GUEST COLUMN: Marco Cella and Sofia Mariasole Boer from Prase on how AV can make the difference in the new era of retail

The working environment is far from the only field that had to change due to the pandemic, as many markets’ traditions have been disrupted; and the classic retail industry is the one who has suffered the most.

There’s no more room to discuss a balance between e-commerce and bricks and mortar, it is time to directly question how physical retail can find a new role in the omnichannel strategy. A small step back is needed here: what does omnichannel even mean?

While you may not know the pure definition of the term, it’s probably the way you made your most recent purchase. In its broader sense, omnichannel strategy means moving through numerous channels to form an opinion and build the trust that leads to a final sale.

The pandemic has forced even the most reluctant customers to shift to a full-online shopping experience, changing their behaviour and habits. Although the return-to-office phase is taking the spotlight, the return-to-shop issue presents similar perils, but with longer-term effects. Physical retail is not going to be completely eradicated by virtual shops, but its role will inevitably change: it will lose what has always been its key objective (the purchasing act), but physical retail will maintain a critical part in the overall branding experience and awareness. AV technologies are the way to create a great offline experience, both reinventing and enchanting old retail's marketing strategies, or adding a unique substance to spaces.

Shop windows will take on a whole new meaning and goal, as they morph from displaying something to attracting someone: the limelight is not on the product anymore but on the person and his/her ability to decide to step through the door. That’s why we are seeing a rapid increase in window-facing LED walls, with content ranging from colourful videos to interactive media, even highly sophisticated fake 3D models that trick our eyes, as they exit from what we assumed was a fixed frame. Similarly, projectors are enjoying a second renaissance thanks to their use in artistic mapping, proving everyone wrong who saw them as yesterday's news. We are indeed getting closer to the style of advertising that 80s and 90s sci-fi movies promised us.

But it’s inside the shop where technology can be used to tell a story around a retailer's wares: why spend countless words describing how something is made when these details can be shown to a customer? The manufacturing process, a sound that a particular machine makes, why specific materials were chosen, all collide into a product experience that completes and enhances designers’ original vision.

In a competitive era where every penny of a price tag gets scrutinised, mixed media is an extremely sharp tool to reclaim the core value of an item. Physical experiences have a certain degree of leverage and sales influence that currently can’t be fully replicated in virtual shops.

Retail is now in the business of entertainment and physical spaces can satisfy the renewed social needs of human interaction. Brands have the opportunity to create a powerful image and a solid bond that goes beyond a standard supplier-buyer relationship. As underlined by BCG's research 'Brand-centric Transformation', physical stores that engage the five senses of the customer sell at a more premium price. The post-pandemic scenario will be typified by a new age of bricks and mortar, emotional environments that empower the brand experience, leaving the purchase to one of the numerous touchpoints the customer can choose.

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