17 December 2018

- This article was previously posted on FashionUnited -

It doesn’t take much observation to notice that a radical change is raging through our current retail landscape. A change that is not only affecting retail, but the consumer industry as a whole. The hospitality business, the food and service industry, travel, financial services, energy, entertainment, fashion, the leisure industry and any other sector that is dealing with the consumer. By the look of things, this could be the most fundamental change of our consumer world as we’ve known it for decades. Everything will be turned upside down and inside out. And in all of this, one particular party seems to gain the upper hand: a new consumer species. A curious kind that still passes your store, but is less inclined to pop in. Who is this new consumer?


The conshuman era
Meet the human behind the consumer. Or as I call him, the conshuman. A powerful individual of flesh and blood. With thoughts and feelings, full of dreams and ambitions. With far more self-awareness and of the world around him, he increasingly values life through personal experiences of well-being and enrichment. We are no longer talking about an anonymous statistic that is being played in the mass-driven game of the outdated industrial era. No, the tables have turned! This conshuman stretches his influence and shows a personal face in almost all production- and consumer processes. Think about your own online profiles, often with picture, with your insurance company, your gym, your bank, at Amazon and Facebook. Now, given all this, the conshuman expects smarter and tailor-made solutions to fix his personal needs.

Exactly those expectations tied to the strong and demanding human traits, is what makes the conshuman the most powerful supercharger of the whole transformation. Above all, those expectations need to be exceeded continuously. And let it be the Silicon Valley guys who have cleverly enabled a new reality, where this keeps happening indeed. From their sophisticated behavioral- and data analysis, they know what makes the conshuman tick: ‘Individuality’ and ‘Experience’. By combining these two qualities on their online platforms, they are offering highly personal convenience solutions. Take Uber for instance. Anywhere in the world, it takes two clicks to arrange you a ride to your favorite restaurant. Heck, instead of driving you to dinner, why not delivering it hot and tasty on your doorstep. In other words, a customer experience that makes you happy, because it is comfortable and tailor-made to your wishes. It is the urge for happiness and comfort, that navigates the human behind the consumer through the new consumer landscape. Prompting us to stick to what feels good. Or to turn away from bad situations. A hardwired evolutionary leftover in our reptilian brain. Therefore, for our consumptions in the new conshuman era, we are turning more and more to two new worlds where we know to find happiness and comfort: Conveniences, to take away the hassles in everyday life, and Experiences, to lift up our everyday life with fun or enrichments.

It’s time to make the all-important choice
Years of research, both in the Netherlands as worldwide, have made it clear to me: the time has come for many entrepreneurs in the consumer industry in general, and in retail in particular, to make a crucial choice for their business to survive the next years. It comes down to choosing your future as either a convenience, or an experience. Retailers have to reinvent their role rapidly, to remain relevant in the fast-changing consumer landscape.

Retail as a world of convenience
In essence retail is structured as a channel: goods make their way from producers, via the physical store, to the consumer. However, the conveniences of today are designed as super-channels. They create a world of convenience around the conshuman. Surrounding you like a virtual warm blanket, they cover every aspect of your daily life with comfort. No matter in which part of the house you are, you can always call Alexa of Amazon to order you some new white Calvin Klein boxers, or a box of black panty hoses. It is quite obvious, that the conshuman is quickly trading the traditional retailers for these worlds of convenience. This is the domain of disruptive platforms such as Amazon, Coolblue (a Dutch online warehouse for home and lifestyle appliances) and Farfetch. But also of the low-price formulas like Primark, Poundland or the dollar stores in the US. Through convenience solutions they unburden the customer of hassles and worries. At Coolblue, your new washing machine is being delivered and installed with just a few clicks. And as the cherry on the cake: they take care of the disposal of your old machine. And at the low-price counters, you pay less for more. These conveniences are maximizing value by minimizing time, money and effort.

Retail as a world of experience
Since the conveniences are saving the conshuman time, money and effort spent on daily hassle, more of these valuable resources become available for fun or life-enrichment. And so, a new domain with golden opportunities arises. The world of experiences. For retail, this is a virgin territory, ready to be explored. However, to be a world of experience, retail will not withstand as a channel. No, here retail has to be structured as a stage. An environment for uplifting and life-enriching activities, where products and services are an integral part of the whole experience, intended to solely entertain the customer. Retail as a world of experience offers entertainment solutions. Here, the stage belongs to the brands that create hangouts for their fans. More like a clubhouse, these are the places where customers come together to spend their time, enjoying or improving themselves. All in a setting, that not only enables them to engage with the brand but also to resonate it throughout their lifestyles by using its products and services or sharing it socially. Take Vans for instance: originally a sneaker manufacturer and seller, but nowadays more of a global platform for creative street culture. With their House of Vans in London they have transformed the old underground tubes under Waterloo station into a unique world with indoor skate park, art gallery, bar and event spaces. Another hangout example is Apple. They have abandoned the old store format to create their own community-driven Town Squares, where you could drop in for a workshop, compose your own music album or just surf the web for hours as you please. The world of experience is also the stage of the so-called Indie shop, presented as hidden gem or off the beaten track. With their unique products and crafty entrepreneurs, these shops take personal service to a whole new level. All the Experiences have one thing in common: they maximize value by maximizing time, money and effort spend. By keeping you ‘in’ for as long as possible, chances of consumption and purchase increase.

How do you choose?
For a retailer in fashion, there are opportunities in the new conshuman era, but time is ticking to make a choice. Do you see yourself as a super-channel (Convenience) or a stage (Experience)? Or do you have the potential inhouse to become one? Much has been said and written on how to build a successful fashion convenience platform (look at Net-a-Porter, Farfetch and Primark). But how do you create a successful experience?

Research shows that in 2017 only 3.1% of the household budget in the US was spend on clothing, while 40 years earlier it was a solid 6.2%. Americans spend 3.4% on technology, including data and media subscriptions. But experiences like travelling, going out for dinner and outdoor activities hit a nice 18%! Experiences are big business! That won’t be any different in your own – industrialized - country.

So, the golden ticket is, to wrap up your fashion collection into a dazzling experience. One such inspiring case, I came across at the Fickle Store in Singapore. In a colorful shop and matching workshop, you are enabled to design your own flipflop. The atmosphere was buzzing with a dash of Cinderella-goes-Bohemian experience. Amidst the hustle and bustle, the passionate owner shared how he and his team make sure that every lady leaves the store with the flipflop of their dreams. First, you choose the color of the sole, and then you let your imagination run wild with straps, feathers, beads and crystals to create your ultimate design. Although I was not part of the targeted audience, I was truly enchanted by this entrepreneurial genie and left the store as a fan of the experience. That is the power of an Experience! It changes retailing into entertailing, with a one-of-a-kind stage and a lucrative business model.

There still is a future for fashion retailing. By making the right choice for your business, it gets the chance to be future proof!

This is a contribution by Melvin van Tholl, Customer Experience Architect at BLOODY BELIEVERS. The creative-strategic agency with unconventional expertise in reimagining and building customer experience-driven solutions for businesses of the new era. Based in Amsterdam, with digital and physical availability around the world. In this series of expert contributions on FashionUnited he takes you on a journey through the upcoming world of the conshuman. Sharing valuable insights and helping you to get your business on top of the customer experience.