Consumers have changed in recent years and so has their customer journey. The customer experience allows brands not only to sell products or services, but to do so by creating an emotional connection with their consumers. It is an intangible asset that is gaining more and more value at a time of accelerated digitalization.

In collaboration with Bruno Daucé, Keynote Speaker, Professor and Researcher in Retail and Marketing at the University of Angers, France, we launched an unprecedented study recounting the history of in-store customer experience. The study aims at understanding the retail innovations that represent key milestones in the evolution of the customer experience at the point of sale, to ultimately anticipate what the store of the future will look like.

We analyzed eight historical periods, from 1800 to 2050, identifying and observing different aspects of the customer experience in each era, including the store format, the atmosphere, the services offered to customers, payment methods, shop windows as well as the influential personality of the period.

Four key lessons can be drawn from these indicators:

Emotion’s influence on the customer experience: This goes back to the 18th century with the creation of the first commercial galleries in France, Italy and the UK. In the 19th century, this movement grew with the advent of department stores. With their size, their broad choice of products and with help of the technological innovation of the time (electricity), those department stores succeeded in revolutionizing the consumer journey, laying the foundations of modern commerce. Sensory marketing started developing in the ‘20s with the first recorded background music. In 1970 came the theatricalization of shop windows. Tomorrow’s brands will be able to measure and analyze large quantities of emotional data we call “feel data.”

Personalization: Talking to the individual customer, rather than to all customers, brings a change of course from the standardization that came about with the rise of department stores. This customization applies to all parts of the customer experience (store format, services, products or customer relationship). It’s a trend that intensifies with the development of geolocalization, the arrival of 3D printing and the increasing popularity of augmented reality. Personalized prices will soon follow – is the end of standard pricing approaching?

Experience vs. flow management: At the beginning of the 20th century, thanks to price tags and changing rooms, the customer became more autonomous within the point of sale. As a result, grocery stores developed their strategy around in-store customer flow. Retailers started focusing on the concept of pleasure and experience. For Bruno Daucé: “Today, these logics have merged. The grocery sector seeks to integrate in its experience the purchase-pleasure while retailers, via their cross-channel strategies, must assimilate the management of flows.”

Stores as life environments: Why would stores continue to exist, if customers will soon be able see the objects they are interested in via augmented reality and 3D print them at home? Why struggle to keep brick and mortar shops open? Because, and the history of the customer experience teaches this, stores have become part of our lives, places we go for discovery, inspiration, socialization. Even when deliveries are made by drones, or products can be printed at home, nothing will be faster than choosing, testing and buying an object to take it away directly, and no experience will be compared to the one in store where all senses are engaged.

Now let’s take a closer look at what each one of the analyzed periods has taught us:

Click HERE to download the full PDF.

– Submitted by Valentina Candeloro, Marketing