Cape Town - The future of retail will be all about customer experience - the so-called era of "retailtainment", according to Sean Gallinger, president of Entertainment Retail Enterprises.
"We make retail entertaining," he said at the annual congress of the SA Council of Shopping Centres (SACSC) taking place in Cape Town this week.
Gallinger's company was responsible for the new flagship Nickelodeon store in London.
"Retailtainment has to be an immersive experience (with) the offering of exclusive products. It is surprising and playful entertainment across a store. At the end of the day retail is a process constantly changing to delight the customer."
The congress heard that retailers had to innovative to get millennials, and Generations Zers - or post-millennials - to leave their computers and visit a store to buy something.
International retail futurist Howard Saunders of 22and5 said the global retail industry has experienced a difficult few years.
"Millennials and Generation Z are happy to just sit in their bedrooms and order stuff. You can get everything online now. The world of retail is in flux," said Saunders.
At the same time, however, he noted the trend of giant online companies like Google and Amazon venturing into brick-and-mortar stores.
Amazon has already opened 11 physical bookstores in seven states in the US, with two more set to open soon.
The "Me" age - you watch the guy making stuff
Saunders said the "me" age of shopping started about ten years ago as more and more people were connected via smartphones.
Everyone now wants to be "the centre of the universe" he said, adding that in the "me" age consumers don’t want "ordinary stuff" anymore: they want "the" product, not just "a" product.
At the same time, big retail companies had to contend with the increasing popularity of community markets.
"It is David and Goliath time, folks," Saunders told delegates. Big retail companies are increasingly facing competition from small, passionate artisanal entrepreneurial companies with unique offerings.
"There is an amazing food and beverage revolution going on. The retail industry has to embrace it. What is it about markets? They are not fast paced, there are no long queues. They are 'real'. You watch the guy making stuff. It is not like the food court (at the mall)," said Saunders.
"Consumers want to connect with the guy making their food. They like these little entrepreneurs full of energy and happy to serve them. Consumers are on the edge of town doing stuff with entrepreneurs with energy. Unless retail embraces this trend you are lost."
Another notable retail trend is what Saunders called the rise of the "brand playground".
"Once upon a time, when you wanted stuff you had to go to a store and get the stuff and bring it back home. Now stuff comes to us," he explained.
These "brand playgrounds" are spaces where consumers can interact with a brand. Consumers actually want to "fall in love" with a brand, said Saunders.
"So stores will be dead if they continue just to 'store' things. Consumers do not want to walk around a 'warehouse'. They want a playground. They want to walk around and learn and fall in love," said Saunders.
"It took the digital age to teach us what we want from the real world. We want social spaces, food halls, markets, brand playgrounds and 'the' products. Retail is for communities and retailers have to stop thinking about it as being about 'selling stuff'. Make people feel connected."
The age of data
Saunders said that retailers would not be successful in the future unless they understood the importance of smartphones.
"The history of human evolution, in my view, goes from fire to the wheel to the smartphone. Smartphones are now fundamental," he said.
"Our phones have become the great overlord of data, so the phone is not just a phone anymore. The future for retail is to talk to consumers individually by using data."
He said that smartphones also created opportunities for shops to use data gathered about their consumers to proactively curate offers for them.
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