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The Futurist: The evolving retail space

Technology advancements, affordable smartphones, disruptive innovations and globalisation have changed the world tremendously compared to a decade ago. Every part of our life is now intertwined with an online reality.

The overlapping of our real physical lives with our online social lives makes it more complicated for any marketer to “market” effectively. Hence, a marketer will try to map out the customer’s journey in order to determine how to enhance the customer experience.

The retail industry as well, is experiencing an evolution in the way it presents itself and operates. The traditional brick and mortar shop is now converging with the digital world, be it social, e-commerce or technology. This convergence is also further perpetuated by rising rental rates, operational costs and technology capability.

One of the challenges of the brick and mortar shop is the limitation of catchment to those within its geographical area whereas e-commerce lacks the ability to appeal to all the human senses. The merger of the brick and mortar shop with e-commerce and social media converges into a new retail space that has the potential to create meaningful customer experiences. When the customer experiences a meaningful touch-point, the customer understands the brand better and will be more engaged to further develop a relationship with the brand.

Given that today’s customer has a shorter attention span, is native to the digital world and seek experiences virtually and physically, a retail brand will need to curate the digital culture and integrate the five senses’ touch-points into the customer’s experiential journey all the way to the point of purchase.

So how is the retail scene evolving to do this? It is back to the basics of knowing and understanding your customer – both the online and physical profile. Moreover, research is no longer a traditional survey with an intercept method, but rather online consumption patterns will now need to be mapped against physical shopping behaviour to determine the customer’s profile and buying tendencies.

Unlike the past, the shopping mall is no longer a marketplace, and has evolved to an experiential lifestyle mall offering more than just products and services. Shops are evolving into experiential showrooms showcasing a variety of products which are able to play on the human senses of touch, play, hear, taste and smell.

As retail space becomes more expensive, the concept of showrooming becomes more affordable as the variety can be displayed, and experiences can be delivered without the need for a big storage area as stock can be delivered to homes from a central warehouse.

Even the promotional spaces in a mall become more experiential as engagement activation is deployed instead of the usual product or services sales promotion efforts. Variety should be built into the promotion spaces to complement the current mall’s offering. Engagement activations today need to become experiential touch-points for shoppers, hence, giving the shopper a different experience from the usual roadshow.

The evolution of the retail space needs to take the customers’ experiences in mind. It is back to basics to curate the new experiences.

The writer is Loo Hoey Theen, marketing director, Sunway Malls. The article first appeared in A+M’s The Futurist print edition.