By Victoria Kulesza, Tiffany Lung, Kei Sato and Daniel Swanepoel
At the World Retail Congress in October 2014, a panel of Millennials presented their takes on the Future of Retail. Here is an excerpt of their comments, providing a provocative playbook for retailers to retool the customer experience.
What’s the best in-store experience?
DAN / London: Product design is such an important part to the store. Take the newly popular HAY, a homewares design store on the London retail scene. It has products that are not really essential to have, but they are so cleverly/uniquely individual in design, it transforms any retail space. The thing that makes me return to a store is the turnout of new products/merchandise. Every time I visit a certain store, I should be on an adventure of new discovery. New fashion trends, new designers/fashion houses showcasing their moments of creativity. I want to be inspired by a store. Live for the brand. I want to walk out of that store with a shopping bag. I want to walk all around the city, showing off that I have just been shopping in that retail space.
KEI / Tokyo: I would like my in-store experience to be enjoyable and inspiring. It would be fun shopping if the store can communicate effectively how the products will affect the purchasers’ lives. I want a store that is very personalized. The store would make personal profiles of their customers, including purchase history, taste, cultural background, etc. The store can then give effective advice on what to buy and customers will be able to trust the store since they know who they are and what they like.
TIFFANY / Hong Kong: The best in-store experience a store could give me is through its customer service. The attitude of a sales person is vital since it affects my emotions and the probability of me purchasing something. A trait of the majority of HK sales assistants is following you around the store, hard selling and sometimes even showing dissatisfaction and judgment. This type of action really puts you off when shopping and prevents me from visiting again. However if a sales person is engaging and polite, doesn’t hard sell you, and is genuinely caring and interested in helping, I will definitely remember the service provided. Human factors aside, a retailer with visually stimulating store interior makes me feel excited and hyped up to shop at. These aesthetic factors would definitely prolong my stay in the store, which would eventually trigger my motivation to purchase things. Good examples of these are Zara, Brandy Melville, and Burberry. These brands have a strong interior design. Urban Outfitters have different visual merchandising themes for every store. By doing so, it makes me want to visit each and every UO flagship store to personally see the difference and the atmosphere it provides. For example, if I were in another country, I wouldn’t visit generic chain stores because all the interiors are the same – no matter which country.
VICTORIA / New York: The most important feature is that they offer free Wi-Fi. With free Wi-Fi, it would keep consumers\’ companions (such as boyfriend, husband or kid) occupied so that they won’t distract or disturb you from shopping. Also with Internet connectivity, I would be happy to receive personalized messages and promotions through beacon technology. Aesthetics are also key. The brand must be clearly understood through the color palette, lighting, fixtures, and atmosphere (scent, music) of the store. For that matter, the merchandise and the store need to match. Any disconnect and I will surely notice. For apparel, stores should sell outfits as a flat price deal. For instance, a top, bottom, and accessory all for $100, mix and match. Shoppers always go out looking for outfits, more so than separates, and why not cater to this? A store could offer made-to-measure basics, like UNIQLO, but bespoke. Prices would be a sliding scale depending on what material was used for each piece (there would be choices) and what style would be chosen. Millennials are starting to move away from fast fashion and toward investing in timeless, classic, quality pieces. Problem is, these are becoming increasingly hard to find. Customer Service is next. I do not need to be asked how I am all the time. I want friendly associates with great product knowledge who are extremely helpful. Old fashioned, in-your-face selling it OUT. Millennials live in a world of transparency. We can find the best price for any item within seconds on our smartphone, and we can get the truth about how a dress looks on us through our friends on social media. Merchandising is last. How things are organized is critical. For example, if your store is messy, overstocked, and confusing, we will leave.
What’s the best app experience?
DAN: Zara has a beautifully designed app, in my opinion. It is quick to understand. It has beautiful, inspiring campaign photographs displayed on a large scale. This shows off the detail of the clothing and other merchandise. Personally, I won’t buy anything direct from it; however, as Zara is so easily accessible in London, the app is the simplest, most enticing way of luring me into the store by displaying its merchandise probably in a better way than they do in-store.
KEI: The future online shopping app should be functional and intuitive. Users should be able to look at products from the angle they want, from various distances. This app should have functions that would connect the app to the actual shop experience. You have a feeling of being in the store when using the app through the color scheme, music, and features. For example, if an app can keep track of the things you have bought in a particular store, and recommends other items and stores, it would be very useful. The app can also give advice on how to use the purchased products effectively. You can check store inventory to know before you go whether what you want is there. You receive promotional incentives when you make in-app purchases.
TIFFANY: Shopping via your phone can be tricky. Especially when the app contains a lot of data that will cause your phone to crash. Also it’s not appealing to shop on a small screen since I prefer viewing several items in thumbnails on one page efficiently. I would like to have an app that allows me to scan the barcode of the product on my phone and will redirect me to its online shop with the sizes available via their e-commerce platform. Also there should be an app where you can securely pay with your thumbprint since everyone’s thumbprint is unique, it gives off a more secure feeling when shopping online. The best shopping via app experience would be to provide great efficiency and shopping that requires less input of information. This was something that I experienced recently in China where e commerce and m-commerce is very strong. It was through JD.com – a Chinese online shopping mall. It’s similar to the infamous TaoBao but its more legitimate and more trustworthy as the sellers are verified and known to sell authentic products. I was in Shanghai for my internship and one day my earphones broke. I desperately needed a new pair, but shops in China close relatively early and I got off work late. My co-worker told me about JD.com and taught me how to shop via their mobile platform. Normally I would’ve rejected the idea, especially having to spend time to go through inputting all my details such as name, email address, etc. But there was a speedy registration method, which was to simply input your phone number, and they would send you a verification code to act as your account registration. As a tourist in China, I didn’t have a bank account or credit card that I could use to pay, but to my surprise, they had an option of paying the deliveryman who was a JD agent. They managed to have the earphones delivered to me early in the morning within 12 hours of ordering! Our generation is known to be impatient, especially with the convenience of everything these days. The idea of shopping on your mobile compared to online shop gives the illusion that it is quicker than browsing on a webpage, and with that, you can only hope that your product is already on its way the moment you click check out.
VICTORIA: First things first, I do not like shopping on apps. I feel I do not need 20 apps, each for a different store I like when I could just visit each of their webpages on one app. I really would only use one if there were some kind of promotional incentive toward in-app purchase. That being said, things I would want are cohesiveness between the brand and the store’s mood and the app. I want the ability to view the entire product catalog, and sort/filter it to fit my needs. If they have retail stores, I want to see if they have the item I want in a store near me. Free returns and in-store returns are mandatory.
What is the ideal online experience?
DAN: My ideal experience is exploring an individually designed website, a website that looks like no other retailer’s website, but is still easy to browse and understand. I want to understand the brand and more about their values. Lookbooks are an important part of encouraging me to make purchases. But also a detailed description and high resolution photos of the product I am browsing is essential to making me understand exactly what I could possibly be purchasing.
KEI: I think the amount of information provided is the most important. Since you cannot actually touch the products when shopping online, things like visual information, price, color variations, size, weight, etc., are essential.
TIFFANY: Hong Kong is not very big on online shopping as compared to the States or even China, for example. That’s mostly because HK has a lot of international brands as brick-and-mortar stores, so a lot of people prefer to shop physically. But people do shop online for international brands that aren\’t available here, such as ASOS, River Island, Aero or even Abercrombie, Hollister and Nike, just to name a few, because it\’s cheaper online. But one of the most important things about online shopping is to offer free shipping. Online shopping has created great convenience to consumers by allowing us to browse and shop without having to physically hold a bundle of clothes in our arms or haul them all the way home. An ideal online shopping experience would be through Instagram. Our generation is an impatient lot – we want to be able to do everything almost immediately and the same goes for shopping. It’s best if shopping online only requires one click and also be in your hands in the shortest amount of time possible.
VICTORIA: Online only retailers should have showrooms that carry one to two sizes of each style or one to two of each product for people to try out/test out. Then, they should offer one-day shipping that delivers purchases to shoppers within 24 hours. Most important: FREE RETURNS! I will not shop at an online store if it does not have free returns.
Tiffany Lung: I am a senior, majoring in fashion retailing at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Over the past years, I’ve interned at a local high-end womenswear and at a fashion brand management agency in Hong Kong, both in their marketing and PR departments. Most recently, I interned at Anteprima, an Italian luxury womenswear in the retail sector and was sent to Shanghai to observe the China market. Alongside studying, I am currently working part-time at Cotton On, which is an Australian fast fashion company.
Kei Sato: I am a junior in the business and commerce faculty of Keio University. I major in international management. My academic interests are in innovation and M&A. When I was six, my family moved to the United States, and I lived in New York and Texas. Ever since then I have lived in Japan. The experience living abroad allowed me to acquire my English skills and be interested in countries other than my own.
Dan Swanepoel: I have recently graduated from the Fashion Retail Academy in London, after studying Visual Display and Retail Branding. Now I am currently an intern at Selfridges in London working as a visual merchandiser for women\’s fashion. My aspirations are to be a retail spaces and window display designer. I’m passionate about retail, and I hope one day to make my imprint on this industry.
Victoria Kulesza: I am a junior at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Merchandising Management. I received the 2014 Medal of Academic Excellence for the one-year A.A.S. in Fashion Merchandising. In addition, I participated in the Baker-Wharton Invitational – 15 students were selected from FIT’s student body to participate in a daylong event focused on professional development and networking with 15 students from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. Finally, this year I received the Macy’s Peggy Ward Memorial Scholarship for academic excellence; the highest value scholarship available to students in the Fashion Merchandising Management major. After FIT, my dream is to work for Macy’s within Product Development or Buying and Planning.