We need to give a different kind of welcome to our customers and serve them better while they are in the store. That doesn’t just mean serving them in the sense of: here’s the product, there’s the changing room, off you go. It means keeping the dialogue going and the customer engaged.

Brett Cameron, Managing Director at Serviceplan Group Middle East, talked with Euan McLelland from INDEX about the retail market that has been transformed a lot by the digital revolution. One aspect of this change is that shopping can now be done almost entirely online, especially in Dubai, what leads to the question if it is essential for outlets to start incorporating digital elements into their interior design.

Why is e-commerce always reported as taking away from bricks and mortar sales? Is this really the competition? Shouldn’t all brands be embracing both aspects to deliver a cohesive journey? Shopping malls are as popular as ever, however, our purchasing habits have evolved. The problem is mall and retail experiences are stubbornly antiquated.

Our shopping experience typically begins in the carpark and yet these are a barren wasteland when it comes to delivering a positive sense of arrival. Then what about way-finding inside the malls? There has been some improvement in recent years, and the Dubai Mall App is a leader in this area, however the ongoing prevalence of traditional static grid-style location maps and the lack of smart apps that can identify your location while feeding you relevant brand information means the experience in most malls continues to be underwhelming and disconnected. Then once you enter the retail store, and if you are time challenged and shop for clothes like me by pointing at a mannequin and telling the sales assistant that’s what you want, then you are typically limited to the 5 or 6 static mannequins that are on display, despite the myriad of combinations created by that brand’s designers and displayed on their online site.

However, change is coming. Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods for $13.7B suggests an overhaul of the retail experience is coming and could see an integration of their payless Amazon Fresh Pickup concept. Imagine the world without the horrible experience of queuing at the supermarket check-out…it’s almost too good to be true!

When I meet with a retail brand, the first thing I ask them is how they believe they are offering a genuinely different experience in their space. Often their positioning is very good online, but it is somewhat lacking in the physical space making it difficult to see what attributes will connect customers emotionally to the brand. Furthermore, if digital connectivity does not continue into the physical space then crucial data on the purchasing habits is lost.

Without the appearance of an ‘always on’ experience in the retail space, then the message is that the retail environment is always one step behind the online offering. To retain a top-of-mind position then brands need an integrated programme of in-store digital interaction, online activities, in-store events and co-branded experiences that reiterate how the brand is an integral part of our life.

This article was first published by People Retail magazine.