Building an authentic retail brand in an age of disruption

automationBy Danielle Barclay, managing director brand experience, Designworks Group.

Living in an age of constant change with rapid technology advances, not only influences how we interact with our devices, but with everything and everyone around us.

Sure, technology is helping to make our busy lives more efficient, but with all this innovation comes some downsides. We’re seeing consumers’ attention spans becoming shorter while expectations of brands become greater and our behaviour as human beings becoming more and more unpredictable.

While digital remains a strong force for brands to reach consumers, the answer is not always a digital one. In fact some would argue as human beings the more we become ‘digitised’, the more we crave the physical interactions with brands now more than ever before.

So, beyond the rapid development of robotics, artificial intelligence and mixed-reality escapism, the next evolution on the horizon has to be more sensorial experiences. The rise of innovations such as haptic technology to mimic sensory connection, is a direct nod to the need for more ’real’ interactions. Human beings have five senses and still want to feel in all dimensions.

That’s what I love about spatial design, it enables brands to explore all senses and connect directly with customers in a physical and tangible way.

But to create memorable, authentic and desirable experiences as brands we need to understand who we are designing for. You simply can’t get away with assumptions and boardroom hypotheses anymore when it comes to understanding what customers want.

Most humans are empathetic and curious and they want that from the brands they’re loyal to. They also need to find ways to connect to them in an emotional and visceral way. A great customer experience in today’s world depends heavily on how well a company can relate to a customer on an emotional level and translate that into an experience which connects on a physical and emotional level.

In essence, you can’t beat real human connection that changes the way you feel.

We recently worked with New Zealand grocery retailer Foodstuffs as they embarked on a journey to develop a new kind of supermarket for the rapidly changing Auckland market.

After the first round of customer research it became clear there was a much bigger opportunity to meet evolving shopper needs with a category changing experience.

We knew shopper missions were changing from the traditional large trolley shops to the frequent smaller basket shops but it was only through immersing ourselves in the customers’ world and listening to what customers really wanted that we were able to develop a new proposition to truly resonate.

But this level of change doesn’t happen easily, it requires businesses to challenge what they have always known and embrace new ways which can be very scary and even harder to quantify.

Building a prototype store allowed us to test real time reactions to some of our ideas for new layouts and the product offer. This proved to be an invaluable tool in building confidence in the concept and also iron out the important operational changes that needed to accompany any new concept.

The process was a way for us to involve customers in the creation of a new brand, capturing their reactions to guide the ideal experience, while paying attention to how people connect on a physical and sensory level.

This new shopping experience launched with its first pilot store last month in Auckland, embracing the concept of putting fresh meals at the heart of the experience drawing inspiration from hospitality as well as grocery experiences to create something new and exciting for shoppers.

Early signs are that customers are responding well to the new concept, and in a sense, it shows us that brands moving forward need to not only feel more human but be created in a more human way.

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