Winning in the last 3 feet

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Anna Chan, Strategist, London

At a time when traditional retailers are increasingly focused on their online offerings, statistics like this remind us of the continued importance of the brick-and-mortar experience. And what it so often boils down to is those final few steps before the checkout. It’s when you’re at the shelf, face-to-face with the products, overcome by all that choice. Let’s call it the ‘last three feet’.

Innovating in this final stage of the in-store journey is often overlooked. But it’s an integral area for brands to communicate with customers as they’re making a purchase decision – which can take as little as five seconds on average. Met with loud signs and brazen offers, it takes a clever combination of shelf space and digital components to stand out against competitors, provide product information, give a genuine reason to interact, or drive consideration. There’s no doubt it’s a lot to fit into five seconds, but it’s not impossible. So, for a little reassuring inspiration, here are four examples of brands doing all that (and sometimes more).

Whole Foods Market: Perfect Pairings

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Digital screens are a common site at the shelves of many retailers. But all too often they’re used for the sake of using technology, emblazoned with messages that could just as easily be delivered through traditional at-the-self displays.

Not in the case of Whole Foods Market. The purveyors of organic and local food have integrated digital screens in its US stores which provide genuine utility for customers, giving a reason to interact. ‘Perfect Pairings’ does exactly as it suggests, helping less confident shoppers explore new products by letting them know which ingredients complement one another. Of course, shoppers could very easily do this on their phones. But that’s no match for the convenience of the in-store tech.

C&A: Fashion Likes

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We’re always looking for new ways to validate our purchases – whether it’s begging friends to compliment our new jumper or buying a jacket just because we’ve seen a celebrity wearing it all over the covers of gossip mags.

C&A Brazil found a way to turn clothes hangers into authentic social advocates by bringing the online conversation on its Facebook page into the physical store. Items of clothing were featured online and the number of ‘Likes’ were displayed in real-time on each hanger. We’re going back a few years here, which shows that we don’t have to be totally reliant on a shiny new bit of tech to succeed in the last three feet.

Burberry: Magic Mirrors

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School has never had a reputation for being much fun, so it’s no surprise that delivering product education in the last three feet can be difficult to do in an entertaining way.

Burberry has managed it, though, in its London flagship store. Radio frequency identification tags are woven into selected clothes and accessories, so when shoppers indulge in a moment of vanity, the mirror transforms into a screen showing bespoke content and information about the specific product. How it was made, how it looked on the catwalk, that sort of thing. Tactics like this encourage shoppers to get the product off the shelf (or hanger) and into their hands – which has a considerable impact on purchase consideration.

American Apparel: Shopping Assistant

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American Apparel is not into playing favourites. They have gone to great lengths to ensure in-store shoppers have access to the same pool of knowledge available on its online store. Their ‘Shopping Assistant’ app integrates an augmented reality feature for scanning its classic product signs. Shoppers are instantly presented with additional product images, reviews, and alternate colour options.

What’s great about this one is that the brand has recognised the ‘Showrooming’ trend – where shoppers use mobiles to browse further product details while in-store. By ensuring customers can access this additional info directly from the shelves with minimal effort, they can retain them within their owned channels, rather than losing them to competitor or price comparison sites.

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