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How retailers are rewriting the playbook to better connect with consumers

By embracing innovative personal interactions, Gucci, Lululemon, and Crocs have found ways to reach new customers

How retailers are rewriting the playbook to better connect with consumers

People don’t usually want to feel like consumers—they want to be seen as individuals with unique tastes and circumstances. This is one of the takeaways from the inaugural Smoooth Move Awards, presented by global payments and shopping service Klarna, in collaboration with Fast Company. The awards honored brands daring to innovate and find new ways of engaging with customers, with Gucci, Lululemon, and Crocs notably succeeding in this effort.

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“Consumers have come to expect richer, more personalized shopping experiences that offer greater convenience and flexibility and cater to their unique wants and needs,” says Sebastian Siemiatkowski, cofounder and CEO of Klarna. “We’ve seen this in the growing demand for omnichannel retail, which has accelerated over the past few years as consumers expect brands to be accessible across all channels, from physical stores to mobile and desktop.” A recent Klarna survey found nearly half of U.S. consumers believe retailers need to improve their online and offline shopping experiences by investing in more personalized services, and 46% say online retailers should offer more customized product recommendations.     

Companies are meeting this demand in various creative ways, from allowing in-store associates to connect in real-time with online shoppers to providing personalized recommendations based on individual purchase histories. “By making an effort to really understand what each consumer wants and how they shop, and optimizing for that experience, retailers can differentiate themselves and drive greater brand loyalty,” Siemiatkowski says.

HIGH TECH, HIGH TOUCH

Think Gucci, and the first thing that comes to mind is likely a high-end handbag. But these days, the Italian fashion company is just as invested in providing virtual experiences as making items you can wear or carry around IRL.

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In 2021, Gucci partnered with the online gaming platform Roblox. For far less than the cost of traditional Gucci products, users can “wear” custom-designed virtual sneakers or “carry” handbags in various online worlds, including the popular multiplayer game VR Chat. The partnership also yielded a virtual experience called Gucci Garden, where for two weeks in May 2021, people could wander through a series of immersive rooms inspired by Gucci designs. Visitors began the journey as neutral mannequins and emerged uniquely styled based on their path through the virtual exhibition.

Gucci has also leveraged the augmented reality behind these innovations for real-life functionality, allowing customers to use its app to virtually try on sneakers and watches. Customers point their smartphone cameras at their feet using one of the apps, and a realistic image of the shoe gets overlaid onto their feet. For many consumers—especially Gen Z—this kind of breakthrough technology may make Gucci’s products seem more appealing—and more within their grasp. 

BRIDGING DIGITAL AND PHYSICAL

During the past couple of years, more and more people started working out at home. And when it came time to purchase new workout clothes, many of them went online to popular athletic brand Lululemon, which has strived to offer the advantages of in-store shopping to its online customers.

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One way it’s done so is by providing online video chats with product experts who can help with sizing and offer recommendations. Lululemon also organizes virtual private shopping events for groups wanting to shop together. Meanwhile, Lululemon stores provide an enhanced customer experience through curbside pickup, virtual waitlists, and appointment shopping. Their efforts to bridge the digital and physical customer experiences made them a standout clothing retailer for 2021 and the future.

CLOG COLLABS

Sometime in the past couple of years, Crocs became cool. The ubiquitous, chunky foam-based clogs may have benefited from the pandemic-related embrace of comfortable home wear. The company has also launched a series of strategic collaborations with hot-name celebrities and brands such as Justin Bieber, Diplo, Balenciaga, and U.K. fashion label Kurt Geiger, which yielded two pairs of glossy Crocs, one with faux fur trim and the other with eye-catching, rainbow-colored crystals. 

Collaborations like these have introduced Crocs to a new generation of consumers, allowing them to choose from a wide range of styles and colors to personalize their look. “Creative partnerships are a tried-and-true way for businesses across all industries—from retail to tech—to reach new audiences, drive brand visibility, and build a stronger sense of community,” Siemiatkowski says. 

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To learn more about the recipients of this years’ Smoooth Move Awards, click here.

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FastCo Works is Fast Company's branded content studio. Advertisers commission us to consult on projects, as well as to create content and video on their behalf.

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