by Michelle Hespe
At the 2017 International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago, the four Expert Jurors of the IHA Global Innovation Awards (gia) – Wolfgang Gruschwitz, Scott Kohno, Henrik Peter Reisby Nielsen and Anne Kong – revealed the “Top Retail Trends for Consumer Engagement.”
The key message from the Expert Jurors was: “Nothing is more important than engaging with your customers. You need to connect to the customer on an emotional level.”
Technological developments and many other societal changes have transformed business and the world as we know it, and thus, the ways and means of engagement have changed. However now, more than ever, people want to be connected to something bigger than their own lives, and whether they realize it or not, they crave engagement. As a retailer, if you don’t engage with your potential and current customers, another retailer will.
“There will always be a David and Goliath situation in retail. One year it might be Walmart and this year it is Amazon,” says Wolfgang. “But the trick for a retailer is to connect with customers in a way that a competitor can’t. The question you should always be asking is: What do you need to do to make people enthusiastic about your brand? You need to give customers the feeling that they are in the right place at the right time. You need to offer them fun and excitement. They need to become so enthusiastic that they become loyal. You need to guess a customer’s needs before they know it themselves.”
Wolfgang also talks about cocooning people. “Consider harmony and aesthetics,” he says. “Look at innovative stores doing things differently – such as a bicycle store that is not just selling bikes. There’s a café in the store selling breakfast, and there are tours being sold. It’s a community meeting point. The business has created a social scene where people want to be and the customers get a feeling of being a part of something that will make them loyal.”
Wolfgang also advises retailers to look at what problems they can solve for customers. “People want to know that things go well together. A pretzel and a beer. A throw blanket with cushions or an outfit put together well. As a retailer, you need to be a problem solver and show people solutions.”
Finally, Wolfgang points out that doing things differently can start with the approach you have to your life and work. “If you always know where you’ll end up, there is a lack of spontaneity, creativity and innovation,” he says. “Take a different route to work, and you’ll think differently. You might find something new and exciting along the way.”
Anne begins with the same core message as Wolfgang: retailing is about customer engagement and emotional connection. Retailers need to provide a personable in-store experience.
“Connections that you create will lead to satisfied customers,” she says. “It’s about capturing the hearts and minds of people, and getting to know them. Retailing can help people to get closer to who they are, and where they want to be. As a retailer, you have the power to help people achieve these things.”
Anne also talks about promoting a sense of loving and belonging in your store.
Buying local is an important element of retailing today that Anne believes brings people together and makes them feel as though they are a part of something larger. “It gives people a sense of caring and belonging,” she says. “Retailers need to create a sense of community in their stores—provide spaces and amenities for consumers to have more experiences. A place to sit, check their phone or plug in their phone and recharge and maybe even enjoy a beverage or lunch. Consumers want more than just products these days. Hosting events, such as in-house cooking or art lessons can also make your customers feel as though they are a part of caring community. And remember, if you can, to be kid-friendly as that also makes families feel welcome. Have an activities table for kids and objects that kids can interact with.”
Anne believes that having “green factor” in your store is important, as it gives people a visual sense of being healthy and a connection to home. “It’s about place-making,” she says. “Create a resting place where people can take it all in.” Anne emphasizes that social consciences really matter. Showing the customer that you care about the world, not just sales, is especially important to generations X, Y and Z.
Using color and regularly curating your store is also high on Anne’s list of how to be a successful retailer. “Use color to visually connect with people, and create merchandise presentations that lure people in. Change things regularly as people today are accustomed to constant change.”
Anne talks about creating a hierarchy in presentations – colors, patterns and the use of linear patterns. “Repetition and the use of color and scale create a sense of passion and possibility,” she says. “Inspire people with authenticity. Your store is full of vignettes – small stories to share. Inspire your customers with props, such as the use of an old wagon that belonged to a family who owned a store I visited. They put it in their store, filled it with flowers and it creates a sense of romance and nostalgia.”
Finally, Anne speaks about ensuring that you have sensory cues in your store – for instance taste (cheeses or sauces to try in a kitchen store), touch (tactile things such as textural fabrics) or scent (use candles or oil burners).
HENRIK PETER REISBY NIELSEN
“Retailers have to stay relevant in terms of their use of technology,” Henrik states, before using a simple example: “A person needing to replace their toaster will use Google in an effort to find a store with toasters nearby. They might go to your website, and if they can’t easily find the toaster they want, they’ll go somewhere else. So you need to have a great website and keep up with your customers and what they need, day by day.”
Henrik also talks about how ‘sharing’ on social media is now a part of everyday life: from clothing someone likes, to a restaurant they visited, to a film they saw or a retailer that they like. Ratings really do matter. They are crucial. “Customers are continually engaging on their devices and they are always looking for new experiences,” he says. “So you need to create reasons for people to come to you, such as having their children’s photos taken with Santa at your store, or hosting activities they want to be involved in. If they love what they do at your store, they’ll share it. That’s advertising.”
Henrik stresses that people no longer trust advertisements. “People today trust what other people say, so invite bloggers and journalists to cover your store and products. Get your customers reviewing things themselves, and they’ll share their experiences.”
Another idea is to use visual ratings in your store so that people can see, right in front of them, that a product, or even your store itself, has had great ratings.
“And, you should stay connected with your customers after they have left your store,” Henrik stresses. “A good example on how to do that came from this year’s British gia winner Borough Kitchen. They created great playlists and displayed in the store that people could keep on listening to them after their visit via Spotify. Innovative, simple, cheap and very effective.”
Video is one of the many new marketing mediums that is crucial to a retailer’s success, and you need to learn to use it, or your employees do, says Henrik. “Give your employees iPads so that they can research products and trends, and show customers videos – most products now have a video showing how it’s used,” he explains. “You need to keep up with video and new ways of presenting your offerings online, across a range of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. It’s just another learning curve.”
“The customer of yesterday is not the same customer today,” Scott says. “In retail today, there is constant change and it’s up to you to understand those changes. And while doing so, you need to entertain your customers. Your customers have done their research and they’ve come to you. What they are looking for when they get there is authenticity.”
Scott mentions that retailers of yesterday merchandised every square centimeter of a retail space, but today it’s about the great spaces you create and what you do in them. “You need to create cool spaces in which to entertain your customers,” he says. “Look at the Prague Cooking Academy (Potten & Pannen) which was one of the gia Global Honorees this year – it has full merchandising, but it’s fun and entertaining with hats, aprons, accessories and classes. It’s interactive and engaging. Another store created business cards that are like theater tickets – on the card it reads: Admit One. That’s telling people that they are going to be entertained by that business.”
Scott says that retailers need to conquer Goliath through innovation. “Keep coming up with new ideas. Do something new, and remember that all of the big successful brands had many failures. To be successful, you have to get out there and try new things. If you fail, you’ll get up again and do something even better.”
Read the next Inspiration Magazine article: Inspiring & Expressing Colors: Defining the Essential Trends