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New relationships with things, Part 3 – Polyamorous retail and product monogamy: The future of our relationships
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New relationships with things, Part 3 – Polyamorous retail and product monogamy: The future of our relationships

Posted by Zenobia HegdeJuly 4, 2016

Products – and our relationships with them – are constantly changing. Marketers have long sought to encourage a sense of brand loyalty, but the future of product marketing will rely on the purchaser developing a connection directly with a product, led by conversations between person and item.

New shopping environments will promote the exploration of and engagement with a wide range of products in a form of “polyamorous retail”. However, companies will need to create loyalty programmes and customer services that help people develop long-term relationships with their products, or product monogamy.

I previously explored the idea of objects having perceived intelligence and agency, and we will have more human-like relationships with them as a result of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. As a result, shopping will be a new, dynamic social experience empowered by a series of personal conversations in the aisles and at home between you and your products.

The changing face of merchandising

Today, merchandising is about the layout of the store, the presentation of the product, and the messaging and signage supported by the knowledge of the employees. Tomorrow, it will include where and how the product introduces itself to the customer, the stories it tells, and the manner in which it convinces each shopper to take it home.

In general, the retail industry does a poor job of combining rational information about a product with emotional storytelling. Companies put their agency’s top creative talent to work creating an inspiring 30-second spot extolling the desirability of the product. However, the in-store experience falls flat in comparison, with a list of features and a few sentences on a tag.

There’s real opportunity here for the shopping experience to be more engaging, to elicit emotions and desires for a product. What if the products could speak for themselves? What if each item told you a story or held a meaningful conversation as you walked down the aisle?

Comparison shopping (or the jealous chair)

Today when we comparison shop, we look at products’ features and functionality and make a decision. But what if products could make their own arguments for being purchased? A chair could tailor its argument based on what it “thinks” is most important to you: “I know you visited me online twice last week. Are you also looking at that other chair? My colour fits with your décor much better, and I’ll give you a discount if you choose me right now!”

You may also like (or the product family)

Just like comparison-shopping will change, so will recommendations. No longer will recommendations be based on past purchase history; products will make suggestions about other items you can buy in their product “family.” Imagine the following conversation taking place:

You: “Ok, I’m going to buy this chair.”

Chair: “Great! Can I also introduce you to and [lamp]? We get along perfectly and our colours don’t clash!”

Making it happen

As we continue down this path of humanising items through technology, we’ll need to consider how different industries and sectors can work together.

We’ll need data scientists to make sense of big and little data points around the shopper to make transactions personal and targeted. We’ll need technologists to create the code that makes the interaction between person and product seem human and natural, not forced and robotic. We’ll need designers, writers and marketers to bring an authentic voice to these products – not just parroting the global brand messages as a chorus, but also creating unique single voices for the brand with each product.

And we’ll need to include a few other perspectives – from sociologists to dating coaches and therapists who study and support these relationships. Their observations and insights on how people meet, date, fall in love and live long happy lives with products will be essential in making products better.

Recently, the UK has made major investments in the IoT space to further the societal impact of these types of technological advancements, creating a research hub between academia, public sector and companies. The research will focus on the challenges associated with IoT, including the various interactions, policy and governance, beliefs and behaviours between people and the IoT systems.

Product monogamy

To encourage strong relationships with products – product monogamy – we’ll need to create loyalty programmes and customer services that help people live and grow with products through good and bad times. Brands will help customers celebrate moments together, and be there to support them in challenging times with their products.

Loyalty won’t be about one-off incentives, but about providing meaningful rewards for longevity and sustained relationships. Imagine that you’re sitting on your favourite chair for the 100,000th time and it congratulates you with a 50% discount on cushion repair at a local shop.

Polyamorous retail

We will need to create a new shopping environment that promotes exploration, engagement, and most importantly conversations with a wide range of products to reinforce the importance of the physical store as social space. Online shopping will remain important, but millennials increasingly prefer to visit a brick and mortar location. They want to try on, touch, or sit on products before they buy. Imagine speed dating at IKEA for your new kitchen table!

We’re at the very beginning of this possible future – now is the time to really consider how we can shape our relationships with products and making products more desirable. In doing so, we can be the facilitators of healthy monogamous product relationships.

The author of this blog is JF Grossen of frog design.

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Zenobia Hegde

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