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Shopper behaviour has completely changed in recent years. People can choose from many different sources to purchase products - the physical store is just one of the many possibilities. It is therefore more important than ever to offer the right experience on the shop floor. Flexible visual branding plays an important role.

The retail industry is going through a tough time. Chain stores are disappearing and the brick and mortar store is under constant pressure. I don’t think this is surprising. If you walk around through the average shopping street, you’ll agree. Empty shelves, boxes being unpacked in the store, no real service, staff smoking in front of the shop….. Compare this to the shopping experience in Tokyo for example. Hospitality, impressive visuals, interaction – in short – a complete experience. But what do we do right here to offer shoppers an exciting and inspiring experience? The painful answer is: currently very little. Why would someone visit a shop if they’re not offered any added value? Or worse, they become annoyed by the lack of attention?

Mind shift for retail

Shoppers have more choice than ever. They consult dozens of sources – online shops, comparison websites, forums, friends – before they proceed to a purchase.  This increased of amount of sources being consulted teaches us one important lesson: it’s no longer just about ‘online’ or ‘offline’. It’s about the channel that succeeds in creating successful connections with the shopper. It’s about advice, great service and offering experiences.  This is a new mind shift for the retail industry.

Currently, there is a mismatch between online and offline, in which the offered experience on the shop floor currently lacks behind. Online we can track customer behavior and make relevant offers based on that behavior. A shopper now expects that in the real world as well. It is crucial that a store offers customers a personalized experience combined with great advice. A product specialist is therefore indispensable and is one of the most important means by which a brick and mortar store can distinguish itself. No disinterested, smoking shelf fillers, but consultants supporting customers with their purchasing decisions. An attractive space that supports the specialists story is of great value. It’s a winning equation: personal advice + impressive visuals = an great experience.

Every day is different

But we’re not there yet. Retailers should do more to offer the right experience to the shopper, regarding the time of the year, week or even day they decide to visit a store. An experience that they can’t find elsewhere. There lies the challenge – the mood of the customer differs every day. Take this 42-year old woman with a family as an example:

  • On Wednesday, she buys school supplies with her 6-year old daughter;
  • On Thursday, she goes shopping for herself with a girlfriend;
  • On Saturday morning, just before the hockey game, she shops with her eldest daughter to buy everything they need for her 13-year old daughter’s birthday;
  • Sunday is grocery day.

Each time is completely different in terms of mood, approach and spending. Her brain will also notice different things every visit. However, we still want to give her the right feeling during each visit. Good consultants recognize and act upon this and will approach her in an appropriate manner. If this is not done, and the shopping experience does not match one's feelings and expectations, it will influence the purchase decision negatively.

Flexible visual branding

That's exactly where flexible visual branding plays an important role. You always want to respond flexibly to expectations and situations in order to provide a tailor-made experience. There are plenty of options that allow you to quickly customize a complete environment at any time of the week.

Think of walls and ceilings set-up with frames and textile, which can easily be changed. Think about ways to set-up fitting rooms that interact the right way. Consider using magnetic action visuals or the use of magnetic (action) visuals that change on a daily basis if the situation requires this. This does not require loads of time and can simply be done by the shop staff. Van Straaten has introduced this flexible visual branding concept in the stores of Open32. With them we looked at the practical uses and required benefits beforehand. The main requirement was that communications had to be changed quickly for marketing campaigns or around the holidays. Flexibility and ease of use were important. In response to this, we have chosen to include two-sided frames, with visuals on textile fabrics that can be changed in minutes, and the use of Visual Magnetics, in particular the magnetic chalkboards. The message on a  magnetic chalkboard can be changed and shared with the customer within minutes. That is precisely the speed and flexibility that I'm talking about.

The end of one size fits all

The message is clear: the retail world has changed, and continues to change. Selling a product is more complex than before and the road to a purchase varies. Brick and mortar stores simply need to adjust to this new situation and put flexibility first. One size fits all is over. Be a chameleon to engage every customer in a personal experience. Or, as Charles Darwin put it: “It is not the strongest of the species that will survive, but the most adaptable.”

To find out more about the visual branding at the Open 32 stores, click here

Ivo van der Lem



"If you want the competition to take the wind out of the sails, you need to understand who you're talking to."