Retailers, Let’s Redefine ‘Better’

We’ve read the writing on the close-out signs: every company is worried about the uncertain future of retail. Some blame it on the rise of e-commerce, some blame it on changing demographics, but the reality is that consumers have acquired the power to take control of their shopping experience. They have more information about retailers and products, they’re harnessing new channels for voicing feedback, and they’re quick to take their business elsewhere if they’re not heard.

And yet, despite this power shift, there are shoppers who crowd Soho sidewalks for merch drops. Thirty-nine million U.S. shoppers are inviting retail assistants into their homes. Retail is surviving, and for some extraordinary brands, thriving beyond capacity.

The difference between winning and losing in retail, we believe, is redefining better. Better means focusing on the humanity and fun of shopping rather than channeling all of your innovation behind the scenes in targeting, website redesigns, and point of sale, all in the interest of “optimization” and “efficiency.” It means challenging your foundational approaches to personalization, community building, and loyalty instead of gratuitously checking the boxes of “virtual try-on,” “recommendation engines,” and “chatbots.”

At W+K Lodge, we’re passionate about retail because it’s a brand’s ultimate engagement with the consumer. Real retail innovation requires an acute understanding of an audience, a mastery of emerging tools and platforms, and a damn good creative idea. An appropriate challenge indeed.

We see tremendous promise in applying the tools and techniques of AI, personalization, and mixed reality in order to create “better retail.” But before we can really explore these territories, we need to clear the air and dismiss some myths about how to compete in retail today…

Great brand stories will get a customer’s foot in your door. As part of Wieden+Kennedy, we have some experience telling those. But it’s outstanding and useful brand behavior, demonstrated throughout the actual shopping journey, that will turn a customer into an advocate and secure their sale time and time again.

At its best, exceptional retail takes the time to get to know, interact with, and delight the customer. This formula holds up across the retail spectrum — whether it’s a fulfillment-driven brand like Amazon offering to reorder detergent right before you run out, or a high-touch boutique like Rent the Runway recommending gowns certain to make you feel beautiful in your own skin. Delightful behavior wins at all price points, and extends to all points of the user journey.

We’re at a tipping point in retail because the ability for brands to demonstrate delightful behavior can now scale. The crescendo of consumer-facing technology — good consumer-facing technology, that works and isn’t glitchy, that actually makes us say “wow” — has reached mass availability for implementation across our stores and digital platforms.

Yet, for all the new gadget magic, retail is not a tech free-for-all. Technology, when applied without creativity and consideration of real consumer needs or wants, can overwhelm, intimidate, or most likely be completely ignored. Technology in the retail space must demonstrate utility for the shopper, benefit to the business, and, certainly not least, an accurate representation of the brand.

Doing our best work in retail means fundamentally understanding a brand and applying the right technology to build experiences that give the retailer an emotional moment within a transactional journey.

Join us as we share our thoughts, experiments, rants, failures, and successes within the new frontiers in retail. In this Frontiers: Retail series, we’ll show how retail AI can be joyful rather than terrifying, introduce you to robots who are in-aisle friends not foes, explain why stores can be moments rather than real estate, and prove that there has never been a better time for a retail revolution.

Illustration by Nick Liefhebber.