Retailers need to be creative entertainers to get buyers to connect in this digital world
The role of Irish retailers is becoming less about being a traditional shopkeeper and evolving in to something more akin to an entertainer.
When customers go shopping they want to be brought on a visual experience that resonates with them on a personal level - the traditional shop is becoming a thing of the past.
More and more Irish people now spend their leisure time eating out, exercising and shopping online. This has all contributed to the decline in footfall across shopping streets and centres and has impacted Irish retailers financially.
Looking at the rise last year of customer-focused window campaigns, personalised shopper events and engaging store level communication, the days of product being king are behind us. The future is all about customer engagement.
I recently visited Euroshop, one of the biggest retail expos in the world. I saw some key trends coming down the line from global retailers and could already see how the mix of visual merchandising and digital tie-ins could be so effective for Irish retailers.
Attending a talk by retail brand strategists JosDeVries, they gave examples from Sephora and Ikea, which have successfully introduced some of these digitally focused ideas to their current visual strategy.
Sephora is testing an iPad programme in selected stores inspired by, what it believes, is a close relationship between its customers and Apple.
The iPads have been introduced to 20 stores around the US with the goal of providing extra product details that could only be offered through the internet, a great example of merging the world of online shopping and customer experience.
Another trend I saw at Euroshop was how lighting and scent are playing a huge part in capturing people's attention while instore. This works by connecting with customers on an emotional level and, when implemented correctly, it can influence impulse buying. Not that I condone emotional manipulation, so let's just say it's sense-driven persuasion.
Consumers are now constantly looking at aspirational lifestyles online using social media channels such as Instagram.
People now style themselves online, decorate their homes and even come up with creative ideas to make their food look more visually appealing online. Irish retailers need to look online at what is truly connecting with the public and implement it instore.
To have an increase in sales, retailers and visual merchandisers need to be focused and consistent when it comes to visual communication. Consumers need to see things a few times in order for them to really let the information sink in, building a visual brand identity is so important and is proven to work.
If we think of the most famous brands, it's impossible to think of their name without a brand-identifying image coming to mind, that is the true success of visual communications.
Looking ahead, retailers can see how visual trends are changing the way consumers live their lives. People are barraged by visual communications all day in a world where everything is just a click or swipe away.
The Irish retail industry needs to look at its spaces and be sure to use every inch to offer all the elements necessary to fulfil its customers' needs and aspirational desires.
The real future of Irish retail is consistent creativity. Retailers need to be on the pulse of consumer trends and incorporate those trends in a way that visually communicates to their target customer, driving footfall, sales and ultimately the economy.
Rowena Doyle is managing director of Visual Sense. For more information, go to www.visualsense.ie