A Retail Evolution – How Brands Can Build Better CX


Written by Natalia Bus | 10th August 2022

Applying Human Understanding to Retail

With a range of shopper types to consider, creating optimum CX in retail can be a tricky balancing act between ensuring the needs of customers are met across seamless journeys, and maintaining a competitive edge as a brand in a fast-moving industry.

Last month, UNLIMITED attended the CX Retail Exchange in London, where our very own Ben Ireland and Chris Bland engaged in an insightful panel discussion with LEGO Group’s Paul Porter and New Look’s Suzanne Calder, exploring the ways in which they utilise human understanding and emotion across their brands.

Discover where our conversation took us below.


What are you doing to dial up the senses within your experiences?

Paul: We are totally redesigning our stores. The key is to bring to life our core promise of learning through play, so brick-in-hand experiences are essential for LEGO. We also pick and optimise our colour schemes carefully to create contrast. We are all about the physical product – as soon as you cross the threshold, whether young or old, you’re met by an invitation to play and are free to interact and use your imagination.

Suzanne: New Look’s in-store sensory experience is focused predominantly on touch (fabric and texture), sound (music) and sight (seeing the product and yourself in the product). We’re on a trajectory, with the aim of making our experience more emotionally engaging.


Can you think of any examples of retail experiences that use effective sensory activation?

Paul: Avestan is so disruptive, almost contrary to everything that other fragrance brands try to utilise. It’s a single fragrance sold out of one shop in Soho. They have no owned social media presence and yet have gone totally viral. There’s almost no branding so you just stumble upon the store and enter a space with barely any product on display. Then a member of staff comes out and narrates the story of the scent.

The packaging is minimal, kind of utilitarian and invariably you walk out with a bottle and the brand story spreads organically by word of mouth. They’ve broken all the rules in that category. They’ve done the exact opposite of a standard go-to-market retail strategy: there’s no choice, no navigation, no marketing per se. They’ve just told a great story and allowed it to flourish.

Suzanne: McDonald’s is a brilliant example of activating the senses. The smell of the fries is hard wired in our brains to link back to childhood and nostalgia. The feel of the food in your hands takes you back to happy and joyful moments.


When it comes to omnichannel retail, is there a case for linking the physical and online worlds together?

Suzanne: Brands are starting to integrate using apps more within the store environment to create that engagement at a higher level, instead of always relying on store staff. At New Look, we know from experience that some customers dislike it when staff regularly engage or try to check in.

Personally, I want to do my own research and scan an item of clothing and see if it looks good on me. We need to look at that omnichannel approach and delve into how the two environments interact in order to reflect what customers are truly after.


Does the approach differ depending on the type of retailer?

Paul: Certainly. Interacting with shoppers in a LEGO store is key as the staff are very much the advocates of the brand; demonstrating and championing play for the kids to encourage them to get involved and get the product in-hand. However, we are careful not to be overpowering, and take into account both local market and channel cultures. A poor interaction can not only deter a purchase but could potentially make a customer reconsider coming back.


Are there any retailers that don’t quite get it right?

Ben: While Zara’s stores are well curated, employing colour, sound, and touch, I think they miss a trick with their website. It is heavily stylised and certainly provides a unique journey for the senses, but it is difficult to actually make a purchase. There needs to be a very delicate balance of meeting brand expression without obstructing shopper missions.


Can we apply any neuro- & behavioural science techniques to make the experience smooth for customers and land the moments that matter?

Chris: The ‘peak end’ theory dictates that our memory of an experience is defined by the emotional peak and the ending. So, a staff member approaching a shopper at the right point in time can improve an experience, but get this wrong, and it can turn people off.

It is important to think about the moments of delight and ensure the ending is pleasant and memorable. Consider the process of saying goodbye to a customer leaving a store or ending on a high note as they exit a website – failing to engage at the right moments can have similarly negative consequences as being overbearing.

How do you bring the brand experience to life in your CX?

Ben: The name of the game is balance. Once you have a deeper understanding of your customer’s expectations, you need to find the right combination of sensory activation to engage them, align that with your proposition and ensure that the experience can deliver on it.

Suzanne: New Look’s brand purpose is around that feeling of trying on something for the first time, whether in-store or at home, and getting that frisson of excitement. It’s all about playing around with human emotion to elicit #ThatNewLookFeeling, to be a brand that uplifts and unites.

Paul: LEGO Expressions recreates a similar feeling, where you have a LEGO avatar that mimics your movements, feeding that need for interaction and sense of ownership bias.


How can the metaverse be used to dial up the senses?

Ben: Sight and sound can certainly be utilised in the metaverse, though there currently isn’t enough data to measure the success of this. The time is now to experiment. For example, when working with a drinks brand in the meta environment, there are ways of using moving imagery to invoke memories of taste and touch. The lessons lie in combining several different techniques and senses to figure out what works best.


Once you’ve mapped out the right experience, how do you get the business to invest in it? How do you get the commercial measure of the value of experiential retail?

Suzanne: Using a more human approach to get deeper into engagement is sometimes potentially a more difficult sell to the business. What they’re usually looking for is immediate, direct results, but we’re talking about a more indirect approach that yields better results overall.

When it comes to loyalty, which is what I’m looking after for New Look, it’s more valuable to explore how your customers engage outside of the purchase cycle, which is the kind of intelligence this type of work and analysis can give us. It’s less about measuring the transaction and more about how customers are interacting across all touch points.


Putting human insight at the core of commercial decision making

Better CX design in retail requires a deeper understanding and application of human behaviour and decision making to maintain sales in an increasingly sophisticated and diverse omnichannel environment.

For more CX-focused retail insights, visit our website.

If you’d like to hear more about how we can help your brand succeed in the current retail landscape, please get in touch with our panellists at Chris.Bland@walnutunlimited.com or Benedict.Ireland@unlimitedgroup.com