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A grand retail romance

warby-home-try-on-1.pngA simple question – can you name the two or three brands you truly love? Are you sure you really love them, or do you simply like them?

And what’s the difference between ‘loving’ and ‘liking’ a brand?

Brands we really like deliver relevance and reliability. They’re always there when we need them and we know that they will hardly ever let us down. They simply work well. In some cases, they work brilliantly. But just working well doesn’t guarantee love.

In the past five years I have helped businesses such as Tesco and Waitrose in the UK adapt their customers’ retail experience to challenges, including the arrival of the discount players, Aldi and Lidl. Aldi in particular delivers an experience that makes buying value own-brands easy and enjoyable. It makes you feel good by instilling a sense of savviness in customers for buying their own-label and spending the money they’ve saved on a personal or family indulgence.

Aldi changed the supermarket landscape in the UK for good (and for the good of the customer as even Tesco had to redefine its retail experience). It is now offering a fresh alternative in Australia, shaking up the market and pressing the typical retail juggernauts (one is red, the other is green). It will change the landscape here as well because Aldi simply works brilliantly in most everything it does.

Most people who have shopped at Ikea will agree it works well. We know what we will get in terms of quality of (self) build, great prices, with the possibility that there’ll be a surprise to uncover in and amongst the maze of options available. The retail journey rewards you with a guarantee that most customers will find the products they need, supported by ‘easy inspiration’ and a good service experience. Ikea simply works brilliantly in most everything it does.

Being ‘well liked’ is important to a brand but it’s also not easy to achieve. Since moving to Australia many people I’ve spoken to refer to Bunnings as one of Australia’s ‘loved’ brands, however it could hardly be described as an easy experience, or a great way to spend the weekend – try buying a shower or tap and you’ll see what I mean. It is in fact ‘loved’ in spite of the confusing and challenging customer journey across most of the categories.

The brands we ‘love’ are designed so well that they exist in an omnipresent way. They simply fit positively into our lives, combining relevance with unexpected joy. Not only do they work brilliantly, but they consistently delight us through innovative experiences that create talk and desire for the brand.

I fell in a couple of years ago in LA with Warby Parker, the eyewear innovator. Not only was I attracted by the look and feel, but also with the origin, strategy and experience which reflect core principles that are intrinsic in developing ‘loved’ brands.

Warby Parker was created in response to a simple insight. As a student, one of the founders lost a $700 pair of glasses and wasn’t able to find an affordable alternative. Together with his future business partners, they questioned why glasses should cost as much as an i-phone, and why no-one had tried to disrupt the sector behemoth, Luxottica, who owned many of the fashion and eye brands and stores.

They set out with a promise to deliver good eyewear at a good price, and to deliver good outcomes for global communities unable to afford glasses. And while they were in a disruptive mood, they decided to support their strategy with an online business model to keep costs down.

The Warby Parker experience is built on innovations that balance the functional needs of their customer with emotional delights that reflect their promise: ‘Home Try-On’ lets you try five frames at home and post photos of yourself in order to get personal style advice; every pair of glasses sold is matched in sourcing glasses for under-developed communities, with over a million pairs so far.

The design process is anchored around feedback from the vibrant Warby Parker community; physical retail experiences are beautifully considered spaces that delight with ‘traditional eye-tests’, ‘libraries of glasses’ and travelling ‘school buses’.

In summary, the attributes of an experience from a loved brand are the same as those we expect from a relationship – empathy, dependency and desirability. This can only be achieved by a commitment from the brand, be they Warby Parker, Aesop, Apple, Nike, Trader Joe’s or John Lewis. The brand has to make its promise to the customer and keep that promise relentlessly across all dimensions of its experience.

Coming soon: The essential principles for creating a loved brand and what they could mean for retailing today in Australia.

 Simon Stacey is creative director of experience design at Designworks.

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