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GRADUATE STUDENTS

The Experiential Retail Marketplace

posted by Alma Ponce, Online Adjunct Professor, Graduate Studies

Shoppers looking at a computer screenRetail is undergoing a monumental transformation, leaving many in the industry asking, “What will be the future of retail?” The description that the industry is grappling, dying, or undergoing a retail apocalypse is an inaccurate representation of what is happening.

It is undoubtable that the retail industry we’ve become so familiar with is changing. But as the demand of consumers evolve, so must the industry and the way we perceive it to be. Retail, as a marketplace, is becoming increasingly driven by new technology, ever-evolving consumer behavior, and gutsy creativity. And as digital and physical worlds continue to intersect within the current retail trade, industry leaders as well as analysts are asking difficult and elaborate questions regarding the evaluation of its success.

As part of this realignment, there has been a shift in retail to focus on consumer experience. Some retailers saw these signs years ago and adapted their business models accordingly via new technology and processes. Others are not moving as quickly to adapt and now meet an uphill battle to evade eradication.

There needs to be a compelling reason for shoppers to go into physical stores rather than shopping online. How are fashion retailers in particular playing into the experiential nature of this equation? According to Sridhar Ramaswamy, Senior Vice President of Ads & Commerce at Google who wrote Shopping Then and Now, forward-thinking retailers should be looking at how they are interweaving digital tools like mobile, context, and video with sales, marketing, and customer service. He says that when these tools are used well, the technology becomes invisible. Ramaswamy continued, “Interactive video, 360 views, gestural controls are just a few of the options bringing products alive on customers’ multiple screens. Google Shopping, for example, has introduced 360-degree imagery to some product sets to give shoppers a better sense of what an item really looks like.”

Some innovative retailers are now offering shoppers virtual try-ons of items not in-store and extended customer service directly from—get this, the mirror in the fitting room! This is exactly what Rebecca Minkoff’s flagship store in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood is doing and has been doing for years now. With innovations like smart mirrors, the new face of retail continues to involve consumers engaging with a brand seamlessly across nearly all channels.

The bottom line is that brick-and-mortar retail is not dead. U.S. shoppers still prefer to make most of their purchases in-store, according to research by Market Track. Constant connectivity is changing both online and offline shopping, and the lines between online and brick-and-mortar shopping will continue to blur. Fortunately, most retailers already have access to the data necessary to make changes and provide better customer experiences. We are living in a time of new possibilities for forward-thinking retailers who are bold enough to combine classic retail truths with digital savvy in order to help retailers serve their customers better.

About the Author:

Alma R. Ponce is an online adjunct professor in the Advanced Fashion Merchandising course in LIM Graduate Studies. She also does course content writing for Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design’s visual merchandising online course. She has worked as a fashion stylist at Stitch Fix, writer/creator/style enthusiast of Alma Reyna Life+Style Blog; sales manager at Wardrobe Stylist and Bebe Stores, and co-owner/merchandiser/creator at Forum Boutique; and visual merchandising assistant at Louis Vuitton.

Topics: retail, digital, technology

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