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Comment: Why common sense may be the most important sense of all by Nigel Collett

When it comes to blue sky thinking about the future of shopping and of tomorrow’s store environment, one thing can always be counted upon: humans will have the same five senses in 100 years as they do today. And a physical store, both now and in the future, can engage all of those senses whereas a website cannot. Whatever bells, whistles and sophistication may be brought about by the continuing evolution of the internet, or by the digital evolution of the retail space, our five senses can always be depended upon to perform best in the real world.

Retailers are of course responding to this by providing their stores with more than just visual ways to entice customers. The use of smell is proving increasingly popular, such as in the case of the M&M World superstore in London’s Leicester Square and its overwhelming smell of chocolate. We have seen huge video screens in Burberry and been given the chance to use a store just like our i-pad, tapping and swiping to configure a car in Audi's London showrooms.

However, having said all this we should maybe take a quick look at the sixth sense…and that’s common sense.

I think it’s time to take stock of the ‘clicks and bricks’ debate. Shopping is not about a divergence from the real world to online, but rather an integration of both. High street retail and online will continue to be defined by their customers and both will need to provide experiences that surprise and delight. 

So, perhaps the successful “future store” will not be so different to the successful present day store. In the ‘bricks’ world the winners are, and always will be, the ones that can assemble the right cocktail of technology, services and customer delivery plus an increasing twist of experiential activity that makes stores both engaging and unforgettable. All need to work in harmony to improve the shopping experience and engagement with customers.

But retailers must be willing to do just a bit more than think outside their retail box. They must start to use their common sense and get to know their customers and understand exactly what makes them tick. Ultimately to engage, delight and retain customers requires retailers to look a few miles down the motorway rather than simply staring at the car in front, braking when they brake and accelerating when they accelerate.

So, what is the common sense solution to understanding the future of retail? First of all it’s about understanding today’s teenagers, and what they want from a shop. Engage with them now and you will engage with tomorrow’s wage earners and shoppers.

Already, some of the savviest brands have experienced an epiphany. Adidas knows that stores should be a place to hang out, that are cool rather than dull, a ‘hub’ of activity that has a relevance to a geographic area and a particular cultural and demographic group.

It has researched and acted upon its findings and is now changing retail as fast and as completely as Apple did on May 19th 2001 when its first store opened in the US. Adidas offers stores from Berlin to Beijing that allow internet access, it even provides the tablet, gives away free coffee and arranges events after hours. It will be seen as a ‘friend’ by millions rather than just another company that sells clothes and shoes.

So, engage all the senses in store by all means, but don’t forget to engage the most vital sense of all.

Nigel Collett is CEO of rpa:group