Guided Discovery: Emerging Themes in Retail Series #3/4

Guide Customers Through Adventure, To Discovery

Defined as “an excursion or journey made for some specific purpose,” an expedition is exactly what consumers are engaged in when looking for their next television, cocktail dress, vacation spot or purchase of any significance. They’re on the hunt, in search of “that’s me!” moments (a universal quest, as discussed in the last post, Transporting Experiences). These shopping expeditions can no longer be satisfied by simple stops at a store to choose between a few available items (is that even possible anymore?). No, retail has tumbled off its manicured merchant store shelves and into a weedy and overgrown jungle of products and vendors through which there is no clear path. Help!

This is how I felt on a recent expedition to find a restaurant for a special dinner in NYC. Just as Lewis & Clark relied on the expert guidance of Sacagawea to make their way through the wilderness, I turned to a good friend of mine for a recommendation. He regularly tours international cities conducting “research” for a client who owns and develops a stable of restaurants. Lucky him. And lucky me: he gave me a short list of eateries worth trying for a reservation – we scored ours at Mario Batali’s Babbo.

Confident we were in for a culinary adventure to remember, we settled in to enjoy the ride. “Take us where you will,” we told our sommelier, the Sacagawea of wine. He explained why a particular grape, soil and preparation would be a good match for our chosen meal and recommended a few choices for our tastes. Feeling like experts, we sampled a few before choosing ‘the one.’  Though we left with slimmer wallets, we’ll feed from the one-of-a-kind experience for a long time to come.

Retail is our proxy for adventure, and no one understood this better than the master of Guided Discovery, Harry Selfridge, who, more than 100 years ago, determined to make shopping an adventure, not a chore. The ‘transporting experiences’ he staged in his London department store gave customers a taste of worlds beyond their own, and stimulated desire for featured products. Among these fabulously extravagant installations were: the first plane to cross the English Channel (with aviation-inspired fashion) a replica of Ernest Shackleton’s camp (with an  appearance by Shakleton. For sale: imported furs and mukluks) and the first public demonstration of the television (by the inventor. Selfridges was the first to sell TVs).

The best example of how Guided Discovery plays out today comes, again, from Selfridges. Using the format of concept stores (where partners are treated like artists-in-residence), Selfridges’ revenues have soared while competitors see theirs dwindle. Selfridges surpassed an astounding $1B in sales, and is a 3-time winner of the “Best Department Store in the World” title.

It’s not hard to create what Selfridges’ has, though few have the guts to pull it off. The company has embraced the future of retail like no other. There is a clear vision. They make big investments and big bets.  Critically, they confidently compose the retail experience as a Guided Discovery.

A basic template supports the consistency of execution seen at Selfridges:

1.       Create a World: Rick Owens

Designer Rick Owens said partnership with Selfridges didn’t feel like a collaboration, but a coronation, “It was always my dream to create a very specific world that was all encompassing,” and Selfridges made it so. 

As part of The Masters campaign and in celebration of 20 years of his ground-breaking fashion label, we present The World of Rick Owens. From revealing his extraordinary in-store residency to discussing his own masters, we give you an intimate glimpse into the enigmatic designer's universe.

2.       Educate: David Bowie is all yours
This pop-up-shop-as-retrospective is a curatorial wonder. Literally. In collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum, Selfridges honored David Bowie with curated fashions, limited edition museum pieces, master classes and events to inspire the Bowie in each of us. A walk through this culture capsule and you’ll understand what it means to be record-breaking.

3.       Test: Dezeen Watch Store

The opportunity for shoppers to try-before-you-buy is critical in retail.  This shop allows them to test different watches while also testing a technology shaping the future of retail, Augmented Reality. Note the moment of discovery at the end: “that’s me!” The watches are available in the present.

This movie we filmed at Dezeen's pop-up shop of the future at London department store Selfridges demonstrates how augmented reality technology could transform retail.

4.       Personalize: Fragrance Lab

Visitors come to the Fragrance Lab for a true Guided Discovery, at the end of which you’ll have the ultimate “that’s me” experience: a fragrance that reflects your personality. The journey begins with a personality test. Then, with an audio guide (headphones), you walk through a series of spaces and scents, recording your preferences and feelings. At the end, you’re presented with a scent by perfumer Givaudan made just for you.

5.       Anticipate: Festival of Imagination

Selfridges’ Imagine Shop “…is an attempt to visualise the kind of products, services and shops we might have in the future.” Featuring pioneering technologies, design, and fashion, shoppers go on a Guided Discovery of the future that emphasizes education and testing. There they’ll touch the future with technologies such as 3D printers, AR and, possibly, fashions that cool and heat.

Retail’s role in introducing the future to consumers is its biggest opportunity. The onslaught of “new” is genuinely discomfiting for people. They need a helping hand, a guide, to help them make sense of it all; to find, within the clamor and confusion of new technologies, the moments of recognition: “that’s me.” The ability to stage live scenarios for people to touch and test the future is retail’s gift.

Guided Discovery applies to all channels, not just stores. With many more interactive surfaces and sensors coming into our lives (explored further in the next post, Omnipresence), and the layering of games, AR, and the Internet of Things, the retail journey can be created in physical and digital worlds, and all spaces in between.

-- Also posted on Capsule Design