• Play Retail Ltd.

The convergence of physical and online retail for cognitive shift

Creating a connection through engaging the senses is still an experience which can only be had in real-life. Despite the popularity of virtual and augmented reality, the smell of bakery still has the simple power to make you hungry in a way that a banner ad never will. This engagement is why physical retail continues to hold its ground, even as the popularity of on-line retail has boomed. But the face of physical retail has been forced to adapt to compete in this changing landscape, striving to create more meaningful connections by engaging customers on both physical and cognitive levels.

A physical retail environment which stimulates across these multi levels, will foster a deeper connection between brand and product through association to positive, pleasurable and even nostalgic feelings. You only have to walk past an Apple Store to understand that customers are no longer satisfied with walking into a store, picking up a product, paying and leaving – they can do this online. Customers are looking for something extra which delivers an element of experience, along with fulfilling their need; a combination of entertainment and retail.

Take House of Vans in London for example, with its skater and BMX track, music, film, food and social space, the brand has created an immersive environment which seamlessly connects its ‘off the wall’ brand architecture and products with its customers emotions. The space provokes customers to create and recall memories, which feed their warmth towards the brand and create a cognitive attachment as well as delivering an authentic experience by engaging the senses. Similarly, consider that no-one needs to visit the shopping centre or high street anymore, but that they are for the experience and the opportunity to have their senses engaged. Never is this more apparent that in successful flagship stores, such as the M&M store, Nike’s New York House of Innovation, and the enduringly traditional Hamley’s. Each of these environments is a destination in its’ own right, delivering a unique experience over and above a traditional shop function, which helps customers create memories and build connections with the brands and locations on a cognitive level.

At Play we would argue that every retail environment presents the opportunity to foster these connections, not just in flagship environments. But despite these opportunities, unless physical retailers can harness technology effectively, online retailers will continue to gain ground because of one thing: data. It is much easier for online retailers to access a wealth of data to help them understand their customers on a deeper level, whilst building a vibrant picture of their customer demographic enabling them to customise their offerings.

To compete with this level of personalisation brands must seek to create retail environments which not only engage, but deliver the sense of instantaneous understanding in order to create an authentic connection on a cognitive level. This can be delivered in a multitude of different, creative ways, from as simple as the personalised attention of the shop floor staff, through to unique sensory experiences, or by tailored recommendations and trial.

One successful, and increasingly popular, method is the creation a physical experience that people instinctively want to share online and, by doing so, amplify it within their own social communities. This could be be as simple as a selfie experience, which helps friends build lasting warm memories connected to the brand, thus creating the desired cognitive shift whilst contributing to the brands understanding of the customer.

Ultimately, to build a lasting, multi-level connection in physical retail, customers must be made to feel they are in the right place at the right time. As this is the only way to compete with the persistence of online retailers who are demonstrating this to customers this at every opportunity, through personalised recommendations, community rewards and unique discount codes.