For many small business owners with brick-and-mortar locations, uncertainty has become the norm. Even if you also sell your products through online channels, it can be tough to see a path forward with companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart looming ever larger in the retail, food, and ecommerce spaces. How can businesses best utilize their physical locations so that they don’t simply become a catalogue for shoppers who only browse and take their money elsewhere?
When it comes to the question of how to make shopping in a physical store more desirable, think “sticky.” What will drive your customers to return? One surprising answer of late has been selfie booths.
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that people—particularly millennials—like to take selfies. The selfie has gone from a laughable act of vanity to, for some, an essential medium of communication. Some apps are practically built around the concept of taking your own picture, and it’s hard to attend a corporate event, wedding, or dinner party without finding yourself squished into a group self-portrait.
Can businesses take advantage of this trend? Absolutely.
Selfie booths, or digital photo rooms, or areas of a business specifically designed to be photographed, are becoming popular across a wide swath of businesses both small and large. These businesses recognize that the shopping experience matters to consumers just as much as what they end up buying.
“The experience economy is here. And figuring out how to be a part of it is crucial for every type of business,” says Chuck Lepley, the VP of marketing for Simple Booth, a DIY photo booth app and setup. “People love experiences, they love to take photos, and they love to share everything they do. But many businesses lose out because they aren’t able to insert themselves into that social conversation.”
A recent article in The New York Times shows the variety of ways that businesses are integrating their services with selfie culture: optical company Warby Parker lets you send photos of you in your glasses to friends. NYC nail studio Paintbox has special photo boxes meant for sharing artful pictures of manicures. And vegan restaurant Doomie’s has an entire selfie room dedicated to helping customers kill time before their table is ready.
The common theme among all these businesses? These dedicated photo areas can be both useful tools to customers (they get feedback from their friends or a beautiful keepsake) and a way to liven up the shopping experience, a goal that Lepley says is now paramount.
“There’s no shortage of big box retailers closing down stores because the shopping experience has remained stagnant for so many years,” says Lepley. “People still love to shop, but you have to give them a reason to come in. It’s not just about selling stuff anymore. It’s about the brand and people’s experiences with that brand. Retailers need to adapt. They need to reimagine the entire shopping experience, including how that experience can be social. Creating opportunities for image-sharing is a big piece of making that reimagined experience work for them.”
Sure, the customer is always right, and we want them to be happy. But do we really have to dedicate store space and resources to ensuring they have optimal selfies? What does this actually do for business owners?
From a marketing standpoint, the benefits of selfie booths are two-fold: One, when you give customers the space and tools to take good selfies, you’re creating an experience that can they can’t get elsewhere. That memory is lasting, and could encourage repeat visits.
Second, if you’re using hardware, or even background decorations, that include your company’s logo or other defining characteristics, every selfie sent out by customers—posted to their Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts; emailed to their family and friends; shared with co-workers over a team lunch—is another building block in your brand strategy.
There are more quantifiable benefits as well.
“Users of our HALO platform see an average email opt-in rate of 89%. There’s no other email capture tactic that even comes close to being that successful,” says Lepley.
“Beyond that, businesses like Citizen Bar in Dallas credit their permanently installed HALO booth with much of the success that they’ve had. Word-of-mouth marketing and FOMO have been the key,” he adds. “They know that when people post their selfie booth photos to social, it’s an instant endorsement of the bar and shows others what they’re missing. They’ve also noticed that many patrons will come in just so that they can take photos. For example, a group will come in to take a photo before they head out to dinner. They’ll return later to have drinks and take even more photos.”
Despite the massive success that some online retailers (namely Amazon and its rivals) are seeing, physical retail stores still exist, and likely always will. Humans are social beings, and we want to congregate in commerce centers.
But the purpose of the physical store is changing. For some businesses, their physical stores are becoming show rooms, or a meeting place for exchanging advice and ideas. For others, it’s a shipping point and fulfillment center, where customers can pick up their online purchases. In this instance, it’s a way to show off, to promote, and to garner feedback before making a big purchase—all of which are very common human endeavors.
So, if you’re looking to reformat your store with an area or booth or wall dedicated to capturing the best selfies, you likely need a little help from a third party.
Simple Booth is one of a number of emerging companies that provide people, businesses, and organizations with the means to create their own social photo experiences. In Simple Booth’s case, you can invest in their HALO setup for a customizable and well-lit experience (and as we all know, lighting is everything when it comes to a good selfie). Brands like Uber, Smartwater, and RedBull have utilized the HALO for their events or marketing campaigns. You might also have seen them at a recent wedding.
“We wanted to create a digital photo booth experience that could take great pictures, be portable, be easy-to-use, and be full of features that would appeal to both customers and their guests,” says Jeremy Cox, the company’s co-founder and chief operating officer. “We definitely achieved that with HALO, but we’re not done. We’ve got an exciting roadmap for hardware and software updates coming later this year that will make the experience even better.”
You can use Simple Booth in a number of ways—through the HALO, with an iPhone app, or with the Event Edition. Compare the different features of the three levels and see which might be right for you.
Retail in the U.S. is at a historic crossroads at the moment. It’s, frankly, impossible to say what trends will stay and which will fade like the fidget spinner.
One thing we can say with confidence is that selfies, on the whole, are a mainstay of our culture. There’s something psychologically satisfying about taking pictures of our own faces. It’s only right that selfies should make their way into the experience economy. And if you ask Simple Booth CEO Mark Hennings, selfie booths as a concept are only just taking off.
“I think that we’ve reached an inflection point where digital photo booths or selfie rooms are on the cusp of exploding,” Hennings says. “They are a great social marketing resource that runs itself, and there are so many ways that they can be utilized. The more of them that show up, the more brands, businesses, and marketers come across them and think, ‘That would be great for what I do.’ It’s only a matter of time before you see them everywhere.”
So, do you get a head start on competitors by creating a selfie booth/area before them, capitalizing on the newness of the concept? Or do you wait until the selfie booth as a part of the shopping experience becomes the norm? Either way, recognize that sticky, social shopping endeavors are an integral part of the future of retail, and you need to join that trend one way or another to keep up.
Selfies, for all their popularity, always feel a little silly, and capitalizing on that part of the human psyche might seem dubious to some more traditional business owners. But so much of the conversation about businesses takes place online now that using the selfie concept as a way to drive that conversation toward what you’re doing—what you offer, how you look, how you treat your customers—is hardly the most ridiculous.
The bottom line: Have a little fun with promoting your business, and hopefully your customers will too.