Bringing the hyperphysical to retail

In spite of those who were warning of the bells of doom for bricks and mortar retail a few years ago, we are seeing it going through an exciting revival. The pandemic definitely had a part to play in this, because as much as online shopping is convenient, the two-dimensional experience of scrolling and swiping has become boring and mundane for many consumers and is making them crave more.

This is where hyperphysical retail is coming into its own. The term “Hyperphysical” as business analyst Marie Dollé states for The Future Laboratory, is “about ‘giving a ‘higher life’ to physical spaces and objects and injecting culture to get us out of our cocoons.’” In other words, the physical world is becoming conscious of how it will connect with our feelings and emotions.

As a result, retailers now need to entice their consumers by providing them with meaningful spaces and experiential services that supersede the traditional habits of shopping in a physical store. There is no time like the present and customers are hungry for it. According to new European research, commissioned by global technology firm Epson, entitled “The Experiential Future”,  75% of European shoppers – and over 80% of Millennials and Gen Z – have said that they would change their shopping behaviour if high street stores were more experiential.

These are exciting times for physical retail, which is not just rejuvenating, but fundamentally reinventing itself. In the high-end market, we have seen brands such as Balenciaga clad their entire Mount Street store in pink faux fur to launch a range of handbags. Dior opened a Paris flagship, offering people the chance to see garments being made and our client Tommy Hilfiger has opened a flagship store in Berlin with its own cinema, while many of its stores now include cafes and cocktail bars, offering DJ sets. Axel Arigato offers a complimentary sneaker cleaning service to customers at five of their flagships, on the first Sunday of every month.

This change is not just happening in the luxury retail sector. The high street is also seeing a renaissance, with many pushing boundaries and using innovation and creativity. We are seeing examples such as “Play-tail”; dedicated areas that retailers are creating for children to play in, whilst their parents shop and “Hangout Hubs” – destinations focused on socialising to create brand engagement. There is also an increase in the use of Influ-sellers, through which brands are leveraging the audiences of micro-influencers, to present and curate shared shopping experiences. It is about brands taking an honest approach and reassessing themselves to deliver experiences that are true to the inherent values that they hold.

Of course hyperphysical retail might not fit every brand. It isn’t about throwing a lot of sensory stuff into a store and hoping that it sticks. Rather,  it should be about how the experience fits with the retailer and its brand. In other words, there’s a difference between ‘seducing’ or engaging someone with sensory input rather than just visually screaming at them. Sometimes, this just needs to be about an effectively laid out store, that offers an easy shopping experience. This is especially true of convenience stores.

We now live in an omnichannel world, with a boundless retail landscape, aided by technology. It is up to brands to create outposts that define communities, in order to provide an oasis of creative and expressive sustenance.

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