NRFtech 2016 | The Experience Economy

In a world of rapidly changing consumer expectations, radical innovations, and new business models – and humans with attention spans shorter than goldfish – retail executives are tasked with the challenge of staying relevant. The NRFtech 2016 summit in San Diego lived up to its reputation for being a leader in innovation. Below are a few of my highlights.

Monolithic brands undermine individualism. The mazes of the modern world are creating life in a bubble.

61% of mobile traffic is consumed by five apps – 44% of adults in the US get their news exclusively through Facebook. In this world, how can we encourage people to wander? And as retailers, how can we help people find things they didn’t know they wanted?

NRFtech in San Diego opened with a presentation by Trevor Hardy, CEO of Future Laboratory. Hardy’s solution is a new concept: revelation brands. His argument is that technology is killing our humanity and we need to restore chance, discovery, and serendipity.

Retailers can connect with shoppers in this brave new world utilizing several approaches:

  • Revelation Strategies. SF Moma and their Detour app is a tour that introduces an element of randomness while integrating technology
  • Experience Economy. 40% of millennials prefer to experience a product before buying. As a result, brands are moving away from flagship stores and developing ‘brandship’ stores. Leading digital brands are beginning to recognize the store, whether ecommerce or brick and mortar, as a connection point, not just a place to shop. These retail experiences, like Samsung New York City, are places of learning, not places of transaction.
  • Community Commerce. Google searches with “near me” were up 240% in 2015. As part of this trend, Nike’s store in the Flatbush neighborhood of New York City only employs people staff who live within walking distance of the store. You aren’t shopping at global conglomerate Nike, you are experiencing Nike Flatbush.
  • Explorium Retail. If you’ve heard of outdoor retailer REI’s unique Black Friday campaign, where they closed their stores and told people to go outside instead of shopping, you get the underlying concept of explorium retail. Peak Performance has integrated the concept into their brand experience, but without closing their stores. They opened virtual stores by geofencing iconic destinations, hikes, and trails. To purchase gear from one of those stores, you had to be prepared to catch the sunrise at the top of a mountain peak.
  • Sensory Search. Changing the negative connotation of mindlessness into the expanding possibility of mind wandering will require new approaches. Search startup Metadrift has a new approach to googling the world. By combining video, data visualizations, and augmented/virtual reality they enable you to expand your knowledge and discover things you didn’t know you were looking for.
  • Mood Retail. If we are all running around and have no time for anything, getting people in the mindset to embrace serendipity is a challenge. This is one of the challenges affective computing attempts to address. While we may be far away from emotional robots, some retailers are beginning to experiment with the concept. London-based ecommerce brand Finery brings the notion of mood and compound emotion to the digital shopping experience. Global retailer Uniqlo is using neuroscience to help shoppers find the perfect shirt at their Sydney store.

NRFtech 2016 showed us that time and attention are quickly becoming shoppers’ most precious resources. Experience is becoming brands’ and retailers’ most valuable asset. Successful retail experiences in the next 5 years will focus on increasing surprise and delight: gently guiding people through mazes, employing data to help people wander, and utilizing nonlinear media. The winners will not just fulfill needs in one-click, they will unveil dreams.

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