Retail experts have long talked about multi-channel strategy and thereby about the marriage of physical and online stores.
We have seen how physical stores can function as showrooms where you can see, touch and try the products before ordering them via the computer. One example is the Danish furniture company, Bolia.com, which experiences that nearly 80% of all orders are taking place on the physical store’s computer after the customers have tried the different couches and furniture instore and found their dream sofa while being guided by a sales assistant – even though the customer could just have ordered the sofa online at the comfort of their own home.
The concept of turning the physical store into a showroom where the retailer would inspire and educate the customers – instead of focusing on hard core selling – is a phenomenon that we will see more often in the future. The concept places great emphasis and focus on the buying experience instead of the sale. It can also be more cost efficient as it requires less shelving space, fewer employees and fewer square meters in the shop.
Microsoft has developed Surface for exactly this kind of concept. It is a large table which can be compared to a giant Iphone. You can navigate the screen with the fingertips, enlarge, reduce and throw around pictures and objects just as on the Iphone. The difference is however, that numerous fingertips can interact at the same time on Surface. Meaning that you can use the screen together with your friends – which for women means that the interest and the buying gene will be extra switched on! I talked with Kirsti Kierulf, Director for innovation, learning and technology at Accenture, who have worked very closely together with Microsoft in the development of Surface. According to Kirsti, Surface can change the way in which we shop thanks to the integrated search and navigation which can be adapted to the retailers and brands using Surface.She further explains that Surface can offer the customers a far better detailed and multi-sensory product experience. It can assist in creating an interactive buying experience in the middle of the brick and mortar store as it combines the physical shop and its sales assistants with a digitalised reality. Surface can download product information, compare products, find related products and offer extra features which cannot be found in the physical store. There have been rumours of stores like TopShop launching new concept stores mixing the physical world with the online world. The advantage being that they can open smaller shops with shop assistants who are educated as stylists and who can inspire and advice customers instead of being traditional sales assistants. The shops will be decked out with mannequins who daily will be styled with different clothing and accessories and there will only be a few examples of each style which can be tried on in the desired sized, but not be purchased. The products can rather be bought on the screens in the shop and will thereafter be shipped directly home to the customer.
TopShop’s online store is already turning over as much as the brand’s highest generating flagship store on Oxford Street in Central London. And it is estimated that TopShop can develop the successful online sales channel even more by opening the smaller concept stores especially in the province and in more rural areas where it isn’t cost efficient to open the full-scale Topshop stores. Here, there would also be a great advantage in informing and guiding the customers to shop online while they are enjoying a great entertaining –and social – experience.
It is however not only the large stores which can take advantage of Microsoft Surface. Also smaller and more specialised brands as example the luxury stationer to the royal family, Smythson, could use Surface in their shop to truly integrate their sales channels and thereby give the customers a rich and entertaining interactive experience in store. This should ultimately result in better sales, as research shows that the more customers interact and ‘play’ with a brand, the more likely they are to buy more and become more loyal customers.
Also the luxury jeweller Fabergé could with advantage use Surface for their intimate showings of the jewelry (with a price tag of between £7000 and £7M per piece). By utilising Surface instead of a normal computer screen more customers can interact with the beautiful pieces simultaneously. They can compare the precious pieces, watch films showcasing the craftsmanship and the intricate making of the jewelry, as well as seeing interviews with the designer, and be informed of the history of the specific diamonds. It is furthermore also a safer and more cost effective solution to use Surface, as Faberge wouldn’t have to make numerous pieces of the one-off handcrafted jewelry and they wouldn’t have to transport an entire collection of the precious pieces.
As shown, there are lots of exciting opportunities for bringing ecommerce into the store and Microsoft Surface will continuously develop applications which will change the way in which we interact with computers. The aim being that the user won’t feel a high tech alienation and barrier but rather appreciate the feeling of human interaction and thereby enjoy a greater buying experience.