Customer Experience 2017: Phygital Goes Mainstream

Paul Sands

Paul Sands, Director of Retail Development and Customer Experience at Bang and Olufsen and a CX Network Advisory Board member, predicts that one of the biggest trends for CX in 2017 is that ‘phygital’ will become more mainstream.

It’s a buzzword so contrived it might make you itch, but one that we had all better get used to. Phygital refers to a user experience which blends the physical and digital worlds. It’s very close in meaning to augmented reality, except perhaps that phygital implies more of a sense of interaction.

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Phygital is not brand-new, but has been a growing trend for the last few years. Take Virgin Holidays for example, who have for some time offered customers the ability to see themselves virtually on the beach, whilst physically still in one of their branches. Then, in 2014, Google Glass was publicly launched to great fanfare (and a fair share of controversy).

2016, however, brought us perhaps the first example of phygital going mainstream and ultra-mobile, with Pokémon GO achieving 500 million downloads in its first three months. Suddenly, our friends, colleagues and children were busy hunting fantastical creatures that weren’t actually there, and this felt normal.

The game’s cross-generational success was at least partly the result of it requiring no more technology than most of us already had in our pockets or handbags. And brands were quick to spot the opportunities, with many stores sponsoring PokéStops or setting lures in their vicinity in an attempt to attract footfall.

So as phygital goes mainstream, what implications does this have for brands and their customer experience?

For one thing, I believe it means brands will have more opportunity to deliver a customer experience in many more locations – in some ways, freeing them from the confines of the store and allowing more interaction in the customer’s home or office.

For example, at Bang and Olufsen we have already built the BeoHome Design app which allows you to simulate live in 3D what our products are going to look like in your living room. This has been a great way to increase emotional engagement and reassure customers that they are making the right choice (choosing the right size of TV screen for example – even letting you see how big it will look when you are standing in another room), without us having to transport lots of demonstration product.

Phygital makes your product display more portable.

It may also mean that retailers can carry less stock and samples. For example, consider a car dealership that could instantly show you via an iPad what their range looks like in all the colours available, or allows you to swipe in and visualise optional features to the car, all whilst sitting in just one example model.

Phygital also means fresh ways to capture the customer’s attention. For example, interactive window displays are becoming increasingly common. AXA, for example, has trialled windows where a digital figure in the window matches your pace as you walk past it (try not noticing that).

Above all, I believe phygital will reposition mobile devices from being thought of as a channel in their own right (whose main job is to provide a repurposed version of the website) to a tool that follows the user across channels; a magical window into the store environment when you are there, or doing something different for you when you are at home on your sofa.

Your phone or iPad will be your most loyal companion as you channel-hop on your way towards a purchase, and therefore our digital content for mobile devices needs to be ready to be more context-responsive than ever before.

Pokémon GO may already be peaking as a phenomenon, but 2017 is bound to bring us further examples of phygital triggering revolutions in customer interaction.

An abbreviated version of this article first appeared in our Customer Experience Predictions for 2017 report. To discover more predictions from CX experts for 2017, download your complimentary copy of the report today.