Why retailers should mimic the magic of Cher's 'Clueless' closet

Clueless: few retailers have understood how to integrate digital into the shopping experience
Clueless: few retailers have understood how to integrate digital into the shopping experience

The past decade has seen some dramatic developments in how brands interact with customers in retail, writes Samantha Belt, senior planner at Huge.

The blending of physical and digital is a huge part of this and is essential to making the retail experience a seamless one.

While some brands are getting it right, many still have a long way to go before creating the kind of magic that gets customers coming back for more.

In 1995, the film Clueless was released. Cher, a spoilt little rich girl turned good, opened my mind to what a retail experience could be. Her wardrobe was not only completely on point for the 1990s but came with the most enchanted experience I’ve ever seen.

Her computer was the perfect sartorial assistant, helping her match her outfits so she was well-dressed for any occasion, even if most of those occasions were in the classroom.

It was enriching her experience, making her daily life easier and it was something she loved. While the industry has come a long way in the 20 years post "AS IF!", for me it hasn’t lived up to the magical interactions of Cher’s wardrobe.

Those brands that have come close are well documented. Burberry, Walmart, and Macy’s are all up there.

Target has been innovating its in-store experience by experimenting with digital and mobile technologies such as beaconing and Rebecca Minkoff’s store of the future is a fantastic and often unsung example of the merger between digital and physical experiences, which has seen the brand’s clothing sales triple.

As with other industries, the reason many retail brands struggle to create a seamless customer journey is that they run their digital operations as independent business units as opposed to the way their customers experience them – as one brand.

Brands that beat the competition in terms of revenue growth, profitability and innovative customer experiences are those who foster strong relationships between departments. Digital needs to be embedded into the way a company works – all the way from the bottom to the top.

Technology should add magic

Technology should expand and enhance customer experiences. It should add magic.

It should make life easier for its users. It should ensure that everyday brand interactions are a joy. Recently, brands have tried to advance digitally by bolting things onto their experiences: loyalty programs, CRM, reviews, social media plug-ins, tools, virtual reality, iPads, functions, features.

But all of this is just stuff, and stuff is neither enhancing nor expanding my experience. Stuff, particularly in retail, just gets in the way of what I want to do – and that’s shop.

An example of this stuff is Argos’ digital concept store in Shoreditch, London, which is filled with iPads. In theory this is wonderful, no more waiting, no more biros, eventually more cost efficient and environmentally friendly.

But the first time I went in, every single iPad was broken. Technology, should give customers more of what they want, when they want it, ensuring it doesn’t hinder people’s interaction with a brand.

Creating shared interests

Accomplishing magic boils down to two things: imagination and enthusiasm.

Everything brands do, both in the physical and digital worlds, and especially when the two are combined, must demonstrate an imaginative understanding of the intersection between what a brand cares about and what its customers care about. We call these shared interests. Brands and their agencies should approach these shared interests with enthusiasm.

Only then can they be turned into a reality, elevating products and services to another level and pushing the boundaries of what customers expect from brands.

There are some fantastic examples of this in unexpected places. Nest has begun to transform the energy sector, Digit is taking stress out of people’s lives with artificially intelligent savings, and we’re keeping a watchful eye on Mondo who are tipped to be the Google of the banking sector.

In our work with Nike on TechPack, SwooshiD and FuelBox, interactions are specifically designed to enhance and expand the customer experience. In Atlanta, we are experimenting with the creation of a Huge Café, employing Anticipatory Design to make the coffee purchase experience something truly different.

One of our clients at Nike often says to me "we’ve got to make people feel like rock stars" and he’s genuinely enthusiastic about how we can achieve that. Thinking about it, more than anything else this sentence really sums the secret to successful digital marketing: make people feel like rock stars.

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