“Phygital” – blending the physical and digital worlds of retail

The physical and digital world is converging to offer a blended experience to the consumer, delivered through rapidly evolving digital advancement and interior design. In their own rights, they both create credible environments, but together they deliver something more compelling and above all more profitable for the retailer. Together they make ‘phygital design’, a paradigm shift that will make the way we shop more in tune with the way we live our lives.

The real purpose of phygital design is to create meaningful transactions and here I mean not only the exchange of money but the exchange of information, a limitless transaction without boundaries of physical space and time limits. The presence of this transaction extends into home, work, leisure and all the spaces in-between. Smart Technology is the means of harnessing this endless transaction in our lives, through smartphones, tablets, PCs, TV’s, wearable and even kitchen appliances. By far, the most important part of this connected culture is the two-way nature of the modern Transaction. In exchange for ultra-personalised service, the consumer trades with their personal information. The retail ecosystem uses this to target future transactions and perpetuate the phygital relationship. How then do we harness the power of this Transaction in a Phygital Design? The answer requires a true understanding of the consumer, the shopper tribe frequenting your store and a willingness on behalf of the retailer to embrace change.

First, we must create an experience, not a website, not an environment. This experience needs to deliver three desired outcomes: immediacy, immersion and interaction. Immediacy and Interaction are relatively easy to provide. Immersion, on the other hand, can be delivered through retail theatre, creating incredible environment and amazing spaces. Truly effective, phygital brand immersion needs to be linked with emotion: a bond made at a sub-conscious level and therefore stronger than any consciously generated suggestion. Understanding and addressing all the senses at this level drives massive commercial potential and it’s the clever use of technology that enables it. An unforgettable retail experience is what we are aiming for here, as the visionary Seth Godin said, “If we’re going to shop, then, there’s an imperative to make it engaging, thrilling and worth the resources we put into it.” With a fresh outlook and the willingness to think outside of the retail box, we can create compelling phygital environments. We certainly have the right audience in the 21st century. The tech literate generations X, Y and Z are ready to engage with something new. We live in a world where customers have grown to expect as opposed to desire. Now shoppers simply expect 3D environments to ‘raise the bar’ of retail experience year on year. We are rapidly reaching the point where a lack of phygital innovation will seriously impact the bottom line of brands that can’t keep up. As ever it will be the innovators who set the pace of change and therefore of consumer expectations.

What constitutes excellence in customer experience is being re-defined by the shopper and often goes far beyond a friendly greeting and helpful service. However, I would sound a note of caution here. It’s easy to be led by what you think the consumer wants, or by fads and fashions. There is no substitute for knowing the shopper who buys your brand. Don’t take them on a journey they feel uncomfortable with and don’t disappoint them when they show interest in a destination you have never heard of! Ultimately, Phygital is flexible but you must always make it meaningful.

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