Disruptive Customer Experience Design in Retail

Two decades ago, online retail was born. It drastically redefined the way we live and consume. Along with this fantastic growth, it also provided quite a challenge to a few traditional retailers (RadioShack’s went bankrupt in 2015, and the world’s largest music store closed in 2014). So much so that last year, Amazon became the largest retailer in the world.  One might think that nothing could stop online retail – and would have good reasons to. Until recently.

The emergence of customer experience as a key competitive battleground is changing this. This change offers retailers ways to counter the challenge they were given by the extremely convenient online model while differentiating themselves. We explore here two novelties in customer experience design that are being implemented by brick-and-mortar stores.

Your home at Lowe’s with virtual reality

You probably remember the last time you were looking for a piece of furniture in a store while wondering if it would fit in nicely at your home. It does require an incredible sense of imagination for you to picture that new sofa in the middle of your living room. It did require your imagination, until Lowe’s (39th best US Customer Experience Excellence brand in 2015) came up with its Holoroom.

Within minutes, you will be able to design your dream kitchen inside the store and step in it using an Occulus Rift or Google Cardboard. In doing so, you get the opportunity to get a feel for how this would work in your own place, if colours match, if that new fridge fits in nicely or if you’d rather change models on certain items you’d want to buy. Supported by a sales associate, you can design the perfect kitchen, step inside and not even leave the store while making certain that new fridge is all you wanted.

This major customer experience design innovation represents a crucial advantage for Lowe’s against key competitor groups. It goes beyond traditional retail, as customers can directly and conveniently see on the spot how a certain element would fit in at their home, while also providing the support of a sales associate and the possibility to take away the product directly out of the store, unlike online retail (although carrying that big fridge on your own isn’t really recommended!). With this VR innovation, Lowe’s is definitively taking the lead and transforming what best practice looks like in the industry.

Don’t just buy it, stand next to Master Chief (or Santa Claus)

If you ever owned an Xbox (or have children), you probably already know that Master Chief is the iconic hero of the Halo franchise. Last November, for the launch of the 5th instalment of the franchise, Microsoft and British video game retailer GAME (UK’s 71st best customer experience brand in 2015) decided to mark history by using augmented reality to celebrate the launch. People in the store were given the opportunity to actually stand next to the legendary warrior inside the GAME store.

Needless to say, this definitively is a “brick and mortar” exclusive online retailers won’t be replicating too soon. And this is exactly what a segment like this one, who suffers a lot with online competition (you nowadays can just download the exact same game for the same price online), is needing to recapture stores visits and ultimately, sales. GAME provides its customers with a new experience and opens up new possibilities for future product launches around the world. One can only ask: how interactive and brilliant such a launch for Pokémon Go (an augmented reality game promised for this year) could be!?

Following a positive welcome to this concept, GAME gave a new twist to end of year celebrations. Shaking conventions, the retailer replaced the traditional photo on Santa’s knee for a selfie with its own character: Gamer Claus! Customers went in-store and by following signage took a selfie and shared it on social media.

Using the retail store like an experiential tool won’t shake the industry like the internet did, but it certainly contributes towards building a unique and better customer experience for GAME’s customers and achieve a loyal following. And who knows, it might well help them move further up the CEE ranking.

Virtual reality and augmented reality both come with great promises. Time will tell which one will be best received by customers and will sublime customer experiences the most.

This is the first post in a series of newest innovations in customer experience design and strategy, and how they redefine best practice. Next time we will be exploring innovations in the travel sector.

For more customer experience insight visit the KPMG Nunwood CEM blog.