The war between online and offline stores is over

by Ofentse Sefolo
The war between online and offline stores is over

“Retail planning is not about online vs offline anymore. Brands in the 21st century need to be both online and offline, or they will be out. It is no longer a competition, clients are asking for a coherent experience between on and off – the same brand, only different channels.”

This is according to international branding trailblazer, Andy Stalman, who coined the phrase “brandoffon”. With projects in more than 30 countries across the globe, Stalman keeps abreast of global retail trends and branding. His vision of the future relationships between people and brands, as people embrace digital, is the integration between on and off.

“Someone from the online world started a rumour that brick and mortar stores are going to disappear and since it sounded interesting, people started to repeat it. But we live in an era of fake news. In fact, brick and mortar stores are growing and evolving, bringing lots of value not only to investors but also to cities,” he states. “Even Google, Amazon, Bonobos, Alibaba and Android are opening physical stores to keep people’s attention and let them ‘feel’ their brands.

“The client of the future is already connected and technology has become an extension of their senses, but because they are so immersed in digital, they are demanding more of the physical. They still want to touch, explore, feel and experience.”

Stalman points out that the impact of online sales in emerging countries is only about 2% to 3%. And in the USA, one of the most digitalised countries in the world, more than 90% of retail sales is still happening offline.

“From a retail and shopping centre industry point of view, the important thing is to continuously improve relationships with tenants, shoppers, society and the city. The aim should be to help people buy where they connect and help them connect where they buy,” he says.

Don’t put the Happy Meal too high!
However, digital transformation is not just about adding electronic features or putting up screens – it all depends on whether these are improving the client experience.

For example, Stalman tells the story of a McDonald’s store that has invested in huge tablets on which people can place their orders, but the Happy Meal is situated right at the top – so if a kid wants to place his order himself, he can’t reach it, which means that it doesn’t work. “Small details are more important than big data.”

Andy Stalman

People are not targets
“It is time to rethink the way shopping centres and retail outlets establish relationships with clients. For 60 years, the shopping centre industry has stayed pretty much the same. But if you are not changing and adapting, you are going to disappear.

“People aren’t targets, they are individuals with a name and last name and different ambitions and needs. The focus has shifted from doing transactions to creating individual immersive brand experiences that put people first. When a person enters the shopping centre, he/she is our guest and wants to be treated like a king,” Stalman emphasises.

“Most of the shopping centres in the USA that have closed had this in common: They were bad, they were boring, they ignored the client and they were not human-centric. If you don’t care about people, they will not care about you. The successful shopping centres are putting the customer, the guest, in the centre.

“Ultimately, word of mouth is more valuable than any advertising campaign can be. Therefore it is crucial what people feel and say about the shopping centre.”

Think immersive experience
Apart from buying products, Stalman explains that people want to consume experiences and be part of the stories of a brand. Stores and shopping centres must create great experiences – not by having the circus over every weekend, but by paying attention to small details.

“Nespresso is a good example of a brand that gets this right,” he points out. “One can easily buy capsules online, but people like how they are treated in-store. The physical store is taking the experience of buying coffee to the next level. But if someone asked you a few years ago to invest in a store that sells mainly coffee capsules, would you? Probably not.”

He also refers to toy stores where kids can touch and play vs ones where everything is off limits. “Who do you think is going to survive?” he asks.

“If we can connect with people, the community and society, then we can grow. We do need spectacular architecture, but we also need to think about what happens inside the architecture. And to do this, we need to understand the place, the people and their behaviour.” For example, people look down at their phones when walking, so it might make sense to put some of the signage on the floors rather than overhead.

One of the problem areas in shopping centres around the world is the corridor to the bathroom. It is never-ending and boring, but many people see it every time they visit. So to address this creatively, in one of his projects, Stalman’s team created a screen that mimics the movement of people through light. So as a person moves, the shadow mimics the movement. This triggered many conversations and shares on social media.

In another mall in Colombia, the architecture created a big square in the middle of the shopping centre, but instead of bringing people together, it divided them, until an effort was made to do spectacular things there, such as putting up a massive labyrinth. Now people go there to see what is happening.

Are we there yet?
When planning new developments, Stalman remarks that in 50 years from now, most things will be automated and digitalised, except human emotion. “This is why we need to invest in people, relationships, surprises, emotions and details. Because right after the digital revolution will come the love revolution – a focus on the truly honest and generous relationships that brands establish with people.

“Technology can help us to know and understand our clients better and connect better, but we need to transform the data into details to improve and personalise the experience.”

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to Andy Stalman for the insights contained in this article. @AndyStalman www.andystalman.com.

WATCH: Exclusive interview by WALLS&ROOFS in Africa editor, Marlene van Rooyen, with Andy Stalman. Video at: http://bit.ly/2LGjDOm

Caption main image:
To bring people together in the large open space in the middle of the Nervión Plaza in Seville, Spain, different events and installations are hosted there throughout the year.

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