NEW YORK CITY — What does customer experience and TV shows like Euphoria, Stranger Things and Wednesday have in common? Well, more than you think.

Sure, these TV shows are entertaining and have captivated audiences worldwide (especially younger generations) but there’s something else at play here, and that’s their influence on pop culture and the way we as consumers view, see and desire to interact with brands.

Moreover, these TV shows define the state of where retail is headed — and what will soon become the table stakes of delivering exceptional retail experiences that not only resonate with the consumers that desire them, but also help to shape and mold what a success brand experience strategy looks like.

Let me explain.

Connecting With Characters = Connecting With Customers

These TV shows have one massive element in common with each other — for the most part, the focus in on characters that are wildly individualistic. Each character on these shows is relatable to viewers in one way or another, which is exactly how brands look to connect with consumers. Traditionally, some might call these type of characters "outcasts" or "outsiders" to what the stereotypical ‘cool’ kid would dress, act or be like, and that’s the key point.

Being individualistic and original is "cool" — and moreover, is now popular. Wasn’t it always this way you ask? Well no. So what changed?

Well, a big piece of what has changed is social media. The rise of platforms that allow like minded people who are in the same lane of individualist expression can now be accessed anywhere in the world. There’s power in numbers, and brands have noticed and are doubling down big on enabling consumers to be themselves through the brands the engage with.

This past week I attended NRF’s (National Retail Federation) ‘Big Show’ in New York City, and these are the top themes that brands and retailers should focus on in 2023 for delivering exceptional customer experiences.

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Pop Culture Is the Ultimate Social Influencer

Retailers like Claires are focusing massively on Gen Z and now the newly coined Gen A (Alpha) by enabling these consumers to find, curate and express their individuality. Thanks to pop culture and the TV shows mentioned above, this consumer demographic is making purchasing choice based upon not only what they watch on TV, but how they see other peers mimicking trends via social media.

But, hasn’t it always been this way? Sure — pop culture has always influenced how and what we purchase. What’s different and the key point to remember is this: social media allows consumers to become PART of the brand's image and story. You can tag a brand after you have used makeup or accessories you’ve purchased from them, and they may repost it on their story. Now, more than ever, brand rely just as much on consumers to tell the story of "who they are" and "what they stand for."

Exceptional Customer Experience Goes Deeper

It’s no surprise that consumers desire exceptional experiences, I’ve talked about this for a while now. What is different, however, is the level of depth that these experiences go. Massive brand houses like LVMH are focusing in on taking experiences deeper.

LVMH Chairman & CEO Anish Melwani discussed how they are providing consumers with in depth detail around the diamonds that they source for one of their brands. Giving customers the entire story of how that diamond came to be in the jewelry that they purchased. Sure, diamond clarity and design are important when you’re in a store picking out a ring or a necklace, but now consumers (especially emerging consumer groups like Gen Z and Millennials) demand to know more of the story and have an increased desire to have the products they purchase to be sourced ethically.

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AI, AR and the Metaverse Is Taking Over the World

These buzz-worthy, pie-in-the-sky trends is becoming a reality. Technology companies are building and implementing technologies that do some interesting and dare I say, mind-reading things. There’s now technology that exists to track in store retail shelf space and what we as consumers decide to purchase. Cameras watch consumers, track how much time they spend in an aisle, read facial expressions and demographical information to provide KPIs and dashboards for retailers to better position products.

Another technology company is leveraging photos that consumers can take on their phone to bring up product detail pages in real time and help to spot fabricated or fake products like sneakers or watches.

Oh and did I mention everyone is building "metaverse" like 3D ecommerce experiences, and I mean EVERYONE. If you’re in retail and not at least experiencing in all of these areas, here’s your gentle yet noticeable nudge to do so, fast.

Retail = How We Express, Connect on Human Level

As I sit here in my NYC hotel, writing this article after consuming copious amounts of caffeine, with little sleep and over 46,000 steps within a three-day period I can’t help and think ... “man, this is so retail of me." Retail is a sprint, always pivoting and changing based upon consumer demand and pop culture trends. Retailers are constantly walking thousands of steps both hypothetically and literally to exceed consumer expectation, and guess what — we wouldn’t have it any other way.

If there’s one thing that I know equivocally in my bones and soul after this week, it’s this. Retail is the vehicle and the direct representation of our expression and connection as humans. Sure, all the technology stuff is cool and though a bit intrusive, but I do believe it will curate better experiences that will benefit consumers and allow us to embrace our individualistic idiosyncrasies.

There are no quick, fast and easy way brands can adopt these experiences — just as there’s no quick, fast and easy way that we as consumers can decide what’s really, truly important to us and who we are. But, as Dr. James Cash Jr., one of the inspirational presenters, said, “If the elevator is broke, take the stairs." You can’t take an "elevator" to find out what your brand stands for; it just doesn’t work that way. It’s complex, requires time, thousands of steps and self-reflection get to the floor your brand and consumer’s desire.

So — looking to connect with your customers for exceptional experience in 2023 and beyond? Take the stairs.

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