For too long, retail brands and agencies have focused on digital shopping, prioritising online sales, service and branding, to the detriment of in-person store spaces. Focusing, in effect, on the porn rather than the sex.
This trend was already in the ascendancy before Covid-19 lockdowns accelerated things by as much as four to six years. And while there’s no denying that online is a necessary tool, brands and agencies are missing a trick if they ignore the human need for IRL connection – a need that’s not only been emphasised by lockdowns but by the desire to create physical spaces for digital communities.
Brands and agencies must turn their attention to the possibilities – both purposeful and profitable – that physical retail offers. In short: they must turn their attention to the sex, rather than the porn.
If we didn’t have sex, porn wouldn’t exist. And porn definitely serves a purpose. Yet, very few people would argue that porn is better than sex itself. It’s instant gratification with no connection. It’s generally a solo experience that promises much and delivers little, leaving you feeling a bit empty afterwards. All of which sounds alarmingly similar to most online shopping experiences.
I find shopping online an awful experience. You log on to the brand’s website and see exactly what everyone else sees. You then wade through 30 pages of products – often twice because the page freezes and sends you back to the beginning – and, when you finally do get to your ‘shopping basket’, you’re told most of the items are unavailable for delivery. Hit ‘buy’ on whatever is available and, after filling in a captcha proving you’re not a robot, you risk receiving a disappointing order only to then face a soul-destroying returns process.
Is that really how low the bar has become for an acceptable retail experience?
There are myriad reasons why some people will always prefer online shopping, however, the last few years have shone a deeply unflattering light on where digital retail is irrevocably and unavoidably lacking. People want to see, touch, smell and, hell, even taste what they’re about to buy. They want to go into a store with their friends and enjoy an hour’s browsing together. They want the shop assistant to say, “That looks amazing – did you know we also have it in blue?” They want to walk past an incredible window display and forget about their crappy day for five minutes.
All of which is why Selfridges still exists. Since day dot, Selfridges has been entirely concerned with the customer. Everything from the window displays that draw people in, to the theatrics inside, is designed to entertain, inspire and provide a ‘wow’ moment. When I was young and working in events in London, I could afford sod-all in Selfridges, but I would still spend my break there. I’d browse, get spritzed with aftershave, and ask the cashier for one of the company’s infamous yellow bags just so I could carry it around with me. Selfridges invites you to become part of the brand. To play a role. To join in – which you simply can’t do while shopping online or while watching (most kinds) of porn. It’s very clever and it’s what all brands and agencies should be aspiring to replicate.
The future of retail should be more about experience per square metre than products per square metre. We’re in a sweet spot right now where we know online works and that it can keep brands afloat – but we’re being told by consumers that they want more. Brands are being offered the opportunity to get creative and experiment with physical space. To start from scratch when it comes to stores – no one knows what they’ll be walking into, but they damn well know they want to walk in somewhere!
In all of our brand experiences, HATTER ensures visitors are invited to participate – to become part of the event. This builds brand loyalty. Now more than ever, people want to feel welcome. They want to feel seen. They want to feel like they belong. A brand that taps into that need will have fans for life. There is no substitute to personal experience – just ask the majority of porn watchers whether they’d rather be there IRL.
In five years, no one is going to say, “Do you remember that time I ordered some shoes online?”, but they will say, “Do you remember us spending five hours in Topshop?” or “Do you remember when we spontaneously got haircuts or tattoos in that department store?”. Many of us will remember the time Kate Moss stood in the window of Topshop’s flagship store on Oxford Street. It was an event. A moment. A memory. Even in an entirely generic store, you can have your own experience or share one with others.
Studies show that repeated lockdowns sparked an anti-consumerism mindset in many, with people reprioritising experiences over possessions, as well as questioning the provenance and green credentials of what they do buy. That mindset is only gaining momentum with the cost of living crisis, so now is the time for brands and agencies to also reassess their priorities – to invite consumers to become part of their brand, to physically participate and feel inspired. It’s about focusing less on sales and figures and more on creating meaningful connections, and therefore loyalty, with their audience.
Or, to put it another way, it’s about focusing on the sex rather than the porn.
Lose yourself in the moment. Say, “F*** it, let’s see what happens”. Channel your inner desire to play. Stop caring about what anyone else thinks.
Fully embracing joyful impulsiveness – that’s Positive Recklessness HATTER-style. It’s about creating spaces where boundaries can be pushed, limits can be tested, and worries can be forgotten. It’s about finding moments of magic in the everyday and building experiences that can change lives.