Recently I came across an article heralding the future of retail in Australia. The premise was based on the seemingly pervasive fear that e-commerce is in the process of rendering bricks and mortar shopping obsolete, and that the only way traditional store can hope to compete is by becoming more... well... bionic.
As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about the intersections between traditional and digital retail spaces, I can't help thinking that this vision of a brave new shopping world is seriously missing the mark.
Yes it's true that high street stores need to evolve as customers' expectations around personalisation and convenience are reshaped by their internet informed world. But it's not about making physical stores feel more like 'the internet' in order to justify their continued existence. In fact I believe that truly savvy retails understand that the absolute opposite is true.
In my store, Showroom, shoppers come in because browsing and buying is something they like do with friends, or gives them a break in an otherwise busy week. It's a way for them to enjoy some downtime, a chance to have a friendly chat with someone who doesn't want anything from them. It's about having an experience in a place they find aesthetically inspiring and uplifting.
Most of the people who come up our staircase have already experienced the shop online, by browsing our website or following us on social media. They know what to expect on our shelves - they've done their preliminary research and are genuinely interested in the stories behind the products or brands they already find beautiful. They know what we have to offer and selling them on it is about making an emotional connection to a maker's story, or to the nostalgia inherent in a particular design, or simply to the experience of being in a shop that feels so lovely they want to bring a piece of it home.
Especially now in the holiday season as thousands of A typical shoppers are enter stores, possibly for the first time all year, people are looking for distinct and meaningful gifts for their loved ones. These customers are out in droves trying to buying presents that symbolise how they feels about someone else. And I'm not convinced that Goggle glasses and automated touch screen browsing is the most direct route into their hearts or their wallets. Instead of automating the shopping experience, we should think of ways to make it more connective and more human. Rather than focusing on selling things based on their specs, we should focus on the aspects of our products that give them real meaning to people.