The new dawn of retail experiences

As the number of vaccinated people reaches a steady increase, more and more individuals seem to show bright enthusiasm at being outdoors. This shift in social activities dawns a new beginning in the world of retail. A year of isolation has shifted consumer behavior but the innate human need to interact with each other while searching for new and immersive experiences remains.

This pandemic has deemed malls restrictive, draining away the usual energy of the Philippine mall culture where people would flock to malls on a daily basis and turning malls into empty shells.

In this volatile environment, change is the only thing that remains constant–one that the retail industry is fully aware of. Brands are continuously pushing to innovate and the need to evolve alongside the digital world has become stronger in an attempt to keep customers engaged. Business owners are now constantly on their toes, churning out a variety of online shopping experiences–from raffle draws to promotional sales and private concierge services, every business owner is trying to supplement the lost excitement and the rush that we used to get from shopping in-store. In the era of the pandemic, the brands thriving today are those who have successfully cultivated human connections in this digital age. 

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Becoming more ingenious with curating experiences translates to brand loyalty. The new trend? Experiential Activations that are spread across communities around and outside the Metro. Because in a time where shopping experiences begin and end with a click, consumers are getting bored and now crave a multi-faceted experience that combines social interaction, gamification, and interactiveness. Here are some trends that provide an insight into what the future holds for retail:

  1. Personalized E-commerce will become a mainstay

E-commerce will continue to grow, expanding its anchor on customization and convenience in the comforts of home. From recreating the experience of having a tailor customize a suit at the comforts of the home, to getting restaurant recommendations from Data analytics. Soon, Google’s virtual assistant, Alexa can become the new outfit advisor for its owner’s next event, functioning like a digital closet similar to Cher’s from “Clueless”.

Photo Courtesy of Masanting Sasteria who offers online consultations for bespoke tailoring

2. Innovation through Technology for a full experience 

Innovative technology has transformed the shopping experience into a quick process that begins and ends with one simple click or tap. Despite the ease, it leads to a monotony that highlights the need to make the customer’s journey even better. The future would be heavily influenced by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Extended Reality (XR), which includes virtual and augmented reality (AR/VR). This gears towards stores acting more like experiential spaces that aim to create an emotional connection with customers or users. Rather than the simple goal of selling products, stores will shed light on storytelling and other engaging activities.

Big brands like Nike are already investing in hybrid spaces that use technology like AR, VR, and body scans while leveraging artificial intelligence to deliver superior and more compelling customer experiences. Nike together with Hovercrafts studio recently developed “Nike by You”–a Digitally-enabled, real-time footwear builder that uses RFID technologies.

Photos Courtesy of Nike & Hovercrafts Studio

The aim circled on reimagining Nike’s online customization service into a premium and hands-on experience, allowing its users to customize and play with the design of their footwear with various materials and colors. In the Philippines, the service is accessible via the website. The on-site customization however is still unavailable.

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IKEA on the other hand has been using augmented reality to assist their customers in choosing furniture that fits perfectly with their needs and spaces. All of this is done in real-time.

Photos Courtesy of Nike & Hovercrafts Studio

3. Brick-and-mortar stores will be restructured

Smaller stores that carry a unique look and feel will lead the new wave of retail experiences in localized areas. From fashion merchandise to food selections, these versions of larger stores will come with a complimentary digital presence that brings customer engagement to new heights. This real-time connection between brands and consumers provides the brand’s R&D department direct insights that will better curate a focused selection of products relevant to the consumers. 

Recently, Korean music powerhouse, BTS announced the launch of their BTS Pop Up: Map of the Soul store which is set to open in different cities around the world, the Philippines included!
Photo BY BANGTANTV YOUTUBE CHANNEL (grabbed from spot.ph)

4. Neighborhood shops will become the new, constant weekend stops 

Brands are looking into targeting smaller communities beyond traditional commercialized areas. This awakens the resurgence of the “shop local” movement that aims to support local businesses and ensures that the neighborhood culture will become self-sustaining. Here, brands can focus on providing a holistic customer experience that focuses on personalized customer services on top of the convenience provided by accessible locations.

Sunnies Face’s “Specs on wheels” can send a mobile optical shop to the customer instead of the other way around.

5. More pop-ups will challenge large shopping emporiums

Local Experiential Activations in the form of pop-up stores, exhibits, and outdoor markets will take on a new angle that includes more interactive features and offers mobility. These fun, highly adaptable spaces can combine a multitude of experiences spanning from art and music to food and retail, all in one location. This is a setup that supports businesses functioning with lean teams who want to re-engage with the market to test new products and service innovations such as touch-less product trials and contactless technology.

Regardless of the age group, all cravings are met in Mercato Centrale’s Mercato Prime, offering a more affordable, full-sensory experience and access to premium restaurants. Not to mention Instagram and TikTok-friendly designed surroundings.
Photos courtesy of Mercato Centrale

According to the founder of Mercato Centrale Vanessa Ledesma, they’ve included a wide variety of culinary creations from BGC’s top chefs and dining establishments, homegrown restaurants, and Mercato street food favorites. This includes Wolfgang Steakhouse which used to have a PHP7,000 minimum order but now offers a PHP450 burger using the same quality of meat expected from the famous restaurant. 

“We wanted to help the restaurant industry bounce back, especially ones with high overhead costs. At the same time, make the experience of going out worthwhile and enjoyable for our customers.”  

Apparently, Mercato Centrale plans on expanding this access to multiple locations that extend from Tagaytay to Davao and Cebu.

Activations like these follow safety protocols like the noticeable floor and seat markers, visual cues for walk flows, and provision of properly spaced seats to ensure everyone gets a fuss-free experience. 

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Writer’s Profile

Carla Leonor is a licensed interior designer of human-centered products and built environments. She is currently involved in STEM Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Design Education as the Chairperson of the Interior Design Program of SoFA Design Institute. Her expertise has also branded her as a consultant for some of the top furniture brands and manufacturers in the Philippines.