The Role of Retail in the Consumerverse

The Role of Retail in the Consumerverse

By Martin Fawcett, agency services director at 100% Group

Every minute of our lives is now an opportunity to buy. Today, we are surrounded by a diverse web of touchpoints that are available to find – and that find us – where we are just one click away from a purchase. From the devices in our pockets, to the social media apps we use, to the websites we browse, to the stores we visit, no longer are we restricted by the borders of retail channels to shop.


What actually is the consumerverse?

Consumers are actively looking for the connectivity and availability of brands in the environments they choose to be in, whilst brands are harnessing different types of technology to enter environments that they have not yet been able to access. This ‘consumerverse’ is the driving force that enables shoppers to be more powerful and brands to be more accessible.


Let’s say, for example, you are searching for a product online. The likelihood is that similar adverts will then appear on other channels such as your social media accounts – before you know it, you will be sent personalised offers related to the items you browsed by the brands you have chosen to look at (thanks Google). This has resulted in consumers expecting personalisation at lightning speed and in response, brands are now investing in technology such as AI to better connect to potential customers and align to their purchasing intent in real time.


In short, the consumerverse is driven by the consumers and tech innovators as brands can only cater for a shopper’s unique tastes and requirements if an individual inputs e.g., searching for a product, or interacting with specific touch points. This starts to build up a picture of the person, who they are, what they want, and what their interests are. It’s a two-way dialogue! It’s the new marketing goldrush!


The role of physical retail

Imagine the consumerverse as a 1000-piece jigsaw; physical retail has its own piece that fits into the picture. Whilst traditional elements still play an enormous role in this process, from the retail experience to brand and product visibility, through to being inspired by things that you wouldn’t stumble across in other channels, it’s also digitising itself. This means that brands need to start experimenting with all pieces of the jigsaw and see how they can fit.


We’re constantly seeing brief after brief by brands who want to use the same content across multiple touch points and the physical retail environment is just one of the places they want to do this. This could include enabling consumers to connect to social media content whilst physically handling a product or using voice recognition on shelves and fixtures, at the same time as using the internet to draw out content which deepens the immersive context.


Ultimately, the physical retail space is about delivering an experience that you won’t see anywhere else and providing shoppers with the ability to explore products they might want to buy in the ‘flesh’. Of course, there’s a range of factors that motivate consumers to shop in-store but it’s a fundamental part of the consumerverse and is constantly evolving to embrace innovative tech and meet the needs of the modern shopper.


Importantly, traditional retail is still important in the age of ecommerce. Whilst online shopping has experienced significant levels of growth over the past decade, it’s previous strengths  offer shoppers convenience rather than experience. This is evolving too as efforts to incorporate different technology onto to websites to improve this (think about marketplaces like Amazon that allow customers to view furniture in their homes before making a purchase), it still fall short and struggles to compete with the experience offered by physical stores. The reality is that e-commerce is a two-dimensional space and there is only so much information that can be served to a shopper at one time whereas physical retail provides more spontaneity and inspiration and is much more immersive. In today’s consumerverse, e-commerce and physical retail will work together to give shoppers more for their money. Brands that don’t invest in both risk becoming less relevant.


Challenges and considerations

When it comes to connecting the physical space with the digital space, there are inevitable challenges. It’s not easy to make retail Wi-Fi enabled without spending a considerable amount of money and ensuring the infrastructure is in place to run it. You will often find that brands will invest in a piece of technology such as a digital screen and after one month it will start to fail. This is then left collecting dust as they don’t understand the value of repairing it. Part of this misunderstanding is because it can be difficult to place a commercial value on its impact and there hasn’t been enough research and measurement done to present a strong enough business case. Spend is also restricted due to a lack of understanding and experience by the C-suite on the potential for physical retail to become digitised.


To overcome this shortfall on information, a more cognitive approach is needed to understand how shoppers behave in-store. Brands need to know their shoppers wants and motivations. When it comes to global brands that are installing retail marketing in multiple countries, many use a one-size-fits-all approach to achieve consistency. Yet, it fails to account for complexities surrounding different cultures, ethnicities, theologies etc. For example, different colours may have different meanings, fixtures might need to be higher or lower depending on average consumer height, and some countries don’t allow for female hair or faces to be shown. Additionally, there are scenarios where a brand has limited creativity to cause least offence across all markets but have not done enough research into how they can make their marketing more unique and inspiring.


The future of retail in the consumerverse

As the consumerverse evolves, technology needs to become more cost effective and less complicated to make it easier for brands to deploy and maintain. This will result in a wave of brands becoming more creative with their content and force more to connect the physical with the digital. It’s like learning how to ride a bike and then doing all the tricks after. Once this happens, the in-store experience will become more immersive, meaning more data and feedback is collected from the consumer, helping to build a more informed and insightful picture of shoppers. Finally, as we see a rise of fake information and artificial marketing intelligence, the validity of brands will start to be called into question. Brands will have to become more physical to be believable and offer multiple touch points to their customers so they know what they are interacting with is real.


In a world where the consumer has the power to choose what they are purchasing and where from, brands must adapt and evolve to play their part in the consumerverse.

Other relevant articles