The shopping experience is increasingly being driven by technology and interactivity to grow sales, according to retail industry players and marketing professionals speaking at the Retail Asia Expo in Hong Kong on June 13.
"The process in making a sale successful has changed tremendously over the last few years, whether it's about marketing, channel distribution, the way of presenting or the method of interacting with customers," Daniel Wan, founder and president of the Asia Society of Visual Merchandisers, said during a seminar at the event. "The whole experience has to be more entertaining."
With technology, today's consumers command more knowledge and make more demands across all facets of merchandising such as brand value, design, point of origin, materials and sustainability, Wan said.
He noted that as brands and retailers work to capture consumers both online and offline, the full retail ecosystem needs to emphasize services such as digital recognition, branded mobile apps, voice-activated artificial intelligence and playable stores.
Smart mirror platform ActiMirror is helping to serve this strategy. Victor Ruiz, CEO of the Hong Kong-based business, shared with a seminar audience the example of how luxury menswear brand Cerruti incorporated new technology into its physical stores to address common customer problems and bridge online sales.
"The people who go to Cerruti are those with the money, but they always want a second opinion [before buying]," Ruiz said. "But the problem they often run into is when they remember to come back to the store a month later, the product is sold out, or not in the right size. It's a frustration for both the shopper and the retailer."
In response, Cerruti installed augmented reality-powered mirrors in some of its stores that allow customers to virtually try on clothes they picked out along with a set of recommended items. They can then scan a QR code displayed on the mirror that enables them to buy their selections from home, after getting opinions from family members, and have them delivered to their doorstep.
"If you don't offer real-time personalized consumer experiences, your customer will go to the next shop," Ruiz said.
In the travel retail sector, brands are also pushing multifaceted experiences, according to Julian Delamain, brand strategy director of marketing agency Geometry Hong Kong.
During another seminar at the expo, Delamain highlighted the Johnnie Walker House, which British spirits maker Diageo PLC opened at airports in several cities including Beijing. The branded space features gallery, museum and lifestyle displays that tell the story of Johnnie Walker whisky.
Similarly, furniture retailers such as Ikea and Made.com have set up branded airport lounges that naturally encourage product trials. Ikea's lounge at the Amsterdam airport features a children's zone, sofas and nine bedrooms where travelers can take a short nap.
Italian chocolate maker Ferrero unveiled travel-exclusive gift boxes decorated with national icons of popular tourist destinations. Emphasizing the place of purchase adds value to the product, both for the recipient and in terms of conversations related to the item and brand, Delamain said.
"This is something growing in travel retail in response to the enormous number and overwhelming importance of Chinese travelers, as they enter the international travel market and become the single most important travel audience in the world," he added.
But the fundamental challenge remains the same for both the travel and traditional retail sectors, which is to offer something distinctive to consumers, according to Delamain. "Nothing beats being different," he said.