Let’s Get Phygital

Warby Parker hopes to enable users to get an eye exam on their mobile phones.

As brick-and-mortar retailers continue to compete with the ease, selection, price and convenience of online shopping, it’s become more important than ever to make the store a compelling experience. But it’s hard. Retail has been stuck in its ways for many, many years, and partly to blame is a general industrywide aversion to change.

The Four Ps

We all “know” what a retail store is and how to envision, build and operate one. And everyone knows that merchandising is about the four Ps: product, price, place and promotion. This is still doggedly taught in almost every business school in the country. Even digital signage was rooted in it, as it originally took hold because it brought more flexibility and addressability to those four Ps with in-store messaging. All this is changing, and the most innovative renegades are the e-tailers that are slowly moving into brick-and-mortar stores. New to physical walls, they are bringing a refreshing perspective to the industry on designing the in-store experience.

Bonobos, Birchbox, LeTote, even Amazon, are among a large list of retailers starting to be referred to as “v-commerce,” or digitally native virtual brands. Like today’s evolving shopper, they are nothing like their forefathers. They don’t talk about customer experience; they bleed it. They don’t care what typical business and service processes are; they create their own unique engagement models. They are transparent, connecting customers to each other versus paid promotions. They ask for opinions, listen and respond accordingly. They couldn’t care less about the status quo “way it’s always been done” because they are watching brands that follow that model go belly up on a weekly basis.

They get that personalization is an opt-in mandatory, not a stand-aside luxury. And as they continue to build brick-and-mortar stores and bring these principles to life in a multisensory, visceral way, they are going to, yet again, reset shopper expectations for the status quo. Importantly, they’ll do so with no legacy infrastructure issues, fears or dogma to hold them back.

Take this as a fun challenge, everyone. We have the tools to recognize this coming and get ahead of it. These tools are strategic, attitudinal and, importantly, technological.

Birchbox’s approach toward curation, customization and tasteful trendsetting was a natural springboard for its New York City-based store.
Birchbox’s approach toward curation, customization and tasteful trendsetting was a natural springboard for its New York City-based store.

New Tools

Emotional storytelling, sensory immersion and human connections are the new tools retailers are using to lure shoppers off the couch and happily into their stores. They will come into our stores holding digital screens, but done right, the digital screens they encounter within store walls can very well become the lure that keeps them coming back. How? By using them to create what we call “Unique Experience Signatures,” things that they encounter that are unique to your store. Things that help them, talk to them and make recommendations. Things that make them smile, give them a Zen moment, thank them with a gift or discount.

These experiences are woven together with scents, lighting, music, materials and visual delight that literally stop shoppers in their tracks and lure them into a moment that matters. These are the things that immerse them into a complete, sensory manifestation of a brand, taking it from a transactional relationship to the holy grail of retail: a person who wants to shop at your store, versus having to.

Everyone wants to feel special, cared for and appreciated, and pure-play e-tailers know it. Their empathetic, service-first mentality gives them a huge advantage as they enter the physical store world, for they know that omnichannel is as much emotional as it is operational. They also know that digital should make the experience more human, not less so. Legacy retail brands must break their own dogma to reinvent themselves accordingly, hopefully before it’s too late to make a difference.

Here are some examples:

  • Warby Parker’s incredible try/buy online experience sparked such love that people started asking that the founder build a store. The company inched into retail by outfitting a yellow school bus and driving around the country building its database. It now has showrooms and stores across the nation, even hosting monthly popup shops within Nordstrom, and considers each of them a living lab. Core to their experience is CRM, where customer information and all of the things they’ve tried or bought drive omnichannel personal touches. Their next disruptive plan is to enable users to get an eye exam on their mobile phones.
  • When Birchbox emerged, the company became a cultural phenomenon in a matter of months. Its approach toward curation, customization and tasteful trendsetting was a natural springboard for its New York City-based store, which also allows customers to customize their boxes, explore new products and get lost in how-tos and must-sees. Using a similar strategic approach to Warby Parker, Birchbox continues to host popup shops across the nation.
  • Upscale men’s retailer Bonobos opened its series of Guideshops in 2013, but they’re not “normal” stores. In this showroom-styled store, men are given the same customer service attention as in a retail store and then go online to buy made-to-order apparel.
  • Amazon, the undisputed champ of online retailing, is leaping into the brick-and-mortar business, showing the rest of the industry how to sell more fluidly in physical spaces. Secret sources in Seattle are reporting news of a grocery store in the works. Amazon thinks it can build a better bookstore based on data. The company believes it can be more efficient because it already knows what you want. And it’s probably right. Sources familiar with the effort say that the team aims to reinvent the shopping experience by merging the best of retail with the best of Amazon.

Laura Davis-Taylor will present Seminar 7 entitled, “Let’s Get Phygital!” on Wednesday, March 29 at 2:00pm at DSE 2017 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. For more information about this or any educational program offered at DSE 2017, or to learn more about digital signage, go to

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