27 November 2019

Digital engagement in physical retail stores: adopt a winning phygital strategy

Digital was the undisputed star of the Retail Forum 2019, held recently in Milan.
The main theme of the event? Sharing solutions and strategies that can help the retail sector to plan the optimum convergence of the physical and digital worlds.

Whether high-impact interactive stations, creative applications of digital signage to communicate and sell or apps used to create personal and direct relationships with all customer types, the Retail Forum 2019 celebrated the value of technology for each and every brand. In order to attract, engage, inform and retain multi-channel consumers, the qualifying dimensions of the customer experience are enhanced with appealing new mechanisms that not only involve the senses but spark emotion too. The path to purchase must be redesigned with increasingly sophisticated service models that concentrate on a highly innovative digital mix in the physical store. Digital engagement tools actually help to achieve strategic objectives within diverse retail environments since they blend emotional, rational and relational factors.


At the workshop organised by M-Cube, entitled “In-store digital mix: how digital engagement tools are deployed to meet strategic objectives in different retail environments. Leveraging the customer emotional and rational purchase behaviour”, two exceptional speakers took to the stage to talk about this in more detail: Giovanni Flore, Retail Customer Experience Innovation Manager Benetton Group and John Magill, Sky- Store Design and Digital (formerly EE Telco Retail UK, Digital Delivery). Representatives from two very different sectors, fashion and telco, that have completely reinvented the concept of the store with a phygital strategy.


For a brand like Benetton, customer experience is a combination of different elements: advertising, visual merchandising, promotional material within the store and various technologies that support each customer”, explained Flore.

“All these components combine to trigger desire within the consumer, which is by no means a primary need. Fashion operates at a deeper emotional level to create an image with which the customer can identify.”

If emotion is key, success depends on the brand’s capacity to manage data and technology in order to offer advanced levels of personalisation, characterised by immersive and contextual experiences that create a convergence point for communication and sales.


“We were pioneers of digital engagement at Benetton”, explained Flore. “As one of our friends at M-Cube put it, we have been through every geological era of digital signage. We started 10 years ago, focusing on the creation of ad-hoc content to share on large media walls in our store windows.

Back then, our main goal was to increase the visibility of our stores from near and far. We subsequently adopted visual installations that would create immersive realities and introduced increasingly interactive experiments from there.

The Retail Customer Experience Innovation Manager gave the example of an application, linked to a webcam, that read a person’s image and broke it down into the three RGB colours (red, yellow and blue). As people moved in front of the window, a stroboscopic pop-art effect was generated. It was a winning solution: this type of interactive window proved to be a magnet for attention, connecting people with one of Benetton’s primary characteristics: colour.


The goal was to catch the attention of people in the street and draw them towards the store, generating brand awareness,

explained Flore. “With the help of M-Cube, we were able to do this by using technology creatively. We are now concentrating our efforts inside the store. Distributed across certain areas of the store, digital signage allows us to communicate the collections, product clusters and so on promptly and contextually. It is a conceptual change of pace that has seen us develop storytelling around our products based on a configuration model that we call on canvas.”

Another success story is Benetton’s London flagship store, whose window display is home to a monumental LED wall installation that uses a special app to filter every tweet from around the world and translate any hashtag containing a colour into that colour in real time. Interactive touchpoints have been installed inside the store as well. The RFID-tagged products “talk” to the smart touchscreen tables to pull up related content: for the consumer this might mean content to support up-selling or cross-selling, for the sales team, this means interacting with the back office to check product availability and managing the checkouts.

We transformed the very concept of the store, turning it into a laboratory within which to explore solutions and systems for building engagement and connection, a laboratory that can continue to develop and amaze,

concluded Flore. “Pragmatism and courage are needed. It’s impossible to plan the customer journey of every single customer. Instead, develop a framework and keep experimenting, accepting failure as part of the process.”



Brands can revitalise their stores, making the most of the physical space with new design creativity that transforms stores into highly engaging spaces that inspire emotions and reactions. Under new functional management of content and events, EE (the largest mobile network operator in the United Kingdom) has transformed its stores into highly experiential spaces. How? By focusing on a customer-centric approach and more agile business development, supported by advanced analysis linked to mapping of the customer journey based on the use of new digital engagement tools.

Until some years ago, Telco stores were stuck in the past, explained John Magill.

“Stores were sales desks and nothing more, with employees trained to hound customers. There was nothing experiential about them. The turning point came when we reimagined the very idea of the store, working on the basis of higher concepts associated with wellbeing and pleasure. So, what did we do? We redesigned the space, installing a series of interactive touchpoints that would diversify the customer journey and offer training, information and games along the way, using gamification initiatives studied by the marketing department.”


The shops were divided into three precise areas:

  • The store entrance is dedicated to the Showcase Stage: new products are displayed here monthly with interactive infotainment or gamification campaigns. For example, for the Christmas 2018 campaign, the showcase was transformed into an 80s-inspired “Arcade Stage-game”. Using the joysticks, customers had to capture as many packages as possible in order to compete to win a prize.
  • The central space is dedicated to customer service. Here, customers will find Help HUBs equipped with tablets that allow them to consult the available in-store services themselves, an interactive Network Checker that shows EE coverage in their area, an assistance & information desk and a series of private booths where customers can comfortably finalise their contracts or be given more detailed information.
  • The rear of the store is dedicated to products and it is here that customers spend most time. The focus of the whole ecosystem is engagement and information. All products are accompanied by digital signage to create appealing and intuitive displays: customers can use the touchscreens to consult detailed data on the various EE products. The interactive “Content Hero” station allows customers to find out about offers and programmes from EE and BT TV while the “Product Finder” helps them find information about the different mobile devices on display or in the catalogue.


For Telco consumers, the approach is far more rational than in fashion,

underlined Magill. “In a multi-play market, the offer includes a range of different network services: mobile, landline, broadband, TV and home connections. Contracts are extensive and exhaustive; it takes time to go through them. The challenge was to bring fun and pleasure to what is traditionally a boring place with complete awareness of the objectives of both the business and the customers. Thanks to technological support from M-Cube, we were able to achieve this in a very short time.”

EE had to remap the customer journey by gaining complete understanding of the needs and desires of each individual consumer,

concluded Magill. “Thanks to intensive use of digital, the brand can now analyse in detail the behaviour of visitors to the store: what are they looking at, what are they looking for, how do they interact? One of the strong points of the technology introduced is the level of integration, which allows EE to collect lots of useful information and perform in-depth analyses that produce strong customer insights. These insights have offered more transparency on how the customer journey develops in relation to the commercial initiatives undertaken, meaning the brand can construct more strategic actions to boost business.

Today, EE stores are digital ecosystems that offer the very best customer service: something that remains the primary objective of the store.

Laura Zanotti, Journalist and Technical Writer