During one of our field research made at the Enigma agency, we have met people and asked them about their shopping habits. We have met a young college student. She explained to us why she didn’t like the small boutiques of her town. This student told us that she didn’t like boutiques. She felt observed in them. She preferred large shops where there are a lot of people. She preferred to stay hidden from the staff. She even went further. She told us that one thing that she hates in the shopping experience were the vendors. The last insight she gave us added some complexity to the whole. For her, a good vendor should always be there and have the answers to her questions.
From the web to the boutique
The new generation of shoppers
In a way, we can see the needs to feel hidden as the translation of the online browsing experience to the offline shopping experience. When digital natives browse the web, there is nobody to watch them. Or at least they don’t feel observed. For this generation, the boutique experience should have all the advantages they have online. It should be discrete, quick and easy. But at the same time, these digital natives expect from an offline shop to be human.
An ongoing transition
Privacy and empathy
Here is the point where service innovation should happen. The intersection between being able to shop with privacy and have a human experience. For small boutiques, the basics should be profoundly good. That means that the welcome experience should be great. A cold look from the vendor when you enter a shop, and you have already lost the customer. But at the same time, this younger generation doesn't appreciate the traditional boutique experience. In this experience, the vendor welcomes the shopper personally and asks if they might help. But these shoppers told us that at first they just wanted to sneak around. They do not want to interact at the beginning. And then later, when their interest as grown, they might want an interaction.
Privacy and empathy are deeply linked together.
The hard thing here is that it’s all about empathy. The vendor has to feel if it’s the moment or not to interact with this customer.
This notion of privacy in the boutique experience can be a new focus of research. What are the possibilities to enhance privacy?
The architecture of privacy
Playing with space
Materiality and space are the missing aspects of the online shopping experience. We could use these aspects to enhance privacy in a manner that is unique to the boutiques. Instead of having a boutique built like an open space, there could be little niches.These cocoons let customers look at an object with discretion and without external observation. The cocoon interior design would not only give a sense of privacy but could also make the space warmer. The boutique would feel more like home and less like a supermarket. The choice of different materials could help going even a step further. Instead of having everything build with glass we could embrace wood and stone.
We could put in place the niche interior design concept for the checkout zone. Instead of having cash desks that are open and visible to all, these could be more private. The items a customer places on the table shouldn’t be visible to the one beside him.
Interior design is maybe the easiest way to build privacy into boutiques.
Digital natives want more privacy. We can do that through elements that are only possible in the offline world. With that, we are not only translating the online experience into the offline world. But we re-create it and enhance it. That will make the boutique experience more comfortable for digital natives. And still will give to the boutique experience a competitive differentiator.