The emergence of a unified retail model

Lack of attention to Customer Experience is costing your business-study reveals
Nathalie Schooling, CEO of nlighten.
The emergence of a unified retail model
By Nathalie Schooling, CEO of nlighten

A new understanding of ‘mass-marketing’

Psychologists have a term to describe how our brains scan things we encounter to see if it relates to anything we already know, or if it is something that fits in a new category. It is called our apperceptive mass and is defined as ‘the whole of a person’s previous experience that is used in understanding a new percept or idea’.
It is through our apperceptive mass that we judge things to be interesting or authentic, based on our existing experience or perception of similar things. This little bit of psychology is very important in understanding branding and customer experience, since it is the apperceptive mass of our customers that we ultimately appeal to when they engage with our business.

Online versus offline shopping experiences

Consider online versus offline retail shopping.

Online shopping offers customers an exciting new channel for purchasing items, all from the comfort of your home. But surprisingly for many of us who treasure convenience and time-saving tricks and tools, it can seem dull when compared to walking into a store. Stores are designed to interface with your senses. From the music that’s been specifically chosen to match the brand and customer demographic to the variety of colours and textures, and even smells. Merchandising is a science on its own, leading the shopper by a design of dynamic elements which allow for certain behaviours.

So, if a shoppers’ previous engagement with a retail brand is a fully immersed sensory shopping experience this may well trump the convenience of an online purchase, thanks to the influence of apperceptive mass. Online shopping is essentially a linear journey involving a customer following a series of yes / no steps, it is a binary process progressing from one page to the next. The journey is static and involves controlling actions every step of the way.

Brands as personal unified experiences

One thing that online shopping offers, in a way that is not practical for offline shopping, is personalisation. Online offers a personal journey, offline provides a social in-store experience. The former is designed for individuals; the latter for customer segments.

Brands are the visual, verbal and behavioural expressions of business models and customer experiences are those encounters that our customers have with our brands throughout the entire channel. Broadly speaking, some brands may be more suited to online shopping, with others relying on a more immersive instore shopping experience. To really win though, a brand needs to offer a great online and offline shopping experience, one that provides alignment of the apperceptive mass, with no incongruence between the two.

What we are seeing emerge is a unified model of retail. Offline retailers are providing online channels and digital-native businesses are also moving into physical spaces. Doing this successfully, in a way that enhances a brand and the customers’ experiences, requires that certain foundations be in place. Firstly, you need a single dedicated customer platform whether its online or offline. Data is shared on one platform and is visible to e-commerce, marketing and customer service with everyone having the same picture of the customer and offering the same value. Secondly you need to have a complete 360° view of the customer, a visibility on every touch-point, ensuring that truly personalised customer experiences are provided, irrespective of the channel. Thirdly, customer journeys need to be intelligent. AI provides unheard of opportunities to create unified retail experiences, using predictive intelligence, targeting the right customers at the right place with the right message. AI is a retail game-changer. Lastly, going mobile in-store is essential. Shop assistants with a tablet in-hand can access customer information right-there-and-then in the store, making sure that they understand and appropriately meet customer needs while also capturing additional new information.

What smart retailers are doing

While the debate between online versus offline shopping rages on, smart retailers are exploring innovative ways of blending in-store and online experiences that connect with shoppers through a unified retail model, meeting customer expectations for fast, consistent and personalised experiences. And it makes sense. A unified retail experience is ultimately simply a means of ensuring customers have a single seamless experience with your brand. Think of it as ‘apperceptive mass-customisation’.

By Nathalie Schooling, CEO of nlighten