Following our introductory piece, Recalibrating Retail, where we identified some of the disruptions and retail shifts brought about by the pandemic, Holition's UX & Strategy team have conducted industry research to tackle the emerging technology trends that are shaping the future of retail and how brands, retailers, and business leaders can adapt to this post-pandemic new normal.
In a new series of articles, we will be sharing the output of our research, kicking-off first on our findings for In-Store Experiences.
In the pre-pandemic beauty sector, physical retail (e.g. the ability to discover and try-on products in-store, as well as to conduct 1:1 consultations with beauty advisors) was the primary touchpoint for purchase. As limitations on personal interactions continue to permeate, leveraging on digital strategies to engage with customers offers an alternative route for brands and retailers to explore.
With store closures following the outbreak of COVID-19, retailers have been left with no choice but to recalibrate their strategies to adapt to the ongoing crisis. Since the pandemic, nearly 30% of the entire $500B global beauty industry has been shut down. Tagged as a non-essential category and with customers heavily reliant on in-store retail for their purchases, the beauty industry has yet to offset the in-store sales decline despite a reported 20% increase in e-commerce sales.
However, following positive signs of recovery in China, the future of the beauty sector seems more promising. As countries begin transitioning out of lockdown, it is expected that customers will gradually seek out self-indulging experiences and turn towards the beauty category again, whether that is online or offline.
Given the pandemic’s lasting effects on beauty customers’ needs and behaviour, retailers must be ready to respond to these both on their e-commerce and in-store platforms. Additionally, since concerns over physical interactions are likely to remain following the lockdown period, digital experiences will play an even more important role than ever.
To get customers' feet back in the door, retailers may want to consider playful strategies that will entice and delight store goers. Augmented Reality (AR)-enabled storefront displays laden with engaging content such as Hermes' interactive window display or De Beers' 3D window displays are some inviting formats designed to pique customers' interests.
Optimising the e-commerce journey will be a key priority for retailers to meet the changing needs of beauty and retail customers. Along with ensuring convenience through easy to use interfaces or free delivery services, retailers will have to innovate further to recreate the physical experience.
AR-enabled experiences such as Charlotte Tilbury's Virtual Magic Mirror in-store and Rimmel's Steal the Look app can address the need to discover and try-on beauty products virtually, whilst artificial intelligence (AI) functionalities can present opportunities for retailers to create a personalised experience and aid in disseminating product information.
In the foreseeable future, virtual makeover experiences could also be taken a step further and reimagined into a touchless format to accommodate the post-pandemic in-store environment.
Concerns and restrictions around product testers and interactions with sales advisors will challenge retailers to find new ways to communicate product information to customers. Similar to e-commerce, virtual try-on and virtual assistant solutions will be increasingly used in customers’ product selection process in-store as well in the post-pandemic ‘product tester free’ era.
Digital experiences such as Maxfactor's My Makeup Artist, which enables users to try on makeup looks, as well as offering algorithm-based personalised product recommendations will help to counteract the limitations on product information available and turn customers’ store visit into a fun experience. (Click here to launch the experience.)
Additionally, triggering touch-free based experiences with the help of gesture technology or voice control systems will be another new exciting direction for the physical retail industry to evolve in. Voice and gesture recognition technologies will allow the integration of safer and more intuitive digital interfaces and experiences enabling visitors to interact similarly to how they normally would in-store regarding consultations with beauty advisors or exploring physical products.
Solutions that allow customers to interact with digital content through their mobile phones via QR triggered experiences or installations that automatically detect a customer are also be promising routes for creating a touch-free in-store journey.
These touchless digital interfaces and omnichannel solutions in the post-pandemic era will not only be essential at the product search and evaluation stages but throughout the entire in-store customer journey, including the moments of payment and obtaining purchased products as well, further bridging the gap between offline and online retail.
Beautiful visualisations and projection mappings can highlight the sensory and aesthetic benefits of physical retail while interactive experiences help create emotional or playful dialogues with customers. Following the lockdown period, such experiences will be helpful in addressing customers’ increased need for connectedness and social stimuli without imposing risks to their safety, and ultimately building deeper customer and brand relationships.
There is still a lot of uncertainty around what the post-pandemic era might entail and the different ways it will shape consumer behaviour in the short and long term. However, customers shifting to e-commerce platforms and showing more resistance to visiting physical retailers are trends to be observed.
In light of these behavioural changes, while online retailers’ focus should be on optimising the e-commerce journey and maximising product information, priorities for hygiene-led in-store platforms and offering additional value to online commerce to attract foot traffic to stores are key now that stores are slowly reopening again.
Even though the COVID-19 crisis has brought significant challenges for beauty retailers, it will be exciting to see how brands will further innovate and bring forth a surge of creative retail experiences.
This is Part 1 of a new series of articles authored by our UX & Strategy Team, which tackles emerging technology trends that are shaping the future of retail and strategic recommendations on how brands, retailers, and business leaders can adapt to this post-pandemic new normal.