'E-commerce and in-store experiences are changing the face of retail comms' - creative chief

The chief creative officer at agency Liquid Retail says as the relationship between online and bricks-and-mortar grows increasingly symbiotic, the phenomenon known as 'OmniCommerce' will be an industry game-changer for PR professionals in the retail space.

Colman Sheil is CCO at Liquid Retail, the region’s first independent agency educated to ‘commerce creativity’
Colman Sheil is CCO at Liquid Retail, the region’s first independent agency educated to ‘commerce creativity’

In a region dominated by retail-lovers, the Middle East has presented a rising opportunity for PR professionals and marketers in the commercial communications sector.

According to Liquid Retail's Colman Sheil, in an era where brands no longer sell products, but rather sell experiences, the importance of in-store experiences and related content creation is the next step for communicates in the retail sector across the region.

"The Middle East has always been an amazing place to be in shopper marketing because the stores are full of opportunities," Sheil told PRWeek Middle East. "Just visit a Carrefour here in Dubai and you will see aisle solutions and experiential retail designs you will not see anywhere else.

"So from a physical in-store POSM (Point Of Sale Materials) perspective, the region is leading the way. That being said, when it comes to eCommerce there is still huge potential waiting to be explored - especially when compared to markets like China, where shopping on eCommerce really is an entertainment channel.

"Platforms such as Alibaba’s TMALL and JD.com are transforming eCommerce from a place you go to save time to a place you go to spend time. This new retail is taking the online shopping experience to bricks-and-mortar stores and blending them seamlessly well.

"This is a region which really values in-store experience and as such it has huge opportunities for brands to be expressive and for creativity to flourish.

"Liquid is the first independent agency in the region fully dedicated to creativity for all types of commerce. We help our clients create ideas and strategies which directly inspire and deliver sales, wherever and whenever retail flows, that’s mostly in-store, online on social media and across marketplaces. We call it ‘omniCommerce’."

Sheil, formerly of BBDO, Arc Worldwide and Saatchi & Saatchi, said in a time where there are increasing reports around the changing landscape of retail and how e-commerce is massively disrupting the sector – despite continual development of more and more malls across the region - this disruption spells big business for retail communicators in the region.

"Disruption will happen as it is elsewhere in the world, but I really believe the Middle East will be the region which gets the balance right," he said. "This is a region which embraces retail innovation and has an established heritage in trading - so I can see eCommerce and offline retail as being totally complimentary here. When you add in the pressures of climate change, as well as the need for entertainment, I can see malls and physical spaces taking on the personalisation opportunities of eCommerce, and eCommerce becoming a much more experiential retail channel – creating a retail experience for an expectation economy.

"These days, I am not sure the concept of brand loyalty is as prevalent. Shoppers are more in control than ever, and they are unapologetically demanding, and rightly so.

"Brands which anticipate and understand needs will be the big winners. In a recent survey I saw, more than 60 per cent of shoppers expect personalised offers or experiences and I think it differs tremendously category by category. For instance, a mother buying into a diaper brand or infant formula brand is more likely to be open to loyalty programs for her time in the category. However, a shopper looking to buy a chocolate bar may be less inclined to be loyal on every purchase. Understanding that loyalty is something you need to create, is key for all of us, especially in Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG)."

Ireland-born Sheil predicts three big trends in commerce in the coming years.

"Firstly, omniCommerce – this is the need to build ideas that put shoppers at the centre but seamlessly span across channels," he says. "Also, the ‘convergence of experience' – shoppers will expect the same experiences wherever and whenever they shop. Lastly, personalisation. Shoppers will increasingly expect brands to offer them personalised offers and services based on their preferences, and will increasingly be willing to give up data to achieve this.

But all that being said, I believe ideas will still be king. Creativity and imagination will still be the key differentiator in-store and continue to be the main driver of sales.

"These are exciting times for the region. The agency is growing and diversifying exactly as the retail landscape here is. I have no doubt aspects of my job will change unrecognisably in the coming years, just as the retail landscape will.

ECommerce, mCommerce and social commerce are yet to explode here, but they soon will."

Liquid, which represents clients including P&G, Nestle, Amazon and Carrefour, has grown in three years from a two-man start-up to an agency of more than 40 people.


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