O to O – the merging of physical and digital

Louisa O’Connor, Client Services Director, Seen Displays

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Covid forced us all home as lockdown regulations rippled across the globe and the day to day norm saw us communicating with friends and family, shopping, relaxing, sourcing entertainment and even working all through our phones and computers. Life through a screen has engulfed consumers and even the least tech savvy are now more familiar and comfortable with their new found digital world.

The emergence of digital engagement within the retail world was prevalent even before Covid and we were already starting to see a shift towards the importance of ecommerce and digital engagement. As brands leverage the growth of their digital following and seamlessly guide them into their physical retail spaces, it will be equally important to create physical spaces that provide both the convenience of Online shopping and the experiential benefits of visiting brick & mortar stores.

The introduction of digital into retail design also has other benefits aside from prolonged consumer engagement. We have championed Circular Design for some time and digital activations help create longevity within retail designs which work beyond the physical builds and offer an additional platform to activate existing digital content.

Here we look at how brands are embracing the merging of physical and digital within the world of retail to enhance their consumer engagement and create outstanding retail spaces and campaigns.

Online shopping with a difference

Online shopping has evolved during Covid to become much more of an experience to keep consumers engaged and coming back for more. Aside from his recent controversies, Kanye has turned his online store into a truly innovative art project turning the usual rules of e-commerce on their head. Using 3D models, each with a different body type, you can choose items from the collection and dress them, even clicking to find out more about the avatar such as what food they like. Each model has an unexpected background, with some being nurses, firefighters or teachers, a move away from the typical supermodel genre. Some say the site is distracting and confusing, even detracting people from actually getting around to buying anything, but it feels like this was not the main focus for Kanye and the final art output outweighed the need for a purely functional site. It provides insight into how brands are finding more value in using their e-commerce sites more for brand exploration and consumer engagement rather than pure clicks to basket.

Yeezy Supply, photographs by Nick Knight


An interesting Segway here is Klarna’s recent campaign with Highsnobiety. They created the Heartbeats4Sneakers raffle which relied on consumers visiting the site to be in with a chance to win 5 of the most coveted sneakers of the year by holding their thumb to their device cameras. The change in light detected by the camera from the pumping blood determined the user’s heartrate to prove they weren’t a robot. This unusual and biometric concept was aimed at combatting the bots who can sabotage sought after exclusive drops for resale purposes and shows the importance of human-led design in retail. This may be the next step in using technology creatively and seamlessly to add a physical experience to what would traditionally be a cold transaction.


Klarna and Highsnobiety

A shop isn’t just for shopping

As we move away from solely online shopping into the physical, we look at how digital and physical are merging even more explicitly. This year we have worked with Nike on their Move to Zero campaign and the sustainable initiative is the main source of inspiration for their newest House of Innovation in Paris. Alongside the focus on sustainable materials as part of the design however, the 26,000 sqft is a digital haven with activations and installations centred around showcasing their latest innovations. The focus is on creating a completely immersive retail experience which connects the physical aspects of the store with the consumers own mobile phone device. Alongside a plethora of activations where you can test products, gain product insights and facts, consumers can also shop exclusively online whilst in the store allowing them to touch and feel garments but use the familiarity of their online shopping app they got so used to during lockdown. This poses an interesting question around the future of retail, could physical spaces become experiential hubs for online shoppers to click and collect, immerse themselves in the brand, engage with activations to test out products without the traditional transaction?


Nike House of Innovation Paris on Nike.com

In a similar vein Burberry recently opened its first Social Retail store (in Shenzhen China) aimed at encouraging consumers to interact with their products in the physical but also via social media on their own phones. The store space itself is split into a series of individual concepts each offering a unique interactive experience where consumers can start to build their social currency. Throughout the store QR codes appear on the clothing price tags allowing the consumer to access bespoke content as well as additional product storytelling to then share via their social media channels. WeChat plays a big part of this experience with a mini program activity creating personalised content for consumers which they can unlock and then share with their communities. Linking back how the introduction of a more digitally engaging space speaks to sustainable values, Riccardo Tisci, Chief Creative Officer at Burberry, says “I am fascinated by the balance between nature and technology, and the energy that connects the two. This store explores this relationship, blending the digital and the physical realms in an exciting new concept. I wanted to bring this love of the outdoors to life through all the elements of the store, which can be seen in the Burberry Animal Kingdom prints in the café as well as in the fully immersive Trench Experience and even in the small details of the design materials.” While the focus remains on in-store purchases, we’re starting to see brands offer a social currency that transcends traditional “instagrammable” experiences into digital touchpoints that provide relevant and exclusive content that furthers their customers’ affinity with the brand.



Straight from the catwalk

The exploration of digital engagement even found its way onto the “virtual” catwalk during Covid. As lockdown forced fashion off catwalks and out of stores brands had to find other innovative ways to showcase their collections and engage press and buyers. Dior lead the way using renowned director Matteo Garrone to curate a mini movie type mash-up of mythical creatures and dream like nymphs to launch their fall 2020 couture collection – the movie was entitled Le mythe Dior. Chanel went a little bit safer and used famous models to dance across the screen at the Parisian disco Le Palace in the classic Chanel cuts set to a vibey playlist. The immersion of digital shows got mixed reviews from critics. Some applauded the move forward and suggested digital shows should be adopted regardless of the current pandemic to boycott the extreme waste that typical physical shows create. Whilst others yearned for the hype, connectivity, collaboration and networking the shows often provide and would be happy to leave watching the virtual catwalks on a laptop behind.


Dior from Dior.com

A possible middle ground would be seeding kits coupled with engaging digital shows, something we have explored with some of our clients to add that physicality to a virtual experience. Loewe did this really well for their SS21 show sending a “show-in-a-box” to key participants sharing the behind the scenes creative journey of the collection. The box included 3D models of the collection built by the receiver to allow for a 360 view of each look, postcards of the coveted shoes to share and life size cardboard sunglasses which could be worn. Rather than just rely on the digital the success of this seeding kit idea shows that consumers also crave the physical, looking for more engagement rather than sitting passively to consume content.


Loewe, photograph Lauren Wahed on Twitter

What does the future hold?

Through our work with our Gen Z collective we know that digital engagement – along with its immersive and sustainable benefits – will only become more important as brands try to stay relevant and future-proofed. However, as retail designers we have always championed the importance of creating retail spaces which are not just practical but immersive, engaging and memorable to create that human connection and long-lasting brand loyalty with consumers. Online to offline in its essence champions all the innovations associated to the digital world but does not forget the importance of the physical and the human interaction consumers crave.

While we can certainly expect a rise in brands providing more seamlessly integrated retail spaces that cater for their customers’ digital worlds and habits, we’ll be keeping our ears to the ground and continue developing future ‘click & mortar’ engagement strategies and designs.

Contact us at contactLDN@seendislays.com

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