By Nigel Collett (pictured) creative director of rpa:vision.
More and more brands are showing the insight to create a stronger relationship with their customers or with potential customers by actually changing the look and feel of the retail space that consumers inhabit into what has been dubbed 'being spaces'.
A being space can offer you the chance to chat face to face, read a book, surf the net or watch a movie. But most importantly it's branded and it's offering a soothing bolt hole and added value to a shopping experience.
Essentially designed as a dependable place of refuge, where consumers can escape the demands of family and bosses, the being space is a perfect retail foil to the increasingly impersonal world that we inhabit.
Daily, more of us are spending time alone with other people - that may sound like a tautology but I am referring to the global trend to surf the web for hours, to have online relationships with both people we know and also people we will never meet - in fact millions are now literally living a Second Life complete with computer-generated avatars and an invented alternative personality.
All this creates a huge challenge to traditional retail and explains why more brands are struggling on the high street while some are doing really well online. It also explains why eBay has now become a behemoth which is more shopping mall than sophisticated car boot sale.
However, some of the savviest brands are tuning in to the customer need to have a real life, rub shoulders with real people, and at the same time get some added value from their shopping experience.
Starbucks is a great example on a global scale, teaming up with T-Mobile to introduce WiFi (wireless internet access) in most of its US outlets a few years ago. Borders Bookstores (who already operate cafe-style reading spaces in their superstores) signed a deal with T-Mobile to incorporate hot spots (WiFi-access points) in its 400 bookstores in the US, and Kinko's, king of small business, signed a deal to have T-Mobile unwire 1,000 Kinko's locations across the US.
There are examples springing up all the time but one thing is for sure – if you are a retail brand that isn't addressing this idea right now then you are possibly missing a trick. It's no longer good enough to just "sell stuff" or even to sell stuff on a grand theatrical scale like the Nike flagship store in London's Oxford street - you need to move the game on a pace or two.
For example, you can sit in the Nike store and design your own trainers,using a computer thoughtfully provided for you - that's evolved retail thinking at work.
Examples abound of how retail space is changing Waterstones in Piccadilly for example has created a virtual club with world famous authors talking about their work in the shop space. A few years ago this would have been the territory of Radio4 or the South Bank Show - now it's added value in an environment where you can have a coffee meet friends and even buy a book.
The above all spells new retail opportunity. Think laterally about accommodating consumers outside the home and office, becoming a relevant and useful part of their daily lives, offering them surprise, discovery, empathy, transformation. A place to lounge, hang out, try things out, work, or relax. Or all of this at once?
Whether you're a B2C or B2B company it's probably time to examine which of your products and services deserve a comfy (and profitable) cameo of your brand.
So, maybe you should get thinking about how your brand might offer something extra, team up with an existing player, invent it yourself but don't get caught in the retail extinction trap.
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