Earlier this month, WPP’s Global Retail Forum brought together leaders and influencers throughout the world of retail for two days of panels and presentations on the rapidly changing world of retail. Among the themes that were consistently prevalent throughout were technology and its impact on retail, the evolving attitudes and state of the consumer, and the importance of content. Here are our views on these main themes and the impact they can have for brands across retail.
Convergence of tech and retail
While the retail industry has always invoked thoughts of the brick-and-mortar store, technology has always been an important tool in the industry. Retail companies have always adopted new technologies and/or created them to solve problems. Given today’s digital landscape, retailers are going to continue to lean on and utilize technology to better change their businesses. Jon Bird, Global Managing Director at Labstore, spoke about the many inventions and advancements in technology that will change the future of retail. A common theme during his presentation was the physical store taking on more and more digital characteristics, in many ways transitioning into a more web-like experience. Customization is popular these days, and retail stores—like Converse in San Francisco—are beginning to leverage 3D printing technology to fill this need.
Of course, the retail experience is continuing to grow out and away from the physical storefront and augmented reality is a possible new frontier for retailers to widen their digital presence. People have long been able to shop remotely, but there’s no substitute for truly interacting with a product. Images and peer reviews don’t hold a candle to the potential that augmented reality could have if retailers hone this technology the right way. In all of these cases where technology can improve retailers’ offerings, the technology cannot be just for technology’s sake. It must help tell the brand story and increase operational efficiency.
The shifting role of the consumer
If technological advancements are one of the new frontiers for retailers, a shifting consumer base represents one of the challenges on the road ahead. Today, the consumer is growing ever more powerful than ever before. Consumer-generated content on social media is incredibly popular, and these superfan-like followings present an opportunity for retailers. Target has been successful in leveraging social media influencers; they partnered with three influential Pinterest users and let them design collections for Target, items from which were available to purchase straight through Pinterest. Cross-platform, omnichannel strategy is a must for brands in the digital age.
Another way consumers have evolved is their expectations of brands. And we’re not talking about providing a reliable good or service. That’s always been the case and remains true, but consumers of today have a heightened social conscience. They hold brands to a high standard of transparency and to have a purpose beyond simply hitting their numbers. Trish Wheaton, President of INSPIRE, coined the term “Generation World” to describe this new, connected, eco-aware consumer who loves to shop and is a transmitter of culture. These consumers are always sharing their experiences—both good and bad—and have been shown to pay more for social-conscious brands that contribute to their local community.
A strong theme throughout the Global Retail Forum was understanding the shopper, and the difference between the shopper and the consumer. Jessica Ellison, Global Director of Commercial Leadership for Coca-Cola in Latin America touched on these differences and why it’s crucial for brands to understand the differing mindsets. Sprite’s target market, the consumer, is 18-29 year old males. But often times, the shopper is “Mom”. In this case, shopper marketers need to think about what’s important to the shopper, even if the eventual consumer is going to be somebody different. The core consumer marketing campaign also needs to fulfill the needs of the shopper.
And finally, content. You can’t go anywhere without hearing that word, and a retail forum is no exception. In today’s omnichannel world, content is as important to retailers as it is to publishers. Brands need to be engaging with their customers in creative ways, and this is often achievable through digital, contextually-relevant content. This can be created by the brand, or from influencers on social media; Claire Capeci, Global President-Retail for JWT mentioned how a tweet from Kendall Jenner about Estée Lauder products can do wonders more than the brand could posting its own ad featuring Jenner.
Jon Gittings Global Business Development Strategy Officer, MediaCom, cautioned against brands trying to create too much content themselves at the risk of giving up the brand voice. Gittings said that it’s better to find people who already doing interesting things and creating content organically, and for brands to form partnerships with these people. The brand then can elevate the content on behalf of the creator. The key, as with all content today, is that it remains relevant to the consumer.