How retail brands can stay relevant and drive growth in the Digital Age

In this series, retail experts at discuss the most pressing issues facing their industries today. Write your own #Shoptalk17 article Shift the dynamic in how you communicate with customers. . Embrace partners to deliver genuine experiences that are personal and shareable.

Zach Overton

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VP of Customer Experience | GM of Samsung 837 and Galaxy Studios | Creating Meaningful Consumer Experiences

The future of retail isn’t on its way. It’s underway. While the end of brick and mortar hasn’t come as many predicted, we are seeing a seismic shift. Online retailers like Warby Parker and Amazon are opening retail spaces, and traditional retailers are being forced to rethink the physical space to more closely align with the digital experience. New media and technology have radically transformed the shopping experience and we’ve seen a fundamental shift in how consumers engage within a retail environment.

Today’s shopper is connected; they’re comfortable moving across a multichannel marketplace powered by options and convenience. This is forcing retailers to rethink their approach to engagement and work smarter to maximize a physical storefront in the digital age. Brands need to shift in a new direction in order to meet consumers’ expectations. Rather than trying to compete with online shops, stores need to move toward a broadened value proposition for consumers-offering a level of curation, service, experience and entertainment that can’t be satisfied solely online.

While the technological revolution has disrupted the traditional retail environment, it has also presented a valuable opportunity for brands to reimagine the consumer experience in a more immersive way. Consumers are very aware of the brands they interact with, so marketing does not need to be overt; if you cater to their interest, they’ll take notice.

Embrace your loyalists and engage the curious.

This was one of our goals when creating Samsung 837, our flagship consumer technology space, and in just one year, it’s been said we’ve done just that. To many, 837 represents a reinvention of the consumer brand experience that invites visitors to play, discover and engage with products without the pressure to purchase that’s involved in a typical retail situation. There are no products for sale; our focus is on interaction vs. transaction. While creating a flagship store without retail might sound crazy, the space has allowed us to create a two-way conversation with our visitors. We moved from speaking them about tech specs and product features to engaging them through immersive experiences that place our products at the heart of passions like cooking, film, art and music. 837 is a true technology playground; we’re allowing our visitors to do the number one thing they say they like to do in brick-and-mortar stores – see, touch, and feel (i.e. try it before you buy it). We have in-store Guides, not sales associates, who help guide visitors on their journey through the space and explain how our connected devices can power their creativity, reduce the friction points in their everyday life (look inside your fridge while at the grocery store…check!) and enhance the things that they care most about.

Some brands are hesitant to partner for fear of losing share of voice; this mindset is both misguided and myopic. Brands should approach partnerships as opportunities to achieve what neither one of them could do alone. Partnerships allow consumers to experience your brand in a way that they couldn’t ever before. At Samsung, we refer to this mindset as “Samsung + Partners = Awesome” or “1+1 = 3.” We also vet our partners through the lens of helping us to curate entirely new and authentic engagements that are both personal and shareable. When is the last time you walked into a store and wanted to share the experience with your Instagram or Snapchat followers? Three out of four of our visitors at 837 document their journey in the space on social. Curating programming and installations that resonate with visitors on this level would be impossible without our partners.

Some partnerships that have helped us bring the Samsung ecosystem to life include 837 Run Club by Samsung x Lululemon, designed to offer runners a personalized and enhanced workout experience by testing out our Gear Fit2 while being led on a distance run by a Lululemon athletic coach. We also embarked on a partnership with The New York Times to launch the Daily 360, where we outfitted global journalists with our Gear 360 cameras to create virtual reality content each day. By providing award winning journalists with Samsung Gear 360 cameras and Galaxy S7 phones to use in the field, reporters have been able to reimagine the newsroom through unparalled immersive storytelling.

It is important to note, when selecting a partner that makes sense for your brand, it’s key to integrate your brand, product or service through an approach that is contextually relevant – for us that usually means tying our programming to cultural moments. That said, you need to be able to weave in the product in an organic manner, because a consumer will be quick to call out an integration that feels awkward and forced. Make sure the tie-in enhances the consumer’s experience in a cool and exciting way that benefits both partners.

Some other brands that we’re seeing master this strategic partnership approach include mattress startup Casper and the 13 year-old furniture chain, West Elm. Their partnership gave Casper a physical storefront (I bought my Casper after testing it at a West Elm!) and it gave West Elm customers the opportunity to complete their home design with one of the best (and most disruptive) mattresses on the market. It was a win-win for the retailers, their customers and ultimately, their brands.

For us, 837 provides the opportunity to connect with both Samsung-owner and non-owners. For owners it has enabled us to provide them with loyalty rewards such as exclusive access to big cultural events and to offer deeper exposure to the Samsung ecosystem. For non-owners, it’s a chance to focus on education and immersion with the brand. These consumer engagements are serving to increase brand opinion by 85%, drive purchase intent across all our product categories among current owners and non-owners alike, and following events we’ve seen an increased ‘pride-to-own’ among Samsung customers.

And from the looks of it, we’re not the only brand that’s jumping on board with this new retail model, as we saw the Cadillac House, Sonos’ Listening Room and Kola House from PepsiCo pop up shortly after we opened shop, all with unique points of view in bringing their respective brands to life.

In closing, I’d challenge you to think beyond your current consumer engagement touch points, and explore new ways to allow consumers to get up-close-and-personal with your product or service. Offer them personal and shareable experiences that enable them to really understand how whatever you’re selling has the potential to make their lives better – bridging the gap to build loyalty and trust. As our CMO, Marc Mathieu, often says, “everyone who has a phone is an influencer.” With the right experiences they will become your best advocates, without the heavy endorsement fees.

VP of Customer Experience | GM of Samsung 837 and Galaxy Studios | Creating Meaningful Consumer Experiences
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