Ever since the advent of the internet and ecommerce, the retail industry has been constantly evolving and shifting as companies and brands determine how to best use technology to reach consumers’ wallets.

Ten years ago, I wrote my masters dissertation on “Moving Retail Experience Design Forward by the Integration of Brand Extension, Lifestyle Creation, and Web 2.0 Technology”, so by now retail has got to be at 3.0 or 4.0 on the evolutionary scale – if not further along. However, while it may seem like retail and technology have become seamless in today’s marketplace, there is still a large rift between the experiences offered by screens and brick & mortar – namely, the absence or presence of personal interaction.

Indeed, while the noughties saw brands with physical stores scrambling to establish an online presence, the past few years have given rise to the trend of brands born online (or on mobile) strategically plotting their entry into the physical world.

Online retail giant Amazon has already made several forays into the real world with ventures such as a bookshop, Amazon GO convenience store, AmazonFresh Pickup, and their whimsical Treasure Truck. And mobile darling Snapchat rolled out a physical vending machine to announce the launch of their Spectacles product.

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However, while ventures like these do have a physical presence, they primarily continue to emphasize the autonomy of technology – even though consumers are increasingly looking for new ways to more meaningfully and directly connect with the people, brands, and products that fill their lives.

One of the first brands to translate their unique online voice and shopping experience into equally noteworthy physical spaces was eyeglasses purveyor Warby Parker, whose original online model involves shipping consumers multiple pairs of glasses to try on in their own homes.

Even though the online model is highly successful, the founders decided to open physical stores because they recognized the inherent value created by being able to walk into a space, try on as many glasses as you want, and develop a relationship with a salesperson who understands your needs

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Likewise, Bonobos – the online men’s clothing retailer – now has physical stores dubbed ‘guideshops’. In keeping with the brand’s exploration-influenced identity, ‘guides’ help customer try on clothing and experience fabrics in the flesh. Interestingly, however, customers can’t actually leave with any of their spoils as orders must still be placed online.

Bonobos

Farfetch will be taking a hypbrid approach with their first bricks-and-mortar shop, offering both an app-based shopping experience and a traditional retail shopping experience within a trendy, technologically advanced boutique featuring sales associates who focus on fashion trends and the customers, rather than on store logistics.

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“The smell of the store, the merchandising, the interior decoration, the human interaction with the staff, the fact that you can touch the fabric, the fact that you can try there and then. You cannot replicate that online.”
– José Neves, CEO and founder of Farfetch

The element that unites Warby Parker’s, Bonobos’, and Farfetch’s retail approaches is a human one. All three brands rely on salespeople to forge personal connections with consumers and act as both product guides and brand ambassadors. This personal touch closes the circle, creating a truly 360-degree retail experience that depends equally upon the digital and physical faces of the brand.