Loek Wermenbol
Retail strategy director

House of Retail: the future is phygital

What is happening around me? Am I diving into the deep end when it comes to technology? Do I invest in digital or physical solutions? I opened the first edition of House of Retail, the Netherlands’ new live retail platform, with these questions. Almost 100 retail professionals gathered in First Impression’s renovated experience centre where they were then presented with three top speakers from the industry.

On the day before Black Friday, First Impression’s revamped experience centre was the setting for House of Retail. The event was created to bring the worlds of digital and physical retail even closer together. Challenges and experiences were shared and guests visibly enjoyed the interactive, visual installations and content. After all guests completed the tour of the 1,000-square-metre experience centre, they were welcomed into the studio for the plenary sessions.

Tech should not feel like tech

The feeling that prevailed after the tour of the experience centre was that the crisis has really proved to be an engine for innovation. Our attention is constantly on the developments happening around us, so that we are ready for what comes tomorrow. For instance, we see that the need for personal contact has become even stronger. Consequently, the biggest changes within First Impression’s experience centre have been built around personal contact. The technology that has been developed and applied revolves entirely around people and the interactivity that is so much needed. In doing so, it is important that precisely this technology does not feel like technology to the customer.

Customers have always needed interactivity. That need has only increased over the years. People want to be entertained, see, feel and smell products and interact with them in surprising ways. Above all, they want to share these moments with others. House of Retail’s three speakers, all from completely different backgrounds, told their own stories about interactivity. Andy Haywood, head of global sales at Samsung, kicked off with some great examples of interactivity in shop windows and in-store displays. He explained that Lego has a play experience rather than a shopping experience. By making the installations hyper-interactive, Lego aims to make children and their parents smile more, which boosts sales. Retail and entertainment merge into retailtainment.

Retail is an uninterrupted part of our daily lives

Sabine Krieg, professor of retail strategy and communication at the University of Düsseldorf and consultant for brands such as Dior, impressed with her talk on lessons we have learned, or could have learned, from the past. Only since the 1990s has shopping become part of our daily (urban) life. Shops became part of public spaces, such as train stations. Only in the zeroes did the hybridisation of retail emerge. Only then did we see full integration of eating out, entertainment and shopping.

It took us three decades to go back from commercialised public spaces to de-commercialised public spaces. If there is one thing we have learned from the past, it is that we need to be socially engaged with each other and with the brands we love. We increasingly see brands as our friends. And with the increasing need for social retailing, sustainable consumption and greening, retail is becoming ‘owned’ by the community more than by big retailers. The future lies in the urbanisation of retail, with consumers no longer going to high streets but fully integrating shops into our neighbourhoods and work environments. We interact with retailers 24/7, whether online or offline.


The future is phygital

Joris Verhaak, director of strategy, media & innovation at Dutch marketing consultancy Fama Volat was the last speaker. He took us into the world of NFTs, blockchain and the metaverse. In doing so, he cited a good example from Nike. Nike recently started adding parts of their metaverse Nikeland to their physical shops, where you can interact with your avatar in real life. So digital meets physical. On this front too, we see evidence that we want to be friends with our favourite brands. By ‘phygitalising’ interactions with these brands, that friendship can feel real.

Learn from the past to be ready for the future

What lingers after a full afternoon immersed in the latest technologies and experts’ interesting take on the industry? Learn from your experiences and lessons from the past. We understand all too well what we need to change to reach, surprise and engage our target audience. However, we are too afraid to take effective steps needed to really change. Let’s learn from the past today to be ready for the future.