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    [TrendTalk] The retail experience trend

    Shopping trends herald the return of the 'mall rat' and more interactive retail shopping experiences to revitalise the tired mall shopping environment.
    Real-life retailing won't die, even as online shoppers increase, despite the mall wastelands dotted with ruined dreams that populate middle America and other previously successful urban centres around the world, reports Fast Company: "Brick and mortar provides a place for brands to interact and connect with their customers in a way not always possible online."

    But innovation is required to keep retailing exciting. Pop-up shops like the recent Oreo and Magnum retail experiences at top malls in Johannesburg, keeping consumers engaged with a brand and flocking to the malls to treat themselves to the unique experience and trendy space.

    [TrendTalk] The retail experience trend

    Twenty years ago, when I was the editor of a B2B retailing magazine for the South African FMCG sector, I toured British retail stores and visited the then Anderson Consulting (now Accenture) multi-million pound 'Smart Store' facility in Windsor in the United Kingdom.

    Smart Store Europe was set up by Anderson in the early-90s to envisage future technologies driven by the then fledgling 'internet' from store to home. I remember being wowed by the fact that the 'home' model had a smart fridge that would let you know when your milk ran out. There was even a mock jail cell with a skeleton in it covered in cobwebs, representing the 'retailers' which did not embrace new technologies; and a fun video set in the future about technological innovation which featured a never-aging Richard Branson (some things don't change!).

    Of course not even the most brilliant consultants could have foretold the all-encompassing digital future that we are currently living through. But they did a pretty good job of trying then, envisaging that if only a third of ideas then about a future "commercialised information superhighway" (the internet) became a reality, then the retail landscape and related industries would be turned on their head.

    "Many ideas and technologies which later became commonplace were first simulated or showcased at Smart Store including Home Delivery, the use of hand scanners for self-scanning, multi-channel retailing, meal solutions, virtual mirrors for clothes shopping and GPS mobile marketing, among others..." reported Supermarket Centre publication.

    There have been other Smart Store formats in other countries, set up to test new technologies, but these days the focus is on the customer experience - whether in a bricks and mortar mall or online.

    Today, companies like Westfield Labs in the United States are looking at new retail concepts and recently launched 'Bespoke', described as a "trifecta of co-working, technology demonstration (demo) and event spaces". Fast Company reports that it allows tech and fashion retailers to rent space on a short term basis, without getting into expensive long lease rentals, allowing customers to experience their products offline too. These new ideas provide a "freshness" to mall space and allow brands to 'test' ideas.

    In fact, some successful online retailers are experimenting with bricks and mortar physical stores, like Frank & Oak, a Montreal menswear brand: "The store of tomorrow is less about being transactional and more about the experience and ability to use the store as a media platform... a place people want to be," CEO Ethan Song, told Fast Company.

    It is about VIP treatment for loyal customers, about creating a tangible community around a brand, providing a space for exclusive social gatherings and meeting places for people of a like mindset - brought together by a brand they admire.

    It is this cross-pollination of various brands and store concepts that is gaining traction among hipsters and the new generation of shoppers: people want to experience the products; smell, taste and learn to cook them; sit down and enjoy them in a meal; feel part of an exclusive club; and meet like-minded people in a relaxed social setting. Tradition, authenticity, real foods, limited edition fashion, special occasion brands, pop-up stores, concept stores, and so on, are driving these new creative spaces.

    A great example is Eataly, a 50,000 sq foot Italian grocery market-restaurant emporium-enoteca-bakery-cheese shop in New York with an authentic Italian 'small town' design. The space tells the story of the cooking, shopping, ingredients of a bygone era that is finding favour with modern audiences.

    Because that is what retail is about now: putting on a show, creating an experience, and delighting shoppers. Tapping into the need for instant gratification and unique selfie/Instagram backdrops.

    TRENDAFRiCA is a trend watching portal on consumer insight, research and trends from South Africa and further afield on the continent of Africa. It includes DAiLY trends headlines from around the world, influential Trendspotter columnists and in-depth reports on industry segments. Louise Marsland is the founder and editor.
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    About Louise Marsland

    Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is Founder/Content Director: SOURCE Content Marketing Agency. Louise is a Writer, Publisher, Editor, Content Strategist, Content/Media Trainer. She has written about consumer trends, brands, branding, media, marketing and the advertising communications industry in SA and across Africa, for over 20 years, notably, as previous Africa Editor:; Editor: Bizcommunity Media/Marketing SA; Editor-in-Chief: AdVantage magazine; Editor: Marketing Mix magazine; Editor: Progressive Retailing magazine; Editor: BusinessBrief magazine; Editor: FMCG Files newsletter. Web:
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