Tracing the past for retail’s tomorrow
Research examining the key milestones in the evolution of customer experience at the point of sale to try anticipating the store of the future has pointed towards emotion as the key component of instore retail.
Conducted by Bruno Daucé, professor and researcher in retail and marketing at the University of Angers, France and CX firm Mood Media, which works with F500 retailers around the globe, the study divided the history of instore customer experience into eight major periods over three centuries, in an effort to understand the retail innovations that represent key milestones in the evolution of retail.
Emotion is the core vector of the customer experience
Speaking to Inside Retail, Valentina Candeloro, marketing director, Mood International said the concept of emotion goes back to the 18th century, with the creation of the first commercial galleries in France, Italy and the UK.
“In the 19th century this movement grew with the advent of department stores,” she said.
“With their size, their broad choice of products and with help of the technological innovation of the time [electricity], those department stores succeeded in revolutionising the consumer journey, laying the foundations of modern commerce”.
Sensorial marketing then started developing in the 1920s with the first recorded background music before in 1970 retailers started the ‘theatricalisation of shop windows’.
“Tomorrow’s brands will be able to measure and analyse large quantities of emotional data we call ‘feel data’,” said Candeloro.
Candeloro said the study began its analysis in 1800 because department stores, born in this period, radically transformed the concept of customer experience, mainly by making customers autonomous inside the store.
“They can now touch clothes and objects in more and more standardised way, single prices and price tags don’t oblige them to depend on shop assistants, and changing rooms allow them to try on clothes themselves, rather than looking at other people wearing them,” she said.
“From the end of the 18th century, with the rise of galleries and the first bazaars, shops establish a link between art and commerce”.
It is at this point that three historical innovations have the biggest impact in the development of stores in the 1800s: Light, Glass and Architecture.
“Thanks to lighting, shops are no longer just on the street; they can now develop internally and no longer depend on natural lighting,” said Candeloro. “They can finally illuminate their interior and occupy more internal surfaces where square meters have a lower value”.
Industrial architecture then allowed shops to become bigger and offer more room for merchandise to be seen by customers, followed by the progress of the glass industry in the second half of the 19th century. This allowed for the installation of shop windows, increasingly becoming more and more “alive” and attractive for customers.
Candeloro said the main difference between the centuries analysed is that we live in a time where people wouldn’t care if 74 percent of the brands they use just disappeared.
“Retailers must make an effort in making each of the exchange opportunities with its customers relevant and unique,” she said.
Advancements in artificial intelligence, beacon technology, virtual reality, radio-frequency identification (RFID) and 3D printing have resulted in brands increasingly being able to offer unique shopping experiences.
“All in all, the retail sector moves quickly and the latest technology is always just around the corner,” said Candeloro.
“What is different today is that the instore experience is riddled with distractions, with smartphones being the main offenders – we believe that rather than competing with smartphones for the consumer’s attention, it’s important to use these devices to deliver relevant and meaningful messages and content.
What will tomorrow’s stores and services look like?
Offering customers the products they want at the time they want them and at the best price will remain a priority, according to Candeloro who expects retail experiences to integrate artificial intelligence combined with big data with the objective of creating a unique, personalised experience for each customer. We may see payment at the checkout permanently buried; with in-app payments, Amazon Go and digital tickets already demonstrating that this movement has started.
“Stores will become more and more interactive theatres for exceptional experiences, also thanks to the rise of mixed reality, that aims at combining the best aspects of both VR and AR, being as immersive as VR but less disruptive of the experience”, she said.
Talking to the individual customer, rather than to all customers, will bring a change of course from the standardisation that came about with the rise of department stores. According to the research, a trend that will intensify with the development of geolocalisation is the arrival of 3D printing. Personalised prices will soon follow as well.
At the beginning of the 20th century, thanks to price tags and changing rooms, the customer became more autonomous within the point of sale. As a result, grocery stores developed their strategy around instore customer flow. Retailers started focusing on the concept of pleasure and experience – think Selfridges in London. “Today, these logics have merged,” said Daucé. “The grocery sector seeks to integrate in its experience the purchase-pleasure while retailers, via their cross-channel strategies, must assimilate the management of flows”.
“Why struggle to keep brick and mortar shops open?, because, and the history of the customer experience teaches this, stores have become part of our lives, places we go for discovery, inspiration and socialisation.
“Even when deliveries are made by drones, or products can be printed at home, nothing will be faster than choosing, testing and trying an object to take it away directly, and no experience will be compared to the one in store where all senses are engaged.”