Written by Joi M Sears

In this series, social innovation strategist and Free People International founder Joi M Sears, breaks down the mega trends that are shaping the future of sustainable Purposeful Retail.

We are living in the exciting new age of the Experience Economy. Birthed from its predecessors the Agricultural Economy, the Industrial Economy and most recently, the Service Economy, the future of retail will focus on the customer experience. This trend is all about creating unique, immersive, and compelling in-person, and on-brand experiences.

Founded on core human needs like play, community, personalization, authenticity and status, this trend speaks directly to our growing obsession with social media and telling compelling stories through photos, videos and status updates. The big question here is, how can you create experiences that will surprise, delight and engage your customers?

Death of excess

There has never been a better time for conscious, sustainable and purposeful retail than right now. Driving this shift is a rising awareness that excess and the ‘grab, go and throw’ consumerism that defined the 21st century is killing our planet. In fact, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changeargues that we have just 12 years to prevent a climate catastrophe.

In 2018, the world saw an outcry of dissent against the use of single-use plastics. Conscious, forward-thinking brands responded by ditching single-use plastic straws, bags, and more. Today’s conscious consumers are increasingly embracing products and experiences that are designed to minimize negative impact on the planet — or in some instances even to have a positive impact.

There are a few examples of brands taking a step in the right direction. In December 2018, Portuguese airline Hi-Fly operated the first single-use plastic-free flight. The airline replaced plastic cutlery and containers with bamboo and compostable alternatives. Similarly, a London based Hilton hotel recently launched its first fully vegan suite made entirely from plant-based materials and cruelty-free products.

Zero-waste stores and restaurants are popping up all over the globe from the popular New York-based Package Free Shop to IJEN, a zero-waste restaurant in Bali. The restaurant offers seafood caught by hand and furniture made from recycled wood, while converting all organic waste into food for local pigs.

How can you offer your customers luxurious, fun and instagrammable experiences without the guilt?

(Auto)magic

When it comes to customer engagement, most retailers believe that there are two opposing paths to take. You can either offer a fast, easy, and super-efficient automated process, or offer an engaging, compelling, and magical experience that wows customers and keeps them in the store. The true question is, what if Purposeful Retail could do both?

“(Auto)magic” is about automation-fueled, in-person experiences that are immersive, compelling, and magical in their own right. These are experiences that combine speed, precision, and efficiency with playfulness and delight. They are things that consumers will travel to engage in, and spend a significant amount of time doing.

A great example of this on the big retail side is Nike’s House of Innovation in New York. Every floor of the six-story, Fifth Avenue shop offers unique and immersive experiences designed to serve consumers throughout the entire shopping journey. Powered by the Nike App, customers can scan QR codes on in-store mannequins to browse products, reserve products to be held via in-store lockers and even check out using self-service kiosks. Nike says the space was created to “communicate with its city through people and digital services, inviting a conversation that’s synchronized to the customer.”

How can you leverage automation in a way that still excites and engages your customers?

Cozy community spaces

In the future, customers will embrace innovative shared spaces and in-person experiences that help win the growing battle against an increasingly technology obsessed world and promote social wellbeing. Forward thinking brands are creating shared spaces where customers can connect with one another.

In December 2018, popular athleisure brand Lululemon partnered with publishing giant Penguin Random House to create a mini library inside the brand’s NYC flagship store. The brand’s HUB Seventeen community space also offers yoga, live music and intimate talks.

The cozy trend isn’t anything new — it became popular a few years ago, when the Danish concept of “hygge” started gaining traction. Pronounced “hoo-ga,” the Danish concept is better translated as a feeling than a single word. Embracing the idea of hygge is all about feeling cozy and content by enjoying the simple things in life. It’s similar to the Dutch concept of “gezelligheid”.

How can you create a safe space for your customers to get together, meet new people and try new things?

Experience economy in action

All of these trends offer an opportunity for innovation within your brand or organization. The big idea is to brainstorm ways to create magical, compelling, and shareable experiences for your customers. The key is to frame each question as a challenge to inspire your ideation process. For example, “How Might We create a safe space for customers to get together, meet new people and try new things?” From there, just brainstorm as many ideas as you can without criticism or judgement. If you’re a solo entrepreneur, grab some friends or colleagues to help you along. It may not be feasible to implement each trend into your future offerings. Try to find one or two questions that resonate most with you and start with those.

For more examples to see this trend in action check out: trendwatching.com