Bringing a sense of theatre back to retailing: Egremont Group offers customer engagement lessons from the NRF

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By Andy Morris, head of retail, Egremont Group

Morris: retail theatre is key for customer engagement

Walking around the NRF this year it was difficult not to be impressed by the huge array of technology on display. From AI, to VR headsets, to companies promising to 3D print ‘concept fashion items’. Scratch the surface though and what really stood-out in this year’s show were the retailers who have already embedded this technology into their everyday offering.

Nordstrom suppliers, for example demonstrated how Nordstrom advertise shoes that don’t actually exist yet – placing control firmly in the hands of the customer and giving them a choice of thousands of shoes which they can make to order. A great example of how technology can be used as an enabler for immediate and personalised retail. New and exciting ways are being developed to understand and build a relationship with an empowered customer giving them exactly what they need when and how they want it.

This new breed of ‘joined-up’ retailing was demonstrated perfectly in the return of the store as ‘theatre’ with a sense of Place, Passion and Personality. Of the businesses showcasing their wares at the NRF, those that stood out were the ones where the suits and ties had been ditched in favour of a ‘brand ambassador’ sales force of casually dressed aspirational evangelists delivering a believable narrative to customers.

Established retailers and new entrants alike are investing in physical stores as a way to surprise and delight their customers. The stakes are high, and a physical presence is going to have be so much more than just a building with staff in it if it is to compete against disruptive influences. When consumers have so much choice about the type of interaction they have with retailers, and such high expectations, the retailer will have to work even harder to engage them. By embracing social, viral and organic marketing retailers at the NRF showed how they are striving to create a personal experience that will lead to a sense of belonging for their customers.

Sundance are leading the way in this area and stood out for the store experience they have created which tells a story to its customers, wow-ing them with a sense of discovery, authenticity of product and delight in what they find. Their passionate store ambassadors have deep product knowledge that creates a loyalty beyond the commercial transaction. Customers explain “When I go into a Sundance store I am engaged in the story behind what I am buying which creates a personal connection not only to the product, but to the store itself. It is an emotional experience turning a customer like me, into a loyal follower.”

Similarly Fleurty Girl in New Orleans creates a wonderful sense of fun and Place – helping customers to feel connected to their city – and the provenance of their purchases.

It is this physical manifestation of brand aspirations that made the NRF interesting. With technology moving faster than many organisations can process one of the biggest retail challenges for established players is “how can I mobilise my legacy teams to adopt and bring new technology to life in a way that really puts on a great show to our customers?”

Successful retailers are embracing this challenge and understand that the all important key to creating this engagement is to take a business wide approach. It’s not enough to only focus on the IT – everyone from the shopfloor to the warehouse team needs to be motivated to create that unique experience. Just as Sundance managed to demonstrate so well in their store experience, the whole team are pulling together to deliver the same narrative. It is about harnessing the very best technology across the business to create the sense of ‘place, passion and personality’. A truly successful model is one where people and technology work together both in front of the customer to create the ‘theatre’ in store and behind the scenes, across all the retailing channels.

The honest answer is that all of the technology in the world will fail if it isn’t used in a relevant and engaging way by people with passion for what they’re doing and a sense of purpose.