Experience Inflation: Retail’s Fresh Challenge

Experience inflation? Hop from a 2004 car into a 2015 model and you will get what I mean. Driving a car is now a user experience that integrates your mobile devices as well as provides onboard technology that can help avoid collisions and keep you alert. It is common now for car brands to exhibit at the Consumer Electronics Show and In 2012 Cadillac even touted their new ATS as “a tablet on wheels”. They dub their technology as “CUE”, for Cadillac User Experience. This focus on creating experiential value is not just for premium cars either. The new Ford Focus and Dodge Dart both offer touch screen “infotainment”, and Bluetooth smartphone integration as key selling features. Soon oil changes will probably come with software upgrades.

Applebee’s and Chili’s have already rolled out touch-screen ordering and payment on their tables. Airlines, Hotels, Insurance companies, healthcare providers are all investing in understanding and innovating the customer experience to win in the market. Just like our cars in 2004, we don’t yet know what we are missing, but things are definitely coming that will transform these experiences and set a new bar. The challenge for retailers is that customer experience “thrills” are not insulated within business sectors. These escalating experiences cross over and inflate expectations for all interactions including our shopping.

Customer experience innovation is additive to all the things that have required attention before. Car companies still need sexy styling, great performance, and dependability to be competitive. And experience is also comprehensive. The cars are just a piece of the equation. The dealer experience for sales and service is just as critical.

Retailers still need to be great merchants, great with operations and distribution, and have beautiful store designs that engage and delight us. But just like the new car with the conspicuous touch screen in the dash and the fancy start up screen, how do customer experience innovations manifest in a store? How do retailers project an upgraded or innovative customer experience that isn’t contained to a bricks and mortar remodel?

This is undoubtedly new territory and requires new thinking and creative passion. Store design now has an additional demand from business to solve a strategic imperative- stay one step ahead with customer experience. Retailers have been on the right path in using design to clarify their brand idea and unify their brand in an omnichannel world, but what is next beyond refining the idea of what a store has been? The answer is to invent what the experience could be and be brave enough to deliver it.