Total Retail and Force Friday – Two Cases For Physical Presence In A Digital Age


Reporter: Why are you here, when you could just buy this stuff online?”

Fan: Where’s the fun in that?

(Video interview on CNN Money)

Today is Force Friday, which saw legions of Star Wars fans lining up in Times Square and other places for the midnight in-store release of new Star Wars-related merchandise. Not movie tickets, mind you: its not out until December 18th. But toys. Their joyful queuing to buy stuff together, early, and at the same time, is a powerful reminder of the importance in a digital age of the physical retail store. That is not what we thought would happen.

”There will be no stores in the future – because why own an expensive location with expensive staff, limited by a street address in a specific city, and by opening hours, when a digital shop can be global and open 24/7 for a much lower cost?”

Do you recognise this prophecy? Is there a version of it in your field? For us in the library sector, the wording was slightly different, but the conclusion is about the same: why have huge, expensive buildings for physical media in a growing age of digital media?

It is tempting to simply accept this as a logical, natural consequence of a digitalisation of our everyday life – maybe we do need to get used to managing all our transactions online? To city centres emptied of stores?

Maybe not. Force Friday is one example of physical retail serving as a marketing engine for a multi-platform brand. Another is the trend of online stores, even giants like Amazon, opening physical stores.

The key concept in all the articles I keep reading on this topic is “experience”. The retail store – the ”physical store”, as we tend to think of it now – offers customers experiences that online retail simply can’t. In fact, it´s easy to see how a physical store can benefit from the brand’s online retail solutions.

Take for instance Birchbox, an online makeup delivery company. As you can read in this interesting Forbes piece on physical stores for online brands by Bryan Pearson, their store combines the physical makeup counter (where physical makeup can touch physical skin) with digital services, including algorithmic recommendation.

You’re supposed to discover what you love and act on that

– Katia Beauchamp, co-founder Birchbox, in Forbes

This makes powerful sense: computers or other means of connectivity in a store, framed by an experience that further strengthens the brand, where the visitor can engage emotionally and through all the senses, and still have access to stock and services that can’t fit into a limited physical space. The store-as-portal. Some analysts call this “total retail”. It’s related to ”recreational retail”, which of course is what Force Friday is about.

From a UX perspective, I find this notion of purely digital solutions as weak extremely interesting. We must appeal to the physical, social, emotional body with a physical, social and emotionally appealing space.

There’s a big, exciting challenge to find out what kind of physical representations we need to strengthen our digital solutions and vice versa, and it’s within this idea space that I think the future of the library service will be born. I’m quite sure future libraries, as well as retail stores – online and in the physical realm – will look quite different as soon as we learn more of the concept of “total retail”.

And maybe give it another name. Not everything worth consuming costs money. And sometimes, when you go to the store to queue for products that haven’t even been revealed yet, you do it more for the lightsaber lessons and twerking Stormtroopers than for the stuff you might or might not buy.

Additional reporting by Johanna Koljonen


Written by

Andreas Ingefjord is a development officer at Malmö City Library. Together with his colleague Linda Johansson he is consulting for Alibis for Interaction 2015.


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