by Michael Kerwin
Technology is enabling dramatic changes in the retail and hospitality industries, allowing customers to shop how and when they want. These changes disrupt the traditional parameters of place and set store hours, giving way to the convenience of shopping from anywhere at any time, even incorporating social media and friends’ participation in personal shopping.
In 2017, thousands of retail store closings highlight this transition. From Gymboree to American Apparel, retailers are closing traditional stores and working hard to keep pace with the changing consumer demands. It can be less expensive and far more convenient to have six pairs of shoes delivered to your home, try them on, and return the ones you don’t like, rather than to drive to the store.
Similar changes in hospitality allow greater choice and the ability to check in and download room keys to your smartphone before arriving at the property.
The social and technical trends fueling these changes include the expectations of self-directed and self-scheduled individual experiences. One local example is Dunkin’ Donuts’ “DD Perks,” which urges “DD Perks members to use the Dunkin’ app to order ahead and speed past the line.” It is important to acknowledge how the new expectations include avoiding interaction with traditional sales people, waiters, and staff.
Additionally, the “new-normal” experience of sharing activities on social media is becoming part of retail and hospitality expectations.
Agile retailers are pursuing new ways to draw customers into their stores through apps and customized connected services. One example is the Neiman Marcus “Memory Mirror,” a retail apps/tool that captures images of consumers in any number of outfits, showing color options, and sharing this content with friends for comment. The personalized images and product information remain available through the app for future reference and ordering. This approach blends the physical store experience with the on-line convenience that modern consumers demand. Retailers hope that responding to these new shopping trends with enhanced personalized service will capture consumer spending.
Similar “smart mirror” technologies include customized fit clothing apps, i.e,. Kinect for Windows, virtual 2D/3D modeling with the Harajuku Interactive Mirror, and Oak Labs. The proliferation of these technologies highlights the urgency of creating new customer experiences within retail stores.
Hospitality providers are having to respond to similar pressures, figuring out how to provide flexible self-directed experiences. Self-serve kiosks are becoming the de facto reception desks, and automated luggage storage provides easy access at any time of day. Hotel staff are playing a more supporting role, intervening when the automated systems don’t get it right or guests’ demands exceed the current systems.
Room “keys” that are downloaded onto smartphones result in further separation between the traditional hotel service staff and guests. In addition, apps for room service and reservations are replacing the concierge role. It is not uncommon for a guest to arrive, enjoy their stay, and leave without interacting with physical representatives of the property.
Technology-savvy consumers vote with their wallets, selecting frictionless opportunities whenever possible. The retail and hospitality industries need to plan technology-suffused responses to the growing demands for independent interactions and experiences. The role and nature of physical spaces need to be reenvisioned, to create an environment that delivers these experiences.
Entrances and lobbies need to incorporate kiosks and related human/machine interfaces. Pedestrian flow into and through spaces needs to be streamlined, emphasizing free movement while providing supporting personnel only to supplement the experience. Apps and related technologies will continue to grow in importance, serving as the primary consumer interface. Market-sensitive competitive design will be required for each project, thoughtfully incorporating insightful responses to these consumer selection and spending trends. Guest and/or customer “portals” will continue to grow in importance, bridging the physical and online aspects of shopping and hospitality. The design community will be called on to create these new types of spaces and experiences, in light of the ongoing development of independent and selective self-directed consumers.
Michael Kerwin, RCDD, CCS, DCCA, is a principal and leads the Technology Design Group at Vanderweil Engineers.