Amping Up the In-Store Experience: How Retailers Can Avoid Going the Way of the CD

In early 2013, I was interviewing for a position with Catalyst and trying to determine the best way to convey my interest in technology despite a resume full of music publishing M&A transactions. Given my independent interest in the “business of fashion,” I cited my enthusiasm in recent commerce trends, including the convergence of content and commerce and the physical store as retail entertainment.

I was particularly intrigued by then-Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts’ focus on accessibility, technology and integrating the digital and physical worlds at the Burberry Regent Street flagship. The store’s mirror-lined walls transform into screens displaying relevant video content when triggered by RFID tags embedded in clothes and accessories, and the brand has installed miles of digital wiring, as well as nearly 500 audio speakers and 100 digital displays to test and innovate. As Chief Creative Director Christopher Bailey described toThe Business of Fashion: “Online moves very fast and we wanted to make sure that in retail, every month, we were going at a similar pace. Every month, when we change the landing page on the website, we also change the windows; we change all the touchpoints throughout the store to make sure that it’s all consistent.”

Ahrendts has since left Burberry to join Apple as senior vice president of retail and online stores, and she recently announced major changes to the layout of Apple retail locations, in part to convey luxury in the Apple Watch shopping experience. Other retailers are also leveraging digital and mobile to create more seamless shopping experiences:

  • House of Fraser usesIconeme mannequins with built-in beacon technology to tell customers via their smartphone what mannequins are wearing and where items can be found in-store
  • American Apparel uses augmented reality, via theVuforia app, at the point of sale to provide product reviews, videos and online ordering capabilities
  • Gap created aGlobal Head of Customer Experience position that will create a seamless customer and brand experience, from digital to store to home

Google research supports the continued and expanded use of digital to connect shoppers to local stores: two in three consumers do not find the information they need in-store and 43% then leave frustrated. Thus, digital presents an opportunity for retailers to improve the in-store shopping experience. Tulip Retail CEO Ali Asaria wrote in his VentureBeat article, “The big future of retail is that physical won’t dominate online and online won’t dominate physical. Instead, we will see retailers become smarter about what to offer their customers at each touchpoint… Physical retailers will need to fully invest in in-store technology to meet shoppers who are entering stores more informed than ever before.” 

Because of my music publishing background, I appreciated Doug Stephen’s analogy in his op-ed for The Business of Fashion: “Consider that just as musicians now make significantly less from record sales than they do from live performances, so too will great retailers build more of their economic model around delivering a live in-store experience around their products, than relying solely on the margin from individual product sales.”

Next Big Sound, an online music analytics platform, addresses the aforementioned challenges musicians face by tracking artists’ popularity and profitability across major social networks. The Company was recently named to Fast Company’s list of the Most Innovative Companies in 2015 for “making music out of musicians’ data.” Catalyst is seeking the retail equivalent. When we published our commerce research in July, we were all about omnichannel – we had dropped the “E” and were talking commerce. As in-store and online initiatives continue to converge and retailers focus on customer experience, we remain interested in investment opportunities in retail analytics.


Catalyst Investors employs a proactive, research-based approach to investing. We target sectors that are experiencing above-average growth. If you are a growth-stage retail analytics company seeking investment, our team would love to start a dialogue. Please send inquiries and business plans to [email protected].

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