By Emily Beaton

Highlights of the World Retail Congress in Berlin were shared by the Australian Centre for Retail Studies (ACRS), Monash University to an audience of eager retailers.

Dr Sean Sands, research director at the ACRS, reported that the Congress conveyed a strong focus on the role of the physical store and the integration of new technologies within the store environment to engage shoppers.

Retailers continue to face challenges with their ever-changing consumers, the prominence of online and remaining competitive in the current market.

Online is creating transparency implications for retailers as they compete with a global market on pricing, product range and convenience rather than the traditional focus on the location of the physical store. Consumers are therefore driving retailers to provide a unique experience to entice shoppers into the store for more than just a product; consumers are now seeking a destination.

This shift in consumer behaviour has created an opportunity for retailers to provide a haven for shoppers and a desire to visit the physical store. Stores are creating visual displays, interactive installations, and separate zones in-store to attract their target market.

“60 percent of consumer decision making is made in the fitting room” Dr. Sands reported. With this in mind, some retailers are capitalising on this concept and creating sensory experiences to trigger an emotive response from shoppers within the fitting room.

Carla Ferraro, research fellow at ACRS presented examples such as TopShop, Singapore who have installed RFIDs to their clothing items. When the shopper enters the fitting room, the RFID will trigger a particular track of music to match a particular item.

Digital signage is creating fast and cost-effective ways for retailers to engage with their customers and enable rapid transformations for a theme or environment to display products or concepts in-store.

“Digital signage is replacing the mannequins of yesterday” said Dr. Sands.

With the impact of the GFC and consumers typically working longer hours, Dr. Sands reported that the smarter retailers (such as Starbucks) are creating the notion of the retail space becoming the “third place”. After home and the workplace, this is the place people want to spend most of their time. By creating an environment where consumers can relax within the retail space without the obligation to spend, it will drive consumers into their store and ultimately result in a positive reaction to brand.

Dr Sands quoted presenter Bob Thatcher, former CMO OfficeMax at the Retail World Congress “Brands are like people. They need to have a heart.”

On a global scale, the growth in online retail is a key driver in smaller store footprints. The investment into a small space however is imperative to its success. The role of the physical store is to provide an environment which engages its shoppers, generating interest and curiosity driving consumers back into the store.

The 2011 World Retail Congress report is available for purchase here.