Alexios Blanos, UK business director, M-Cube
Technology has infiltrated every aspect of our daily lives, altering our daily routines in countless ways. The retail sector mirrors this transformation, with technology underpinning its very foundation. In fact, the vast array of technological advancements in retail has reshaped the shopping experience, setting new benchmarks for customer expectations.
With this in mind, how can retailers optimise the use of tech? How can they adapt their retail models to resonate better with their customers?
Despite technology’s pivotal role, people are – and always will be – the essence of retail. This human element should be the focal point of all technological investments made by retail leaders. Whether considering the customers with whom they seek to connect or the employees utilising the technology for success, forging genuine connections remains the cornerstone of any technological advancement. And the key to all of this? Powerful storytelling.
Storytelling is instrumental in establishing an emotional bond and fostering engagement with customers. Amidst all of the technological innovations in retail, the true barometer of success is their capacity to connect. Whether through personalisation, engagement, trust or pure innovation, only the retailers that truly resonate with customers make a lasting impact on the industry.
The power of storytelling
Everyone loves a good story. Whether you are thinking about the movie that made you smile, the TV series that made you cry or the book that inspired you – at the heart of it lay a good story. And this feeling isn’t exclusive to media entertainment. For retailers, effective storytelling can be a powerful tool in captivating shoppers, eliciting a powerful emotional connection to create loyal customers.
Effective stories give us a moment to step away from the reality of life. Our brain feeds off of this feeling, creating a true emotional connection. In scientific terms, what occurs during this process is the release of dopamine. And when we experience a story, or even just hear about it, certain parts of our brain release excess dopamine – making it easier to remember it with greater accuracy.
It is exactly the reason why we may struggle to remember what we had for dinner less than a month ago, yet we can still remember specific lines from movies we watched years ago. And it’s exactly the reason why mastering storytelling is crucial for brands in the retail landscape.
It’s so much more than narrating something intriguing. It’s about creating something that will resonate with your audience, evoking particular emotions, and ultimately, influencing their buying decisions. The emphasis is on ‘ultimately’ because the heart of storytelling is its capacity to forge emotional connections between consumers and brands.
The power of physical experiences
There are several ways to bring a story to life in retail. Marketing teams have been doing it for years to capture the essence of a brand. Just look at the festive period for example. The Christmas period is filled with brands creating expensive adverts that have little to nothing to do with the actual brand, just to connect with customers.
And it works. John Lewis managed to garner more than 21,000 Twitter mentions between the 1 and 16 November 2022 for its Christmas advert, as well as an impressive 367 million potential impressions. When you consider the engagements across other social media platforms, the TV spots, the conversation generated around it; you begin to see the picture clearly. It isn’t just an advert, it is an event.
But how do businesses do this outside of marketing? In fact, how do businesses do this to help marketing? The answer to this question lies in the in-store experience. Of course, this is not to undermine the importance of the online experience. The pandemic brought forth an age where the online experience became a necessity. But as the world reopened, the coin flipped again and the importance of the in-store experience grew exponentially – and in turn, changed significantly.
It is no longer just about having a brick-and-mortar store, but about crafting an experience that will resonate with customers. And technology is the key to these experiences.
The power of digital signage
Technology is key to storytelling. However it is not as simple as that. It isn’t just about investing in all of the latest technology. As mentioned throughout this piece, it is about using this technology to craft an engaging story that will connect with customers.
Take the Benetton group as an example. It used a digital mirror to allow customers to look through the window and see themselves. At first glance, it is simple technology using a digital screen and a camera. It comes with no virtual reality or augmented reality to have people pictured in a different location. It simply reflects what is really important – the customers.
What truly revolutionised this approach was the incorporation of the customer into the narrative. By not just making the story about the customers, but with them, a profound connection was established. In the case of the Benetton group, the digital mirror didn’t transport the user to a fantastical world; instead, it grounded the experience in reality, making the customer the star of a story unfolding in real-time.
This ingenious application of technology facilitated a personalised story, allowing individuals to see themselves not just as passive spectators but as active participants in the brand’s narrative. It’s a testament to the power of storytelling intertwined with technology, where the ultimate success lies in celebrating the customer’s role, creating an immersive, shared story that resonates on a deeply personal level. This strategy elevated the customer experience from a transactional interaction to an emotional bond, reinforcing loyalty and trust in the brand.
And from this, Benetton was able to replicate this idea across multiple regions, attracting a new range of customers while boosting customer loyalty along its own customer base.
And this is not the only way to do this. Digital screens could be used to showcase the latest products in an engaging way. LED lights can be used to create an immersive room that tells the story of your brand. In whichever way it is structured, technology has the power to craft engaging experiences that go beyond normal retail experiences.
The bottom line
Technology continues to permeate every layer of the retail industry, and it brings with it a transformative shift not just in how products are sold, but in how stories are told. When executed well, it leads to deeply engaging, memorable, and emotionally charged experiences for customers. This isn’t about replacing the human element, but enhancing it, turning each customer journey into something more profound than a simple transaction.
This is the future of retail. A future where technology serves as a bridge between the digital and the physical, amplifying human connection. The successful retailers of tomorrow are those who understand this delicate balance and who can harness the innovative tools at their disposal to tell stories that resonate.
These stories, grounded in genuine human emotion and experience, are what will foster loyalty with a brand. It’s not merely the implementation of technology that counts but how it’s used to reflect the customers’ desires, aspirations and identities that truly makes the difference.