One-on-one experiences are the key

Experiential design to create wow brand experiences was a major focus area at the Middle East Retail Forum (MRF) 2014. Moderated by Shaily Chopra, business journalist and news anchor, the panelists included Sam Whittam, CEO, Adventure HQ; Alasdair Lennox, executive creative director for EMEA, Fitch; Davide Padoa, CEO, Design International; and Preetam Daniel, director – India and Southeast Asia, IMAX.

Retailers need to ’wow’ shoppers with a pleasurable and meaningful shopping experience that offers the right products and services at the right price points. That’s a given. But Davide Padoa, CEO of Design International, feels the experience must be tailored to every single individual shopper. Also, it must be a multi-sensory experience that engages all five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste – and packages value-added services such as personalised products, advice and after-sale services.

“Customers are a large group of differentiated individuals. That’s the reality. Each of these individuals can live the experience personally, or with their friends, or with a group of people close to them, or even with a group they don’t know but have met while living the experience. To be more specific, the best experience is delivered on such a multi-layered level,” Padoa elaborates.

“Yes, data capture is pretty cool and we can utilise it to the best of our ability. But the end result is to have a one-on-one experience with our customers,” agrees Sam Whittam, CEO of Adventure HQ. However, he cautions against over design or over experience, believing it can take away from the simple pleasure of living a great experience within a business or retail environment.

Retailers also agree that physical stores need to co-exist with a digital presence in today’s age to enhance the customer experience. “At Fitch, we’re all about sharing experiences, which is the omni-channel goal – something every brand and retailer works their way towards,” avers Alasdair Lennox, executive creative director for EMEA, Fitch.

“A great retail experience combines the physical experience we have in a store with the digital experience … and the human experience with the staff. The physical is what the architects and interior designers achieve, which is to make the store, its retail fixtures, products and services look awesome. You need to build on that. The emphasis now is on training staff to become brand ambassadors. They can then tell stories to make the physical environment, products and services come to life and boost sales. That’s what my sales team does – combine the physical, human and digital to create the experience,” he adds.

IMAX thinks a bit differently, says Preetam Daniel, director-India and South East Asia, IMAX. The brand focuses on two senses above all else – sight and sound. “In our space, sight and sound play a vital role since viewing and hearing are what differentiate the cinematic experience for the customer. We look at how we can enhance this experience. We look at how technology can make for sharper images, non-jarring sounds and improve the acoustics,” he explains.

For Padoa, the experience is not just about reaching a destination; it’s the journey to reach the goal that’s the point of interest. “Experience generates emotions, so you feel excited and fulfilled when you make the purchase. Experience generates memory, so you have a story to tell. But experience is itself generated by desire so it’s the journey that equates to the story. So, if you want to have a great experience you need to have a great story, which means a great journey,” he argues.

“You have to keep this in mind – whether it’s a brick-and-mortar store or an online one. You could be sitting at a great location and working while sipping a coffee – that’s an experience. Or you could zoom into a Gucci or Burberry bag, study the details of its pattern and compare it to what a magazine write-up has to say, or check out which celebrity carries the bag. That’s also an exciting experience. So, I guess it’s the mixture of the two that can give great insights into enhancing the experience,” Padoa sums up.

For Whittam, creating the ‘wow’ experience means being aware of customer psychology and needs. “Adventure HQ is a homegrown brand built by a bunch of retailers. We didn’t engage with a design company or a branding company. We developed the brand in-house, by ourselves.

“We are passionate about our product and understand the psychology of our customers. Communicating the story of this journey and translating it into a physical space was quite easy for us. And we’re continuing that story online. We don’t call our people our staff but our store team. They’re our ambassadors. They’re our best marketing tools,” Whittam says.

Daniel emphasises the need to connect with consumers while telling the story of a brand and bringing the experience of the journey closer to the customer. “A lot of shopping is done from the couch. We say don’t do that, come out and experience something you cannot watch at home. We want to create a space where you come out, watch and create,” he says.

The panelists see the revenue input for creating the brand experience as an investment. “If you spend wisely, it’s an investment that pays, not a cost centre. If you’re not getting return on investment in telling your story, it means there’s a crack in your story. Or you’re not communicating your story correctly to people who then tell it to others,’ Whittam points out.

Daniel says another aspect to enhance the customer experience is to immediately address issues a customer may face while exploring a brand. Also important is to ensure that those who experience a brand go out and retell the story of the brand, so retailers need to remain active on social media.

The panelists offered some examples of brands that excel in creating customer experiences. “IKEA is an awesome brand that has married everyday price and high design – two things that used to be apart, which they have brought together,” says Lennox.

“They totally understand how consumers shop today. They understand that on different days, I can shop with a very different mindset. One day I may go to their store with a set idea of what I want and I will find that particular product. Or another day I might go there planning to buy something out of a category of products, and I have enough choice offered. Or if I go there just to explore, I will get my idea of the next thing I wish to buy,” he elaborates.

“Apple is another brand that has transformed the product into a lifestyle and everybody is buying into the brand,” adds Padoa.

Whittam sees the homegrown THE One as a brand that emulates IKEA, Nike and Apple by communicating its message very well while also having a great corporate social responsibility component.

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