When did you last say ‘Wow!’ ?

For me, it was last Thursday night at the inaugural Retail Tonight dinner.  Having one visionary, mind-expanding speaker in attendance was wonderful – having two was extraordinary.

Around 80 senior retailers came together in the remarkable surroundings of One Belgravia in Mayfair for a four course meal hosted by sixteen leading retail technology companies with their own tables.  Networking and discussion of current challenges were the main goals of the evening, and as the post-dinner drinks stretched to the small hours I think we can judge that a success.

The two speakers for the evening weren’t there for any big presentations or pitches – there were no screens or laptops, the speeches were under half an hour each – but to inspire our imaginations.  Blow our minds, more like.


Putting the ‘Wow!’ back


Brand and loyalty expert Alex Hunter believes the hospitality and retail industries should be on a constant mission to put the ‘Wow!’ back into their customer experience.  And he underlined that the key to engagement is emotion.  Emotion is greater than reason, and is the irreducible bedrock for our loyalty.

Alex offered a few examples of customer service and engagement which went well beyond the call of duty, from a boutique NYC hotel which gave him a personalised basket of his favourite snacks together with a handwritten note, to Virgin Atlantic cabin staff finding him all the way back in Coach to greet him personally and give him a glass of champagne.  Many of the examples Alex gave were small-scale, fairly low-key, and personal, but the accumulation of examples re-inforced the undeniable importance of emotional engagement.



Those of us in Marketing know as an article of faith that customers buy on emotion and justify with fact: they don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.  If they understand and share your belief, you’ll not only increase sales, you’ll create advocates who will share both your emotional proposition and the love of your brand with others.

Alex’s challenge to the retailers in the room was to make ‘Wow!’ their everyday goal for customer experience.


Rethinking everything


I’d never met L-J Rich before Thursday but she’s absolutely one of those people: once met, never forgotten.  An absolute livewire of energy imagination and inspiration, her cv sounds exhausting at first: presenter, producer, inventor, creator, musician.  But she’s someone whose energy and excitement is infectious rather than exhausting.

After warming up the audience and raising the volume of the room with a hilarious interactive bit, L-J considered the interface between AI, automation and human interactions is blurring, and pointed out that many paradigms can be affected by the new world that this will usher in.  As part of her work for the BBC L-J rode in the driver’s seat of an autonomous, driverless car. This was extremely bizarre at first, but she noted how quickly after the initial “leap of faith” to let go of the steering wheel she mentally adjusted to what would be for anyone a very strange experience.



Her point was not to show off about being one of the first to experience a driverless car but to show how this experience had in her words “completely changed her relationship with the car”.  We must bear in mind that so many other facets of our daily lives may be subject to such revisions, in ways we can’t guess at.

The Tactile Internet is something else which has a huge potential to change how we interact, and what we think of technology being able to deliver for us.  Imagine ‘sending’ smell or touch via the internet in the same way we currently send voice or visual content.  One application is the idea of a t-shirt which can ‘hug’ you when directed, then if you ‘like’ the hug it can direct the sender to receive a hug in return.

She left us with three words which should be the goal for retail brands, in their products and their experiences: immersive, addictive, captivating.  Which, come to think of it, could be a good description of L-J herself.


If you’d like to read more about the speeches or about the Retail Tonight dinner then watch this space as we’ll be publishing an event summary soon.