PSFK: The Future of Retail

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For many in the world of forward-thinking lifestyle and culture, PSFK is the last word in trend-led design and innovation. Established in 2004 by London-born Piers Fawkes, the company began as a blog detailing emerging ideas from around the world.

Soon, Piers had his first collaborator in Simon King (the name ‘PSFK’ is an amalgamation of their initials). Within 6 years, PSFK has grown from a simple blog to an international company that documents fresh design ideas and holds seminars and conferences for creatives all over the world.

On 30 June PSFK journeyed to London to hold a seminar entitled The Future of Retail; Piers delivered a presentation alongside Jeff Weiner, head of Business Development, detailing the way in which the retail sector will embrace new technologies and ways of selling to the newly ‘enlightened’, post-recession consumer.

Here, we look at the key trends outlined by the team at PSFK and how they are expected to enable retailers to boost sales.

World as Retail Experience
Given the ubiquity of mobile technology and smartphone devices, consumers are more empowered than ever to transform even the simplest of experiences into an opportunity to buy. Increasingly sophisticated mobile apps such as Stripey Lines or Amazon allow users to photograph barcodes, identify a product and engage in price comparisons amongst online retailers. Square, a new accessory and app for the iPhone and iPad, enables mobile credit card payments to be taken via a small attachment that plugs into the device’s headphone jack. After swiping, the signature is entered on the touchscreen with a fingertip and the receipt is emailed.

Pre-View Shopping
City centres can be very crowded and stressful places to shop, particularly at weekends and traditionally busier times such as Christmas. Developments in GPS and wireless internet can provide users with indoor maps of malls, pointing them in the direction of the stores they wish to visit, whereas apps like NearbyNow can furnish the discerning consumer with a complete list of targeted gift ideas that can all be found within one location. Google’s Places feature provides a Streetview-esque experience for its users but in a shop floor context, allowing customers to ‘visit’ the store without visiting in person. Pre-View Shopping concepts cut down on time spent getting from one place to the next, enabling more direct and focused retail experiences for the consumer.

Tablet Enabled Service
Apple’s iPad has taken the concept of tablet computing well and truly into the mainstream, where dozens of others have failed over the years. The sheer volume of uptake of these devices, as well as other touchscreen equipment, allows the use of rich and engaging assistance and visual presentations instore – Miele’s store in Vianen, Holland does just that. On entry, the customer is handed an iPod Touch in return for some basic information, which they can use to navigate the store. The MiBar in Johannesburg, South Africa features touchscreens in the tables which can be used to communicate with staff and other customers, as well as access the menu and order drinks.

Selling the Ideal
Brands have long been in the business of attaching desirable, if intangible, lifestyle connotations to their products. However, most consumers are now able to see past this technique while shopping to some degree, choosing to focus on how this product is going to fit into their lives. Forward-thinking companies are finding ways to utilise this method of shopping to increase sales; by using digital technology and high-quality consultation the brand can help a consumer properly visualise these scenarios, leading to a higher probability of purchase. One example of this is Trunk Club, a clothing website based in Chicago that circumvents many men’s lack of interest with shopping by offering a personal shopper-based system that sends clothes to customers’ homes based on fit, taste and style requirements set out in an initial consultation. If the customer likes the clothes they buy, if not they send them back,all free of charge.

Every Store as Flagship
Flagship stores are a brand’s ‘crown jewels’; the complete aesthetic embodiment of a label’s ethos. However, limiting oneself to just one of these stores per market can be a little counter-intuitive; what about those customers who can’t make it to London, New York or Tokyo? With this initiative, brands are re-imagining the concept of visual merchandising in a way that makes each store visit a rich and involved event rather than just a conventional shopping experience. Mellow Johnny’s, a bike shop owned by Lance Armstrong in Austin, Texas, not only sells and services bikes but provides a coffee shop, showers and bike storage to encourage commuting; ultimately, the store’s aim is to get more people out of their cars and onto bikes. Apple is another brand worthy of mention; amongst open-plan, minimal surroundings they exhibit iPods, iPhones, Macbooks and iPads, all available for people to use and with well-trained staff on hand to assist.

Complementary Curation
While developing brand loyalty is always an important facet of any marketing strategy, the idea that a consumer only wants to buy from one brand is naive. Retailers can overcome this problem by introducing other, complementary brands into their space, offering consumers a choice of other brands that fulfil other needs, keeping them in-store for as long as possible. J Crew’s concept Liquor Store in New York does just that; by stocking brands such as Converse, Barbour and Ray Ban alongside their own products, they get toboost their own brand value simply by association, making the store into a ‘one-stop-shop’ for a certain look.

Revolving Decors
Keeping a look fresh is important for many brands. Some, like Anthropologie or All Saints, have a clearly defined way of presenting their wares instore and so will invest heavily in creating a look that they can maintain for a longer period. Other brands, however, are more flexible and can alter their merchandising each season if they wish. This approach to decor treats the shop floor like a theatre stage; visually engaging yet easily and quickly adaptable. Gap’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue features a permanent pop-up shop next door that they use to promote seasonal and cultural events – this means that they can create engaging conceptual spaces while maintaining the look of the flagship.

Taking the Store to the Customer
In today’s somewhat saturated and over-subscribed retail spaces, it can be difficult to get yourself noticed. One innovative way of solving this problem involves taking the brand to the consumer; mobile shops in the form of bicycle-powered coffee bars, double-decker bus restaurants and Twitter-equipped burger vans are all novel ways of communicating brand values to a potentially aloof audience and brings fun into the equation too. In Spain, gin brand Tanqueray is promoting the Private Cocktail Experience in which they stage cocktail parties in the homes of people who sign up on a microsite.

Instant Show & Tell
Many people like to take a friend or significant other along when they go shopping just to get a ‘second opinion’. However, other people are not always available to go when you want to – what to do? The answer is found in Instant Show & Tell, a trend based around the availability of real-time feedback through social networking websites and in-store technologies. Communities of ‘haul videos’ are already available on YouTube in which girls make films documenting new purchases, while the comment feature allows others to share opinions easily. Additionally, Levi’s has an online feature that can connect with a customer’s Facebook account, customising the options available to show only those clothes that their friends have ‘liked’.

Group Clout
A collectivist approach to shopping online is a method of buying that can drive down prices by employing discounts on group or bulk buys. Retailers also benefit by having access to a larger audience and therefore promoting themselves over a wider market than before. As well as this, in order for a single person to take advantage of such a deal, they typically ‘advertise’ the opportunity across social networks such as Facebook or Twitter; essentially, brands sit back while customers advertise for them. The most widely known example of this is Groupon. This highly innovative site advertises deals for groups of buyers, but only becomes viable once enough people have committed.

all images from PSFK; visit PSFK.com for further reading

James

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