All I want for Christmas is a virtual twin

Is anyone happy to predict what might be coming in 2017?  I suspect not. 2016 was full of unexpected surprises and is best epitomized by the new Toblerone, it still has peaks, but the gaps between them are bigger and more divisive, just like our politicians.

The nation is split over which retailer has made the best Christmas TV spot, M&S or Aldi, but it has not stopped shoppers from shopping. John Lewis might not have made the best TV ad for the festive season, but it did have the biggest ever week in its trading history this Black Friday. And the only prediction I can safely make for 2017 is that the retail event will be back next year. Black Friday has usurped the traditional ‘must have toys’ list and is fast becoming the official start of the festive shopping season spree. Next year we will see greater competition for shoppers and greater focus on their three budgets; time, money and frustration.

For the first time this year I received digital calendar invites for Black Friday events. Intrusive yes, but an indication of how far retailers will go to cut through the promotional clutter to get time with the WIGIG conscious shopper.

This Black Friday also saw a 12% rise in online spending according to retail analysts IMRG. Shoppers will always want value, but that is no longer simply price x quality. They want simplicity and convenience and at the moment that is being delivered (literally) by going online.

Of course, there are many retailers who still understand the vital role of physical stores as environments where shoppers can touch, feel and experience their product assortment and many more that will complain that their stores have simply become showrooms. But the online world is changing, today all the talk might be of the ‘internet of things’ but it is rapidly becoming about experience. The Internet of Experience.

VR and AR are two technologies that people are predicting will transform the shopping experience and we have seen many retailers experiment with solutions in 2016. John Lewis is bringing its Christmas TV story to life in store right now with VR, whilst DS Automobiles showcased a solution at the 2016 Geneva Auto Show which could have a more everyday application in the car buying process. I have no doubt that this will continue to evolve and the virtual showroom will become a permanent fixture both online and in-store for many retailers.

img_0057But perhaps the most interesting application of VR for retailers is not in enriching customer experience, but in helping them in their internal process. There are more and more retailers and brand owners that have VR cave solutions to help packaging design and merchandising programs to deliver the perfect shelf and perfect shop. The next generation of technology will mean this no longer has to be a linear process based on an idealised store layout, instead key stakeholders will be able to come together and collaborate around a virtual twin of an actual store and do that in real time by connecting it to digital shelf labels in a physical store, as is possible with the 3DEXPERIENCE Twin. I’m not going to make any predictions for 2017, but if I was a retailer, a virtual twin would be at the top of my list for Father Christmas.

I’m not going to make any predictions for 2017, but if I was a retailer, a virtual twin would be at the top of my list for Father Christmas.


Why Buster the Boxer is not a winner

This article was first published by Retail Week on 11th November 2016

John Lewis’ festive ads have become a national institution and yesterday’s reveal of the new #BusterTheBoxer commercial heralded the start of the Christmas retail frenzy. These campaigns have also had a significant influence on the John Lewis brand and business, something you’re reminded of each time you watch somebody from John Lewis in a presentation or on a speaker platform.


The success of the advertising has been achieved largely by sticking to a safe formula. And this approach is present again in the new two-minute film that depicts the triangular relationship between a little girl, Bridget, her family dog Buster, and a trampoline.


So, yes, we have the classic song, this time Randy Crawford’s One Day I’ll Fly Away re-created by English electronica band Vaults, and a cast of cute animals just begging to be turned into a neat range of merchandise.


It’s all very comforting, sweet, and vanilla and is unlikely to ignite the emotions in the way  last year’s ‘The Man on the Moon’ did. This is a deliberate attempt to make people smile after a difficult year, but, given the hype around every John Lewis ad, this one doesn’t quite live up to expectation.


This is the same old safe stuff, calculated not to upset anybody. But then the narrative doesn’t really fit the buoyant tone of the ad. The dog, Buster, appears to steal the girl’s present at the end of the film, conjuring headlines like  “Dog trumps little girl on Christmas Day”. Hardly the stuff of happy endings.


The big add on this time around is the virtual reality experience (building on a toe-in-the-water attempt with 2014’s ‘Monty the Penguin’). Shoppers at John Lewis’ flagship London store can slip on the Oculus Rift headset and experience what it’s like to jump around on the trampoline with the animals in the TV ad.


This is where I’d start to question the basis of the advertising. Has the need to use technology and do something new with VR driven the creativity in the ad? It would certainly explain why we’re faced with a bunch of furry creatures bouncing around on the trampoline. And it’s also a story that seems to be jerry-built around the need to flog themed cuddly toys. Go to the website and you are encouraged to “Shop Buster and friends”. The dog, Sid the Squirrel, Betsy the Badger, and Olivia the Fox can be yours for £12 each.


Beyond the attempt at virtual reality in stores, perhaps the most interesting thing about the campaign is the casting. To continue to be successful and drive growth John Lewis must broaden their demographic appeal and shake off any last remnants of perception that it is a store for the established wealthy middle classes. In my view they do that well here, with a happy family in a comfortable house that’s, nonetheless, a far remove from the sprawling mansions of the Home Counties.


John Lewis successfully uses the ad to get this message across but, at a time when the UK’s Christmas ads provide a showcase of creativity that’s close to our equivalent of the US  SuperBowl, #BusterTheBoxer isn’t an out and out winner.