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Earlier this year I attended a food retail executive conference and had the pleasure of hearing Doug Stephens – author of “The Retail Revival: Re-Imagining Business for the New Age of Consumerism” – share his insights during a morning keynote session.

Stephens suggested that all of the connectivity consumers are enjoying today thanks to technology and their devices means “the store is everywhere…media IS the store.” I found that to be really profound. But what he said next was even more profound: if “the store” is in the palm of my hand, what is the purpose of the brick and mortar store? Stores need to become better forms of media, providing information and entertainment in an engaging way. In other words, the “Store IS media”. Physical stores are still unique in that they provide an immersive, emotional connection to a brand, and the opportunity for retailers is to start thinking of their stores as delivering fulfilling, personalized experiences to shoppers.

Those words – “the store IS media” – were very top of mind for me as I attended my first GlobalShop event in Las Vegas last month. In her keynote presentation, Nadia Shouraboura talked about her personal journey to embrace the “emotional experience of shopping”, and the role of technology – efficient, innovative, invisible technology – enabling this “beautiful experience” to occur in her store, a men’s denim shop in Seattle. And now Hointer, the company Nadia founded, helps retailers build amazing shopping experiences centered on one thing: bringing magic to the in-store experience by merging the best of the physical and digital universe.

My next stop was to spend time with the exhibitors gathered in the “Path to Purchase” centerpiece exhibit on the show floor. The companies gathered in this space were extremely energized about what they had to offer – a new shopping experience that leverages digital technology to elevate the physical act of shopping to innovative, exciting new levels. As a marketer, you can’t help but get invigorated by the possibilities to bring your brand to life at retail in ways never thought possible even a few years ago. I was quite impressed by the array of solutions packed into this exhibit, most centered around unique, creative ways to engage shoppers and their smartphones.

My last stop was probably the most impactful for me – a lunch session featuring a panel of shoppers who had experienced the wonderment of the Path to Purchase exhibit earlier in the day. We all know that perception is reality, and this diverse group of shoppers had lots to say about the technology and solutions they had experienced that morning. One focus group participant summed it up best, I thought, when she said, “I want to date technology, not get married. I want technology to be simple to use, and helpful to me when I’m shopping.”

The moderators wrapped up the session with one final question to the group about “one thing that retailers could do to improve the shopping experience”, and the resounding response was: provide good customer service and informed sales people. I hope that message was heard by all of the attendees at GlobalShop. While it is easy to get excited about all the “bright shiny new toys” that digital technology is making possible in the physical store space, and with that the store “becoming media”, I would suggest that another important role of this new technology is not to replace your sales people, but to help them be more informed and confident, which will enable them to provide a satisfying, fulfilling shopping experience that will keep customers coming back for more.

Published in April/May issue of design:retail magazine.