could engage in at any moment and then allows them to flow seamlessly into each other.
Understanding how and when to deliver an accelerated experience, as opposed to an extended one, will reduce the fragmentation most shoppers associate with brands today. For example, studies show that in-person shopping is preferred for buying something new, while online shopping is preferred for repeat purchases. A store shouldn't confine its customers to one model but instead encourage them, through the implementation of physical and technological touchpoints, to use the model that best fits their needs at that moment. Thoughtfully integrating digital touchpoints to complement physical interactions gives employees the most personalized feel possible. Note that technology must be an intuitive reflection of the brand’s personality.
Blend Space allows retailers to step back and examine the different channels their customers are using, including in-store checkout, mobile shopping, social shopping, e-commerce or in-person, and enables them to pull it all together into one cohesive experience.
Implementing Blend Space
Building a program is a massive undertaking that requires strategy, physical infrastructure, and possibly management changes. Moreover, such work takes patience — enterprisewide change won’t happen overnight.
To be successful, retailers must determine who in their organization needs to oversee the implementation of Blend Space. The most relevant candidates are the teams running e-commerce platforms and the teams in charge of store design and operations. Likewise, a leader such as a chief customer officer or a chief experience officer need to be involved as they focus on insights and metrics.
The Blend Space experience requires a holistic reset from stores and asking some key, customer-related questions. Why do people shop at your store? What does their shopping journey look like? Where are their points of friction or delight? Finally: What channels are they shopping in and why?
The road ahead will no doubt be challenging for retail. Nevertheless, with people still eager to shop, Blend Space offers stores a viable solution for the future via the blending of technologies and physical touchpoints, enabling different sorts of customers to be within the same brand but enjoy their own unique shopping experiences.
Buck Sleeper is an experience designer and the director of retail and restaurants at the global design and innovation firm EPAM Continuum.
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Buck Sleeper is an experience designer at the global design and innovation firm EPAM Continuum, working broadly to understand the needs and behaviors of humans, identify disruptive opportunities for businesses and institutions, and forge alignment within organizations to drive real change and implementation. Buck is obsessed with crafting a future that is inclusive, sustainable, and optimistic. He leads the Restaurants and Retail Vertical at EPAM Continuum, drawing from his diverse background of projects in education, healthcare, financial services, civic design, and connected devices to transform the future of shopping and eating.
Buck is trained as an architect, previously holding positions at Skidmore Owings and Merrill, Kennedy Violich Architects, and Howeler Yoon Architects. Buck earned his master of architecture at MIT in Cambridge, and holds a bachelor of arts from Middlebury College in Vermont. He lives just outside of Boston.