PSFK talks to a Partner at IDEO about helping companies reconsider the role that retail might play within their larger business.
PSFK is excited to welcome Dana Cho as a speaker at PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO. Dana is a Partner at IDEO, working in brand strategy, experience design, and service design, exploring the intersection of all those things. On November 1st, Dana will discuss helping brands rethink physical retail presences in new and strategic ways.
Can you tell us a little about IDEO’s work in retail?
We work across a lot of different industries. We do retail strategy for brands like Converse and Eileen Fisher where retail is a critical piece of the consumer experience. We also work on retail projects for companies that may not have traditionally considered retail or are approaching it from scratch. For example, we’ve seen a lot of financial service companies and insurance companies that want to think about a retail presence in a new and strategic way. We often help them understand the role that retail might play within the company’s larger business. We ask them to consider what kind of relationship they want to create with customers via retail as a channel, and start from there.
For example, recently, we did a project with State Farm, where they were thinking about their retail presence as a way to better understand Generation Y. We created the Next Door concept with them: a retail experience where folks come into a no pressure, no hard sell situation, to learn more about personal finances.
How important is bridging online and offline retail to the success of physical stores?
To be honest, it doesn’t feel quite authentic to talk about online versus offline, because I think there are a lot of really interesting and good examples of companies seamlessly doing both now. I think it’s really easy to argue about the death of the physical store just because we’ve seen so many physical retailers struggle. However, at the same time, we’re seeing a lot of online retailers experimenting with physical store presence in fresh and exciting ways.
Whether it’s online or mobile, there are multiple ways to buy in this world and this is only continuing to proliferate. As a result, I think the idea of considering retail solely as a source of revenue needs to be questioned a little bit.
Right now, as the different ways of buying are proliferating, consumers are amazingly savvy, skeptical, aware, and seeking truth and authenticity. They’re asking brands and the retailers to not only deliver great products, but to do it in a way that’s socially responsible, to make sure that their supply chain aligns with their marketing message, and ultimately to ensure that all of these pieces coming together and not in conflict with each other.
I still believe in the retail store, the physicality of it, and the human interaction that it fosters, and at the end of the day it is still such an important proving ground for brands to be able to not only talk to customers, but demonstrate a really compelling story through real, live business practices that manifest in the store.
What kind of experience might physical stores offer consumers going forward?
I think there are a lot of rich and interesting explorations around technology enabled experiences that can make shopping more personalized. I think it’s valid and I think that’s interesting. For us, something that’s more interesting is understanding the factors that influence our own shopping experience and noting how that’s changing. One of the most compelling patterns we see is the importance of the owner, their influence and role, in the shopping journey. The owner, meaning, someone who’s already made the purchase.
I think a lot of retailers are starting to think about their customers as owners, developing ways to ensure owners are deriving value and enjoyment out of their purchase, and therefore, a connection to the brand in a sustaining way. That ownership experience is something that we’re really excited about right now. Owners yield a lot of influence on purchase decisions for shoppers. It feels like a great opportunity to have more impact on the shopping journey.
Is this evolving relationship enabled through tech in some ways?
I think it has less to do with technology and more about considering new ways of approaching loyalty. Loyalty less as something that’s transactional, racking up points and the like. Loyalty less as creating incentives for people who’ve bought in the past to buy more. Loyalty more in the sense of getting people who actually demonstrate interest and engagement in a brand to participate in new experiences in the store.
It’s not about luring people back to the store to buy more, but luring them back to the store because there are really interesting things that they can learn about their products. Perhaps there are experiences they can have with their products at the store that they can’t have at home. Or perhaps there are people that they can meet who can inspire them to actually use that product in completely new, interesting and surprising ways that are just really stimulating and personally inspiring. Perhaps you can draw owners back into the store because you value the level of engagement that they have with the brand and you want to reward that with some really interesting insider experience that you’re delivering for them.
For me, I think store associates are windows into an organization’s culture or a brand’s culture. I do think the service experience and the human experience in a store or in a retail setting is one of the most strategic and critical moments of interaction that you can find.
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