Nuno Oliveira, Business Director Iberia Region for VIA Outlets, a leading owner-operator of outlets centres across Europe, answers our questions around the evolution of customer relationships and the opportunities ahead.

1. What is the role of digital today when it comes to the customer experience?

Digital has greatly changed the customer experience landscape. But maybe the most prevalent changes digital has triggered concerns retailers’ relationships with their clients as well as the depth and frequency of information they receive.

Through their phones, whether it is on the internet, social media or other communication platforms such as WhatsApp or WeChat, today’s consumers are connected 24/7; this means constant access and communication with brands. The challenges around this increased connectivity and visibility means retailers have had to adapt an omnichannel strategy so that customers can find them anywhere, anytime, whenever they want.

In parallel, the arrival of digital means brands receive more data from customers and other sources. So much so that we, as retailers, can now reach a granular vision of customers’ profiles and, most importantly, anticipate what our customers’ needs are and address them through CRM tools.

2. What should be retailers’ priorities when building an experience today?

We have come to the realisation that experience is truly important, putting great emphasis on brands’ capacities to tell true and compelling stories so customers feel connected to the brand’s universe. It is only when those experiences trigger emotions that customers will later recognise the brand amongst others. Emotional recognition is how we start to build a brand.

At Freeport Lisbon Fashion Outlet, we recently provided our guests with an experience called “Dream Waves,” which was an amazing kinetic art installation inspired by the sea that delighted people’s senses (sight and hearing). We saw this event create a positive emotional connection with their shopping experience.

3. In which direction do you see experience evolve in the next years?

The evolution of technology comes at a price: customers are becoming more and more dependent upon connectivity, which can sometimes create loneliness. In the case of the retail industry, one of the solutions to overcome this situation could be to focus our efforts towards “re-humanisation”, where the customer becomes the centre piece of the relationship with retailers when it comes to providing new experiences.

Another trend I foresee in the future is the importance of one-to-one communication leading to personalisation. Even today, we no longer communicate with a mass audience; it has switched to personal communication because we know the clients better, as well as their needs and expectations. Retailers can therefore create a specific, relevant communication and product for customers. Tailored communication is here to stay and will only get bigger in the years to come.