The Phygital Age

Precious Osoba
Feb 24, 2020 · 7 min read

Exploring how digital brands are experimenting with physical spaces to create seamless phygital experiences.

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The internet has brought about change for every business sector, from magazines discontinuing print to go digital, to retailers dissolving their physical presence to pursue e-commerce. Many brands have used the internet to accommodate new consumer preferences, cut costs and to operate more efficiently. However, regardless of furthering digital technology there are aspects of the physical environment that are not present in the digital realm, yet have fundamental impacts on experiences and outcomes. Many brands who operate solely online have taken advantage of various digital marketing techniques in order to capture the full potential of their audiences, social media marketing in particular has played a big role in fostering brand communities. Although having a website is crucial many brands tailor content to social media platforms such as Instagram and focus their strategy around the platform from which they receive the most engagement.

Online-first brands have harnessed strong digital communities from which their value often yields visible results reflected in profit, engagement, subscriptions and other forms of measure. It is apparent that having an online presence might not be enough to fully penetrate the emotional minds of their consumers, the lack of physical brand touch-points often means that digital brands can only provide limited experiences for their consumers. Whereas, physical experiences are often curated in order to communicate in a sensory manner that will generate memorable emotional responses. Digital brands can therefore lack aspects of emotional leverage and rely heavily on content marketing to retain their audience, which is highly competitive as consumers face content saturation that can cause avoidance.

Humans are social beings therefore IRL experiences could arguably never be completely replaced by virtual/ digital interactions, therefore retail stores are here to stay. However, must continuously adapt to accommodate technological advancements and ever-changing consumer behaviour by transcending into the phygital space.

Streetwear brands have become proficient at maintaining a multi-channel brand environment, building highly engaged online presences and cult followings that transpire into offline meet-ups are a core element of this strategy. With Sebastian Manes at the forefront of a culture of innovation at Selfridges, the department store has moulded its retail efforts to accommodate younger audiences, using streetwear tactics to build a community driven strategy. The retail revamp is most evident in the menswear department, where in 2018 we saw the installation of a skateboard park and the multi-channel introduction of ‘The Yellow Drop’, an instagram page dedicated to keeping people in the loop with in-store events, exclusive streetwear drops and lifestyle content. The Yellow Drop events entailed collaborations from established and upcoming streetwear brands who were given the opportunity to sell their clothes in the department store and throw events on the shop floor, this fosters organic engagement between the iconic store and the streetwear community.

The following case studies explore how Selfridges has integrated online-first brands into its retail strategy to create the department store of the future, combining physical pop-up retail with digital brands and communities to curate engaging phygital activations.

As gen-z display increasingly ethical consumption behaviours to reflect their heightened awareness of environmental issues, alternative ways of shopping powered by tech will combat fast fashion and become prevalent in the near future. Depop, a digital-first marketplace start-up targeted at gen-z appeared in Selfridges in 2019 for a period of 3 months. The resale platform launched its pop-up with an in-store event attended by members of its online community and local opinion leaders. The pop-up was comprised of a curated space that featured items from a variation of their top sellers that were also shoppable via the Selfridges website, arcade games and interactive displays were also incorporated into the pop-up space.

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Image via Selfridges

The social shopping platform has community centred values that social currency thrives within, the IRL pop-up allowed members of the community to interact with each other and experience the brand essence offline. With reference to Ana Andjelic, it can be understood that Depop and the platform’s users are contributing to a modern aspiration economy whereby the members of its community convey their social status within culture, ethics, social influence and environmentalism. Signalling their status by choosing to shop via resale platforms, thrifting and upselling pre-owned items. The pop-up therefore provided users with a chance to enhance their social status by attending and socialising with other users of the app, inducing them with FOMO by limiting the time frame and alternating the sellers each week.

Instagram integrated social commerce into the social networking platform in 2019, allowing consumers to fulfil their needs of instant gratification by purchasing products as soon as they were seen on their feed. With knowledge of the great influence the social media platform has on consumer behaviour, they tested their offline presence with a pop-up in Selfridges in 2019. The space was curated by Instagram’s very own Eva Chen, who picked a series of instagram born brands to appear in the pop-up for a period of 10 days. The pop-up was comprised of clothing, jewellery, beauty and homeware brands and tech integration occurred in an interactive digital window display by 3D artist Antoni Tudisco.

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With the introduction of social commerce being fairly new to the platform, the pop-up store collaboration could positively impact trust via associating the Instagram-born brands with a long established and credible brand, that is Selfridges. Featuring the Instagram brands in the Selfridges pop-up reassures consumers of the quality of the products and builds trust with the offline service quality, that will then transpire online. The pop-up created an integrated shopping experience by allowing consumers to experience Instagram shopping in real life, this provided an opportunity for consumers to fulfil social needs by visiting the space decorated with iridescent cubes to capture and share content online. The platform itself is grounded in selfie-culture and consumers strive to create an enhanced digital version of themselves online under the guidance of celebrities and influencers who have created their own ideal online personas.

The Co. Lab was a pop-up collaboration between Selfridges and Highsnobiety, a digital media authority that pioneers in streetwear and culture. The pop-up boasted a variety of features including, a cafe, a bookstore, a huge yellow slide, and exclusive merchandise featuring collaborations with Colette, Prada, Maison Margiela and more. The pop-up was creative and thoughtfully curated, paying homage to Parisian concept store Colette with a documentary screened in Selfridges’ newly opened cinema. It also incorporated a cafe that served coffee from a company that supports social justice by employing ex-offenders. The cinematic, culinary and creative experience provided an immersive environment for attendees to entertain themselves, meet other members of their online community and capture content to feed their digital persona’s.

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The collaboration explored the behavioural attributes of the modern day consumer, exhibiting a display of status symbols that are embedded in morals, values and ethics. The bookstore signalled a consumer that values knowledge, art and literature, while the coffee shop was an indication of a consumer who’s purchase behaviours are a reflection of their social beliefs and moral obligations. The pop-up acted as a social hub bringing the brand community together to interact on the basis of their shared interest in fashion, making the Colette collaboration a nostalgic and iconic aspect of the pop-up intended to inspire emotion.

Pop-ups within an established store are often a collaborative effort that is beneficial for both parties, in this case Selfridges is fostering a strategic appeal to younger consumers by partnering with digital brands that are culturally relevant and convey social currency. Within the exchange the digital brands will be able to test their offline presence in a trusted and recognised environment, enabling the attendees from their communities to engage in a memorable emotional experience, consume tangible goods and enhance their social media persona’s by sharing lifestyle content.

As instability continues to plague the brick-and-mortar retail environment, physical stores will continue to partner with digital brands to continue a culture of innovation, creativity and collaboration. The partnerships will ultimately entail an embodiment of the modern aspiration economy, providing attendees with the opportunity to enhance their digital presence with exclusive merchandise, photo opportunities and a chance to integrate with other members of their community.

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