Carnaby: Experience design for a leading department store

Imagine the perfectly integrated shopping experience

A leading European Department Store asked Modern Human to reimagine the shopping experience. Modern Human integrated the online and instore customer journeys to create a deeply compelling shopping experience that drives customer loyalty.

There is no denying that the internet has significantly changed the nature of retail in the last 15 years. It has altered how, when, and where we shop. Consumers are no longer tied to the most local - and therefore most convenient - branch of a store, and can instead move between online and offline, and even from device to device. This transition has represented a steep learning curve for most retailers, with the result that their shopping experience is still yet to truly catch up to the technology available. Modern Human set out with the deep-held belief that there is a real opportunity for technology to augment and enrich the shopping experience, not simply move it online.

Bricks and mortar stores have obvious advantages. An in-store experience can be rich and seductive; with carefully merchandised products set in an environment designed to elevate the shopping experience from something practical to something deeply enjoyable. The understanding of physical retail, of how potential customers shop and why they buy, is deeply evolved. Academics write and publish papers and books on the ‘psychology’ of shopping all the time, and merchandisers and interior designers create hard-to-resist environments that showcase products beautifully.

Online retail is also deeply evolved, but in a different direction. Online stores are typically relatively usable, mobile compatible and good at converting online sales. However, the usual online shopping experience lacks any real tangible or emotional connection to the products on offer or the store from which they’re ordered. At the core of the online shopping experience is a search experience. The value delivered is usually convenience.

There have been multiple attempts made by retailers to integrate technology into the store experience, but these attempts have almost always underperformed and been largely ignored by customers. These endeavours have been well-intentioned, but have often lacked any real connection to the psychology behind why we buy. Placing touchscreens with a facsimile of the store website in the store environment does not enhance a potential customer’s experience - in fact, in most cases it simply detracts from the compelling essence of shopping: seeing and touching the merchandise.

A leading European department store asked Modern Human to work holistically across their online and offline experience, to create a deeply compelling shopping experience and to drive customer loyalty.

The modern shopping experience often takes place over a number of interactions with a retailer. Generally, a shopper will start by browsing and shortlisting potential items online. They might visit a number of retailers in this mode before deciding upon the right item for them. They will then choose the most convenient buying medium. There are countless opportunities, throughout this process, for retailers to choreograph the customer’s interactions in order to create a deeply personalised shopping experience - rather than a series of isolated visits.

In order to effectively identify these opportunities, we needed to get into the minds of the department store’s shoppers. We wanted to discover how they shop - when they go online, when they go in-store, when shopping is most enjoyable, and how they choose the right item. We recruited a cohort of shoppers and asked them to keep a diary study over the course of a month, focussing specifically on their consumption of fashion media and trends, how often they browsed a store, and how often they thought about a particular item or outfit. In order to get an in-depth understanding of how our participants react to physical shopping environments, we also sent them out on shopping trips wearing eye-tracking glasses. The technology allowed us to experience a shopping trip through their eyes - we could see exactly what caught their attention, how long their attention was held, and what impact this had on their purchases. We also analysed their shortlists against their eventual purchases, to see how the physical environment affected their choices.

Amongst the goals, needs, behaviours and values we witnessed at work, two distinct shopping behaviours emerged: there were those who were confident buyers, and those who were not. The confident buyers had a much clearer idea of their own style. They knew what suited them and, quite often, what they were going to buy before they even started browsing. Codesign workshops informed us that confident shoppers need spacious changing rooms in-store; they are playful in their approach to shopping, and need plenty of time and space to try different combinations of clothing and accessories. Online, they want to be able to move around websites quickly, shortlisting items they like and comparing them against each other - effectively recreating the way they use changing rooms in-store. Confident shoppers are looking for inspiration and the feeling of expression. They find this in abundance in-store, but like the convenience of shopping online; often, they will use the online store to research and shortlist before shopping.

In contrast, the nervous shoppers were almost intimidated by the shopping experience; they worried about whether things really suited them, and were not confident in their ability to put together an outfit. Their lack of confidence meant they were more likely to look to in-store mannequins and online ‘lookbooks’ for style inspiration. In codesign workshops they expressed to us a desire for more tailored advice, but without the perceived pressure of a personal shopper. Nervous shoppers struggled to consider ‘outfits’ when shopping, finding it difficult to think of an item within the context of their existing wardrobe. As a result, they often go shopping with the intention of replacing an existing wardrobe item like for like. The department store’s analytics showed us that nervous shoppers shop less frequently, but are more likely to make a lot of purchases at once. Unlike confident shoppers, they are unlikely to try on garments before they buy, preferring instead to try their purchases on at home and return those they don’t like because it is less intimidating. Ultimately, what nervous shoppers want is an experience that makes them feel confident in the clothes they try on, and in their ability to pull together an outfit. They need reassurance, and use online channels because they feel more confident in their own homes.

We knew from the outset of the project that department stores already had a key advantage that could enable them to provide the next generation of online retail experiences. Their buying and merchandising teams operate in a similar way to fashion magazine editors: recognising, surfacing and creating styles. They take the best of the high-street and express the identity of the store through the range they select. The advice that nervous shoppers crave and the inspiration that confident shoppers love already exists in the work that buyers and merchandisers do. To create the ultimate shopping experience, Modern Human used the information that already exists to create a compelling in-store and online experience. The information allowed us to leverage technology to make the experience personal and relevant, something that becomes truly indispensable when attempting to drive genuine brand loyalty.

For the online store Modern Human created a concept that provides a unique experience for each visitor, by learning about their shopping habits and the trends they have liked in the past. The concept also includes the ability to ‘store’ clothes in their own wardrobe, so they can see at a glance how a potential new item works with things they already own and other items in store. This functionality is particularly beneficial to nervous shoppers, who struggle to consider a new item within the context of their existing wardrobe. The department store can use that information, combined with merchandising data and artificial intelligence, to make recommendations that are relevant to each customer.. The website takes people from casually browsing in the comfort of their own home, all the way through to trying on clothes in store and then back to the website to make the purchases and have them delivered home. Our intention is to turn the website into a comprehensive, personalised experience that becomes indispensable; it learns more about a customer with each visit, eventually becoming their very own personal stylist. This in-depth, personalised experience quickly becomes their destination of choice, as important as their favourite fashion or celebrity magazine when shopping. It moves with them from laptop to tablet to mobile, into the store and back again.

But, new digital technology actually has the opportunity to augment and enrich the shopping experience rather than distract from it.

It was important, when looking at the in-store experience, that the technology did not intrude on the shopping experience. We wanted the technology to blend intuitively into the store, to augment and enrich the shopping experience. Almost everyone enters a store with a mobile device in their pocket or handbag. Rather than strategically placed, but ultimately ineffective, touchscreens dotted around the store, Modern Human’s concept instead leveraged shoppers’ own mobile devices. We created a mobile experience that was tailored for in-store use, as well as an app specifically configured to unlock elements of the store and drive customer loyalty. Modern Human generated, designed and piloted a number of concepts in-store, from interactive mirrors in the changing rooms, to in-store lockers for collecting online orders.

By establishing metrics and measuring the impact of concepts on customer satisfaction, loyalty and sales, Modern Human was able to work with the retailer to define a roadmap for integrating the concepts into the mainstream shopping experience. We continue to work with the department store on realising that roadmap.

The client and much of our work with them remains confidential, although they did agree for us to share this case study.