by Richie Jones (Partner content provided courtesy of C-Space)
Why is discovery so important?
When we speak to customers about shopping, certain themes crop up again and again. In the age of online shopping, what are brick-and-mortar stores for? Are they there to show you what they have on sale in the most no-nonsense way possible, or do they exist to help you discover products, and help you understand the brand?
As with all the best questions, the answer to what a retail space is for is a mix of the physical, practical, philosophical and emotional.
Retail spaces, especially supermarkets, are often architecturally rigid. Most are planned as you would plan a town or a city; therefore, most stick to a city grid system, where shelving on aisles mirrors city blocks. Let’s take the most famous example of a city grid system, New York City.
Any tourist can tell you that places are easier to find in NYC than in London, which has no system at all and has grown organically over centuries. There are dozens of advantages to a grid in terms of flow, efficiency and city management, hence its attractiveness to retailers.
As a Londoner, I would suggest that the more organic approach has its benefits too. Yes, it’s confusing, inefficient, harder to manage. It also provides surprise, encourages roaming, engenders a sense of discovery.
This may sound like a nightmare for a retail space from a practical perspective, but it’s interesting that so many retail stores adhere so closely to the bland predictability of the grid system. What are retailers missing out on, from a customer-experience perspective, that a “little more London” could provide?
The fact is, for many consumers, and many retailers, purchasing online is most straightforward, hassle-free and speedy. So, brick-and-mortar needs to be about more than just trying to be easy and hassle-free.
The ubiquity of online shopping creates an opportunity for retailers to rethink what their physical stores are actually for – if online is New York (consistently structured, has everything, never sleeps), can your store be London (filled with character, alive, unexpected)?
Our clients talk a lot about “surprise and delight” as an aim for the customer experience. It is extremely difficult to deliver this in a predictable, rigid retail experience. One way to surprise and delight is through the experience of discovery – the process by which a customer navigates the store in an intuitive way rather than a predictable one, and through this navigation discovers products, brands and experiences that connect on more than just a functional level.
Why is discovery so important? It is a way to create moments of positivity. It engenders strong memories that tie to brand and last much longer than a routine, expected purchase. Discovery is also interactive, non-passive. The customer feels like they’ve truly uncovered something, rather than having a product foisted upon them. It encourages them to come back.
Funnily enough, the act of discovery is an obsession for online retailers because it’s really hard to do in an online space where most customers use the search bar. It is, if harnessed, the one true advantage of the brick-and-mortar retail space. But it needs to be tailored to the environment, the customer demographic and the brand for it to work; there is no one-size-fits all in the world of surprise and delight.
The future of the retail experience probably isn’t purely in the physical space, or the digital one, but in the elegant, seamless and customer-centric interplay of the two. Technology is already having an enormous impact in what is possible in the physical retail space – decluttering the visual environment through connecting to customers’ phones, bringing in ways to guide and streamline the physical shopping experience by pushing certain purchases online automatically.
The barrier we see most often is that the online and brick-and-mortar teams are just that – two separate teams. Greater collaboration means that online can be amazing at ease and speed, and brick-and-mortar can focus on discovery, delight and creating amazing experiences – be more London.