Retail’s digital revolution

The retail industry is undergoing a digital revolution and causing some disruption for retailers that have traditionally relied on doing business via brick-and-mortar stores. As traditional retailers look for ways to adapt to the online revolution, branding and experiential marketing expert ICON explores what the digital future holds for brick-and-mortar stores.

Mark Savage, Chief Commercial Officer, ICON

Online retail now accounts for roughly 20 per cent of all non-food sales in the UK. While the rate of growth is slowing, many continue to predict online retailers’ domination over brick-and-mortar stores. Although online retailers continue to gain a greater share of the retail market through their ability to offer shoppers speed and convenience, these benefits cannot outweigh the unique experience that physical stores offer. A physical retail presence cannot be replicated online because it enables shoppers to pick up, touch and feel whatever they are looking to purchase, offering a more immersive shopping experience.

There is also the added benefit of learning and being guided through the buying process with the recommendations of knowledgeable sales assistants. As human beings are social animals the most significant advantage that physical retail stores offer is the social experience.

Brick-and-mortar retailers enable people to shop together so they can share their purchasing experiences with friends and family. The development of shopping centres that house an array of shops, restaurants, cinemas, bars and music venues as well as specially designed children’s zones, like Kidzania, have turned physical shopping trips into social occasions.

The socialisation of physical retail experiences gives traditional high street stores an invaluable advantage over their online counterparts. As Mark Savage, Chief Commercial Officer at ICON observes: “The key for retailers is to make it a real experience for their customers. They need to make it engaging, relevant, interesting and thought-provoking”.

Brick-and-mortar retailers can create memorable and enjoyable experiences for their customers by turning their physical spaces into an extension of their brand experience. Traditional retailers can enhance their stores through choosing from a range of options from high-impact graphics to bespoke 3D builds and live and experiential marketing.

Digital branding, covering solutions such as LED screens, augmented reality, virtual reality and ICON’s new meshh technology, which turns static advertising into an interactive channel that can host customised content, is becoming increasingly popular for its visual impact, flexibility and opportunities for social media interaction.

The trend towards using digital technologies to enrich physical shopping experiences is becoming commonplace and will continue. However, ICON’s Mark Savage believes that this growing trend should be treated with caution in order to ensure that brands are choosing solutions that are the most appropriate and effective.

“We’ve found that brands are still cost conscious and shouldn’t be investing in technology for the sake of technology,” he says. “The fundamentals of communications will always apply. Here at ICON it’s still about understanding what’s best for the brand and the campaign, then agreeing an appropriate design and delivery solution whether its graphics, experiential or digital branding.”

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