The integration of technology into the retail space is an increasingly compelling prospect. Although some retailers fear that sales in their stores are being lost to their digital equivalents, others are beginning to appreciate that e-commerce need not be a threat. By welcoming e-commerce channels as an asset, along with other digital concepts, brands should able to enhance their overall offering.

Luxury fashion retailer Burberry has been at the forefront of the digital retail charge, and is clearly reaping the benefits. Perhaps a huge complement to Burberry’s digital strength came last year, when it announced their CEO, Angela Ahrendts, was leaving the company to become senior vice president for retail and online stores at Apple. Regardless of the products they sell, all retailers must have an appreciation for digital, and serve customers who are increasingly adept at shopping online. Ahrendts has noted that her digital strategy for Burberry has been informed by Apple, who she identifies as a business contemporary in some cases more closely than typical peers Gucci and Chanel: “If I look to any company as a model, it’s Apple,” she said. “They’re a brilliant design company working to create a lifestyle, and that’s the way I see us.”

Burberry is a case study in combining digital and offline to create a profitable model. The brand has nearly 15m Facebook ‘likes’ and 1.5m Twitter followers, yet their digital engagement amounts to so much more. Not only have Burberry moved into the digital space, but they have also moved the digital space in store, introducing a whole host of interactive digital concepts which subtly and intuitively enhance the customer experience. Notable successes have been the live streaming of their catwalk shows, which enabled customers to buy what they see; the social media site The Art of the Trench, which enables customers to submit pictures of themselves in their Burberry trench-coats, and connect with other trench-coat lovers, as well as their use of RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology, which is particularly inspiring. A chip placed into each product triggers RFID-enabled mirrors in changing rooms to transform into digital screens, displaying information about the craft and detail of the garment being tried on. This gives customers the added bonus of more product information in a fantastically intuitive way.

These digital concepts work with, not against their stores and general offline offering. They enhance the customer experience in store by appreciating how their customers shop and want to interact with the Burberry brand. Having an appreciation for e-commerce and utilising it effectively to increase revenue is not a new trend, but integrating digital with a light touch to improve the customer experience seems increasingly prevalent in the marketplace, especially as the wider population are becoming increasingly tech-savvy and unafraid to interact with brands online. Ironically, such a tactic could well preserve the high street and enhance the shopping experience. It is certainly an exciting direction for retail to be heading.

(Originally posted in The Value Engineers blog October 18th 2013)