Even a casual observer can see how the in-store retail experience has altered in terms of consumer tech products over the past decade. Since 2002 we have seen an inexorable rise of desirable, lifestyle-led personal media and computer brands, and subsequent growing consumer demands for design alongside functionality loom large over the personal technology sector. How these brands have chosen to communicate with their customers has similarly altered to fit this new landscape – through advertising and product lines, but notably how they present themselves in the store environment.
Over the past ten years, we have worked with a number of tech brands on their retail presence and have seen the landscape change. Ten years hence, for example, if one brand had a product demonstrator in-store, typically many other competitors would rush to have a similar presence in an attempt to share the spotlight and, of course, the sales. This fundamentally undermined the effectiveness of demonstration staff in the retail environment by muddying the waters and attempting a land-grab for sales over and above a genuine attempt to get consumers to relate to and bond with a product.
Possibly as a result of the recession, or ever more sophisticated retail marketing and access to sales and shopper data, combined with a knowledge and increasing control of the retail space as content by the store brand themselves, this rush for retail share of voice is now much less evident but still relevant in crowded categories. It’s much more usual these days to see modern demonstration days focused not only on ROI and ensuring a sales upswing from the activity rather than simply brand recognition.
Furthermore, this brand experience in-store is often driven in the modern retail world by staff trained and prepped to sell ancillary products such as add-on finance or product insurance than a simple desire to shift the big ticket items alone. This makes for a much more immersive and successful store experience for the shopper, who encounters salespeople able to offer a holistic solution to their needs rather than the hard sell for a specific product.
Beyond demonstrations, we have also seen an evolution of the retail space itself – namely, branded displays creating a ‘shop in shop’ format – perhaps one reason why the focus on share of voice or share of shelf has been, itself, shelved. This represents a great focus from retail in terms of recognising the power of the assets they hold – the experience in-store for shoppers, not only for the retail brand itself, but also in terms of the brands it stocks.
There has been a real increase in the number of name brands seeking standout in the retail space and paying for this space – particularly in specialist consumer tech arena retailers like PC World but also in major supermarket multiples like Tesco. This ‘shop in shop’ approach is a tricky line to walk successfully, as staff for the area need to be well trained in products for the in-store brand, while also being aware of their role in the wider retail space. However, this approach is one which, if done well, can really pay off both for brand and retailer.
It is here that another growth technique of the past decade comes in – that of mystery shopping – allowing the in-store experience to be subtly assessed and optimised should brand and store standards not be replicated adequately in this type of retail presence.
The greatest game-changer over recent years, however, would have to be how brands and consumers alike are demanding ever greater value from retailers and suppliers, often in return for much less. For consumers, this may be a combination of a growing awareness of the worth of their personal data to brands and to retailers, as well as recognition of the numbers of companies all fighting for their valuable time and attention. This power reversal in terms of brand communications will only strengthen as communication channels and technology proliferate and the individual’s time and attention is spread across ever more gadgets and devices.
Another powerful factor in this drive towards greater value from the interaction of brands and consumers is the current economic climate: few will be willing to invest in large financial outlays without some guarantee of return, and fewer still will turn down a freebie or incentive to purchase, particularly if the intent to buy was already present.
For retailers, this means they are encountering an ever greater drive to discount, cutting their own profits in the process. In the face of threats from online retailers who lack the overheads of physical store space we have seen many electrical retailers themselves move to entirely digital operations, and some – like Best Buy – enter the UK market before sinking. There is little doubt that times are tough for many.
However, investment in the retail space is proven to pay off, and with retailers keen to monetise their space, consumers open to engagement and brands seeking standout, the location where many still make the bulk of their physical sales is the logical place for all three factors to converge. As we have seen, the retail environment has proven a dynamic and changeable landscape over the past decade, shaped by innovative brands and empowered consumers. It is likely that the coming years will see this become ever more marked in the retail space, particularly as tech brands fight against themselves to encourage repeat purchase and updating of earlier generations of technology with the latest model.