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How Asian markets are leading the way with new shopping experiences

Luxury brands in China have adapted stores to become hubs of creativity and innovation / via Huawei

The consumer journey has undergone a complete reinvention over lockdown. While there has been a huge shift to shopping online, the high street has continued to play a key role in the conversion funnel. Creating a successful omnichannel strategy is already looking to pay dividends in Asian markets, and increasingly in the West too.

In China, many businesses, particularly luxury brands including Louis Vuitton and Bulgari, have catapulted their digital transformation through activity on multiple e-commerce platforms to increase reach and enhance their customers’ experiences online. For example, JD.com utilized AR/VR technology to emulate the interactive experiences consumers would enjoy if they were shopping in stores, and to allow them to see what clothes or makeup would look like if the user was wearing them.

Brick-and-mortar stores must not be forgotten

Brick-and-mortar stores are still proving instrumental in driving brand awareness and encouraging interaction with brands. In some cases, this may be due to people craving human interaction after being separated from others for such a sustained period, and the chance to speak to in-store staff alongside seeing and touching the products.

The in-store experience needs to be adapted to suit post-lockdown consumer expectations. Increasingly, the journey to purchase begins online, where people discover more about brands and products, and feel inspired to purchase.

Brands around the world have sought to build omnichannel strategies that lock in consumers’ interest. Luxury brands in China have adapted stores to become hubs of creativity and innovation to deliver an immersive customer experience.

Huawei has used its flagship store in Shanghai to build relationships with customers, demonstrating how its technology fits into changes in consumer lifestyles surrounding smart home technology, fitness, health and wellbeing, and travel. People can discover how features of its products work, including how to control smart home features and synchronize real-time sports data. Further engagement is sought through talks on filmmaking, photo exhibitions and free daily lectures on topics such as video production, fitness and music.

Burberry followed suit when it opened its new social retail store in Shenzhen in association with WeChat owner Tencent, using interactive store windows to showcase its runway, which adjusts to people’s movements. The accumulation of ‘social currency’ linked to in-store activity unlocks content to learn more about the brand served through a customized WeChat Mini program, which also facilitates bookings for the themed fitting rooms and the in-store café Thomas Café.

And Lush used the #LushLabs app to enhance the customer experience in its store in Harajuku, Japan, allowing customers to select bath bombs and scan them with the app to find out more about the ingredients and product features.

Globally, brands are starting to see the benefit of investing in omnichannel

Most consumers in the US and UK still make their end purchase in-store; the US luxury department store Nordstrom found that over half of its sales are initiated by an in-store experience.

As a result, omnichannel innovation in customer service delivery is not unique to Asian economies. The US has embraced modernization of the in-store experience with the ‘Nike House of Innovation 000,’ where customers can work with in-store experts to customize their shoes in on-site labs and receive their order within two weeks.

In Europe, a key stand-out is the Chanel ‘Boutique of Tomorrow’ store in Paris, where staff use an app to identify what is on a customer’s wish list and, when they visit the store for a pre-booked appointment, the items are ready and waiting for them in the fitting room. This is further complemented by AR-operated mirrors to suggest additional items to create an outfit.

Omnichannel has multi-generational appeal

You may think that brick-and-mortar stores would appeal more to older demographic groups, but research carried out by PWC Canada echoes many other studies in finding that despite being digitally native, gen Z are just as keen to shop in-store to socialize and enjoy brand experiences.

Social media and influencer marketing are pivotal to driving sales, so brands embracing the integration of these channels with their in-store experiences have a greater chance of driving in-store visits. This trend is particularly important for the fashion industry, where gen Z tend to spend more in terms of average purchase value and frequency of purchases, according to a survey carried out by LIM College.

It is key for retailers to find a way to deliver a shopping experience that appeals to multiple demographic segments. Ikea exemplifies this through the creation of mock-ups of apartments in-store to ensure people can visualize how their products would look in situ in their own homes. For the more technically-savvy, the Ikea Place app uses AR technology to recreate this feeling in a digital space.

Though popular opinion may suggest online shopping will become our sole method of purchase, it is carefully considered digital marketing strategies, encompassing campaigns driven through the most popular channels visited by brands’ target audiences, that will be pivotal to starting the consumer journey. These strategies must be integrated with offline shopping experiences, such as using apps to enhance the in-store shopping experience, or QR codes that customers can scan to find out more about the products. This combined approach will ensure brands can act on the changes in customers’ expectations to continue to grow sales.

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