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Why flagship stores are the arcades of the future


Published by:

8 October 2018

Author: Gilles Boisselet

Image: Nike Reactland


"As esports’ explosive growth shows, the audiences that gather to watch an experience are as valuable as those participating."
"Subconscious gamer instincts can be met by a brand-themed set design that instantly transports people into fantastical landscapes."

Without doubt, the world’s new generation of consumers don’t want ‘stuff’ – they want experiences. But rather than these experiences posing a threat to physical retailers, this seismic shift presents a huge opportunity.

Brick-and-mortar retailers are, in fact, well placed to serve the 49% of Millennial and Gen Z consumers for whom in-store entertainment is a big draw. Why? Because they have precious access to physical space and footfall. So it’s no wonder 55% of retail execs will invest in in-store experiences by 2020. But do retailers really know how to nail them?

The biggest barrier is – of course – that old marketing bête noire: competing for customers’ short attention spans. In a crowded landscape, middle-of-the-road experiences become invisible. Which is why hi-tech, with its immediate kudos, is often seen as the saviour. But there’s a risk that with hi-tech experiences comes hi-complexity.

To resonate, experiences need to reach into shoppers’ brains via the stairway of their souls. The user interface (UI) must be pure voodoo. The audience must be utterly mystified. And this means doing away with unnecessary complexities to build something completely intuitive.

But how? The answer, in my opinion, lies in the new universal language of gaming. With the global number of active gamers estimated to be over 2.3bn in 2018 – nearly a third of the world – we are, by proxy, developing a new macro-level way of interacting with both technology and each other. Not only does this give us a deeply intuitive UI, its universal nature is also perfect for brands that have to operate in different markets and languages.

In a retail experience context, subconscious gamer instincts can be met by combining a camera and motorised motion rig within a brand-themed set design to instantly transport people into fantastical landscapes, while generating highly shareable content.

It’s a principle that we have used for global Nike stores. In China, UNIT9 created an experience that puts Nike fans inside a video game. On an immersive screen they can see themselves play – in real-time – alongside avatars with old-school styling. A greenscreen, meanwhile, captures images of players and turns them into avatars that look just like them. Then they don a pair of Nikes and run on a treadmill to control their movements within the game. Naturally, it all ends in a highly shareable video clip.

A brand like Nike is bold when it comes to in-store experiences. But other brands are wising-up. Samsung, for example, has embraced gaming’s universal nature and appeal with its 837 flagship store in New York. More games arcade than sales-driven retail space, here shoppers can play with the brand’s latest tech, like AR and VR. The focus is on marketing over sales: using the retail space to generate socially shareable content, rather than sell inventory – because e-commerce can take care of that.

What unites Nike and Samsung is using their flagships as living, breathing microsites with real audiences. And, as esports’ explosive growth shows, the audiences that gather to watch are as valuable as those participating.

With physical retail facing multiple challenges, many brands think flagship stores face an existential threat. But if we reframe retail spaces to be more about marketing and less about sales, we can give flagships a new lease of life by turning them into immersive theatres – or better still, a new breed of gaming arcade that gives consumers a reason to get out of the house and get into a brand.

Gilles Boisselet is a creative partner at UNIT9, a global advertising production house and content experimenter.



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