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Future is back to basics

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Shopping is now as easy as pushing laptop or smartphone buttons, so retailers must up their offerings to stay competitive

Today’s consumers have a world of shopping at their fingertips, and if retailers want to satisfy them they need to go back to basics.

Ultimately, retailers need to provide their customers with more than just products, says retail futurist Howard Saunders.

The 22and5 founder, who recently addressed the 21st annual congress of the South African Council of Shopping Centres, says retailers need to evolve and use technology to their advantage, and better understand their customers and what they need in the current trend of personalisation, or what some call the “Me Age”.

“The most important thing is to go back to basics, understand how you can really connect with your customer, stop thinking about product and think about the communities you cater to, and create engaging spaces where people can connect and socialise.”

Saunders says brands have the opportunity to become even more innovative with their interaction and offering to their customers by providing social locations in-store and brand pause spaces. Stores can uplift the customer experience and have customers “fall in love” with them.

A good example, he says, is the New York Samsung Experience Store which has a glassy, multi-level complex with event space, a virtual-reality rollercoaster and a coffee bar stocked with multiple artisan roasters and a rotating array of small bites. This store “bursts at the seams with the amount of in-store customer experience offerings, something now of greater importance than product”.

Painting the future as one with robotics, big data, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, driverless cars and facial recognition software, Saunders says technology is a tool that has helped companies connect, and will continue to do so. But, from a personalisation view, it is important they build trust and loyalty.

Technology such as smartphones has facilitated the rise of bespoke customised products, and therefore technology becomes a key component to better cater for your customer through the access of information, including the facilitation of ease and convenience.

“As a retail futurist I encourage my clients to take a fresh look at what they do and what they really stand for. Business is often too busy to pause and think. You have to force these things. I try to unravel the meanings behind the things we buy: why our aspirations shift and how the future is likely to change the way we behave.

“I believe shopping is not only the engine of our economy, it’s the foundation of a thriving community. This isn’t some business to business thing, this is life.”

He says four things for retailers to consider are:

1 Encourage creativity in shopping centres through flexible leases and pop-up stores.

2 Look into symbiotic leasing. Brands like Nike and Adidas are now contemplating incorporating artisan coffee shops in store.

3 With the rise of artificial intelligence, make people feel more connected.

4. Stay abreast of smartphone development and usage potential for an even greater source of data.

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