Digital | Social | Travel

Retail in 2015 | A look at UK, EU and US

The last 5 months have allowed me the opportunity to look at how retailers across the EU, UK and US markets are applying digital. After working with a major, premium retail client in South Africa, the industry and the digital application within it have both become incredibly fascinating to me. Being in both the UK and EU during the Christmas period was extremely eye-opening. The result is tons of photos and a boatload of written observations over the last few months, which will hopefully be presented in a valuable way at the end of my tour.

Here is an quick teaser of some of the noteworthy observations of the last 5 months.

Stores designed for digital

Stores layout is being designed with digital in mind. It appears evident that stores are creating spaces to trigger digital interaction either through easily visible and accessible online kiosks pushing them to browse online, a mirror encouraging users to take selfies, video walls highlighted the latest catwalk shows, or even a virtual rail that holds the entire collection. Prominent floor space has been designated for permanent digital installations. M&S Netherlands has incorporated stylish touch screen order points that allow customers to browse the full catalogue and order for delivery to store or home. Renualt’s flagship store on the Champs-Elysees offers users a free photo-printing service to all users who Instagram selfies with the cars on display. Clothing stores like American Eagle Outfitters have shied away from using mannequins in their window displays and have instead, transformed their windows into video walls that project their latest ad campaigns, special offers and collections, or in Hollisters case, the beachfront.

Complete in-store Support

The integration of digital has been given centre stage and new store layouts have clearly been designed with this in mind. Digital kiosks are visible when walking into retailers like M&S, John Lewis and Macys. Instead of tucking hashtags in corners and printing web URL’s on the bottom of receipts, retailers like M&S have given them pride of place behind till points, on aisle ends, on lift banners and displayed in central points within the store. The presence of digital flows throughout their flagship stores and is highlighted wherever possible. The Mercedes Benz store on the Champs Elysees actively advertises their twitter handle on the store walls and encourages users to tweet about their experience be it good or bad.  Another UK supermarket chain asks users to tweet if they feel they’ve been in the queue too long – clearly they have the necessary social media staff structure to support this. Digital is in your face and you can’t fail to miss it – it’s not an afterthought.

Compelling motivations to shop online

M&S are not sending you online for content-based reasons such as recipes, competitions or great fashion tips, they’re pushing consumers online for product-based reasons. They’re using motivations in their copy that speak to greater range of product, greater availability of product and exclusive discounts online. Not only this but they’re also extolling the virtues of click and collect, the queue-less shopping experience and the ability to shop after-hours from the comfort of your couch. The real difference is that this message is not only being directed at the online consumer, via mailers and online banners, but is being targeted at the consumer who is still shopping traditionally, in the store. It’s clear they want to get consumers off the floor and shopping online.

Supermarket visits becoming a thing of the past

Speaking to several young professionals in New York and after spending time in the supermarkets, it’s apparent that US consumers are moving away from the traditional shop. They now order everything from kitty litter, to toothpaste online. Monthly shops are done from the comfort of the couch and actual supermarket visits only occur in the event of emergency situations where the milk has run out, or a winter storm is approaching. Going to the supermarket to do the monthly shop is fast becoming extinct. In New York practically every corner market has an online presence and offers free delivery on orders over a certain value.

Addressing the Delivery Issue

The delivery segment of the experience is a point which impacts customers the most, yet due to outsourcing, one which the brand tends to have the least control over. The Click and Collect method (explained later) is seeing massive adoption, but if you still prefer the traditional method, brands like  Sainsbury’s have gone some way to address this issue, by including an online calendar as part of the purchase flow; the calendar  allows a consumer to select both a time slot and date when the groceries can be delivered. This system is already superior to the 8 hour delivery window that most SA couriers promise.

Click and Collect > Delivery

This seems to gaining a lot of traction in both the states and the UK. Big retailers like M&S, as well as Waitrose and John Lewis all have dedicated areas in their stores for click and collect. Amazon has partnered with several locations to set up lockers and collection points where customers can collect their goods. It appears customers prefer to control the pick up, versus waiting on the mercy of the delivery driver. Again, delivery is the big stumbling block in the online shopping experience.

The rise of the new Cashier

Self-checkout is the big trend in Europe, the UK and the US. Instead of a cashier, the consumer now interacts with a machine that walks them through the entire checkout process from scanning, to bagging, to payment. The self-checkout machine is not only a luxury for supermarkets, it now even extends to pharmacies like CVS in the US. After a quick learning curve, the machine is easy-to-use and makes for a much faster checkout. Fashion and premium brands are yet to adopt this technology, if ever, as it’s fitting that they’d still like to control this aspect of the customer experience.

A Payment Console for Seamless Database Growth

When paying in the US and not using self-checkout, you’re more often than not interacting with an adapted iPad with guidance from the cashier. Brands are using this as a way to capture data and add additional purchases to your basket. A great example is where a US retail brand offered a 25% discount on the consumer’s basket for subscribing to the mailing list, another asked consumers to join their loyalty program and receive an immediate 20% off. Another had calculated the standard tip and asked if the consumer would like to add $3 to the bill for the waiter. While the loyalty programs are nothing new, they’re essentially just replacing the archaic “fill out a form” method, they are creating a more seamless way to increase the database.  This kind of payment console opens up a lot more possibilities for data capturing, loyalty and customer feedback.

Order Ahead

If you visit a fastfood chain in the US, you’re likely to see a seperate queue for Online Orders. It’s become increasingly popular for consumers to place an order whilst at home, or commuting on the subway and then collect it on their way home. The rationale behind this, is that it allows staff to focus on serving the product, removes friction caused by the payment process and of course reduces queuing time. In an effort to speed up service, Starbucks have released their mobile app that allows consumers to order ahead from their mobile

The Action Hashtag

Retailers in both the UK and US have moved away from branded hashtags and are making use of hashtags that are action-orientated. Waitrose led with #bakeitforward for their Christmas baking campaign that encourages consumers to spread the Christmas joy by baking treats for family and friends. Coke has recently launched #MakeitHappy as the vehicle for their campaign which encourages users to clamp down on negativity and trolling on the Internet and Revlon is using #LoveIsOn as the vehicle for their latest campaign. Window fronts are promoting a single hashtag versus social profiles and encouraging users to find the conversation in whatever medium they feel comfortable on.

We’re still not on top of Social Retail

There are a lot of half-hearted attempts at payment using social media interaction and despite all we’ve heard, I’ve yet to see a store dishing out free product for high ranking Klouters. Independent coffee brands have offered consumers free coffee in exchange for a tweet, fashion brands have awarded discounts for store checkins and McDonalds has incorporated it into their latest Give Lovin campaign. McDonalds is the largest national campaign across all the 3 markets that I’ve seen making use of this mechanic.

WIFI for everybody

UK ad US retailers have partnered with mobile operators in order to provide free WIFI to their consumers in exchange for a mobile number of an email address to help grow their database. Bluewater, a large shopping mall in Dartford has gone so far as to provide free, no-strings attached WIFI across their entire shopping centre.  It’s not just Starbucks that have the sacred phrase “WIFI here” stamped across their windows anymore, it’s now an advertised reason to eat at Chipotle, shop at Hackett or browse at Waterstones.


The last few months have been rewarding and an education in retail’s emerging approach to digital. I’ve enjoyed this personal study and am looking forward to what other details are going to emerge.  This post’s aim is to highlight several emerging trends, and hopefully it has been useful you. Maybe you learnt something new today :)

If you’ve got questions, or would like images, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: robs mjh (at) gmail (dot) com.


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New York | Above Manhattan

“You need to see Manhattan from the air. It’s a once in a life time experience. You’ve got to do it!”

This is a line you’re guaranteed to hear from pretty much every single person who has taken a helicopter trip over Manhattan. Locals, tourists and expats will all tell you that it’s the one thing you have to do whilst visiting the pretty city.  In the final week, I decided to book a flip. It’s pricey, but because it’s winter there are some great deals online. Friendly tip: The prices advertised online don’t include the heliport fees which are an extra $30 or so.

There are a few tour companies operating out of the downtown heliport and after a lot (and I mean a lot) of research and Yelp review reading, I picked Liberty. I don’t mess around with helicopters, this is not a burger joint, I want 5/5 stars all the way. An’t nobody got time for 1 star ratings when you’re several thousand feet up in the air. Also, having a Dad who is a helicopter pilot, means you take this stuff seriously.

Liberty has several tour options, with The Big Apple being the most popular (and cheapest). The trip is 12-15 minutes long and takes you past the Statue of Liberty, up the Hudson River, past Madison Square Garden and up to the start of Central Park, you then circle back and head for home.

Seeing Manhattan from the sky is a once in a lifetime experience that you can’t quite put into words. I certainly can’t, but I liked the pictures and that’s really the reason this post made it onto the Internet. After spending 3 weeks walking around New York, it was incredible to see it spread out beneath me. The intimidating steel giants that had risen up from the street, now seemed like tiny lego towers. It’s definitely something to tick off your bucket list.

Flying with Liberty was a great choice, they’re friendly and have a great safety record. Plus our pilot was a fantastic tour guide. For more information on their helicopter tours, you can check out their website here.

Here’s a sneak peek of what you’ll see.

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helicopter new york trip

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helicopter tour new york

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New York | Great coffee spots

After living New York for 3 weeks, I’ve drunk enough coffee to float a fleet of small, yet very practical boats to China. New York is home to the finest coffee in the world, yet surprisingly it also plays host to some of the worst coffee in the known universe. Thanks to Yelp, help from a few locals and our own trial and error, we found some great spots that you should try.

coffee new york chelsea market

1. Ninth Street Espresso Bar

There are 4 Ninth Street Espresso Bars in New York city, and we chose to visit the one tucked away in the Chelsea Market (another experience for another post). Ninth Street is the first speciality coffee spot to open up in New York. It’s the only standalone coffee shop in Chelsea Market and they’re as busy as a generator seller in Joburg right about now. The coffee alone is worth the trip and when combined with a wander through Chelsea Market, a cupcake and a stroll through the Meatpacking district, it’s a definite New York bucket list item. To get to the Ninth street espresso bar, take the metro to 14th Street and head up to 9th Avenue. It’s on 9th, between 15th and 16th streets.

This spot is max hipster, min mainstream, so make sure to bring your boyfriend avec beard, your thick, dark rimmed glasses and your notebook and feather quill.

Chelsea Market
75 9th Ave.
Between 9th and 10th Ave.


french bakery new york great coffee

2. Mille-Feuille

One of the Mille-Feuille  bakeries is on the upper west side and after 3 weeks, is still my favourite place in the city. It’s quaint french romance with a touch of New York humour. I have absolutely no idea where the coffee comes from or who produces it, but it doesn’t matter because it’s frankly fabulous. I’ve waxed lyrical on this spot in a previous post, so if you need more motivation go and have a squiz. The staff all speak french, so don’t forget your beret and your merci beaucoups.

Upper West Side
2175 Broadway
New York, NY 10024
(between 76th and 77th)


3. Ramini Espresso Bar

Ramini Espresso Bar is in the Garment District, quite close to Penn Station and prides themselves on their drip based coffees. According to the great Google machine, the drip method is arguably the simplest and cleanest way to draw out a coffee’s best qualities. These coffees are strong and full of flavour. Ramini don’t have a website and aren’t open on Saturdays or Sundays (just saved you a trip, you’re welcome), but the snug, quirky interior and coffee is worth the trip. Seating is pretty limited, so expect to get an order to go. I was busy being distracted by a case of historical spoons (kid you not) and forgot to take a picture, so found one on the Internet. Thank you MidtownLunch.

Garment District
265 West 37th Street,
New York, NY 10018


new york best coffee spot dumbo


4. Roomr Cafe

Roomr is down in Dumbo, underneath the Brooklyn Bridge and a stones throw from Grimaldis. The coffee is good, it’s full of Brooklyn charm and they have a signature hot dog waffle – unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try it. Roomr is the perfect end to what I’ve dubbed the Brooklyn trifecta – a pizza pie at Grimaldi’s, an ice cream at the Brooklyn ice cream factory and finally a coffee-to-go at Roomr and a stroll down the promenade.

If you’re in Dumbo, these places are within metres of each other and all worth a visit.

Dumbo (Brooklyn)
17 Old Fulton Street,
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Lastly, Gregory’s, Starbucks and Pret:

These last three are more commercial coffee spots, each with branches dotted across the city. In other words, you can lose the berets, fountain pens and just settle in for a decent cup of coffee.


No matter what anyone ever says, I’ll always love Starbucks, unless they’re putting dead cats in their coffee or something. As we can’t get it in South Africa, to me, the white cup and green logo have always symbolized the excitement of travel and exploring new cities. It’s an emotional thing. Plus an instagram with only a plane ticket, just wouldn’t be the same. You really can’t go wrong and their staff are friendly and on the ball.


Gregory’s is an example of where hipster has successfully become mainstream. They are a coffee spot born out of New York and are in quite a few areas around the city. The coffee is good, the brand is super quirky and the staff are awesome.

Pret a manger:

Pret a manger is another travelling favourite and their healthy soups and organic salads have been a much appreciated break in the haze of burgers, cupcakes and the Americans love for extra salt on everything. For the first time I tried out their coffee and it’s great. The salted caramel macchiato quickly became a treat of choice on cold snowy days walking up and down 5th Avenue.

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New York | Love your work Brooklyn

We’re cat-sitting for friends in the financial district (résumé updated to include international cat-sitter) and are based near the Brooklyn Bridge. Last week, New York gave us a snow-free, sunny day and we walked over to Brooklyn. It took us 35 minutes, accidentally walking up a thankfully quiet off-ramp and navigating some strange back alleys to find the actual entrance to the bridge. This is quite depressing as the bridge is large and could be seen the entire time. In our defence we weren’t alive during the era that navigated using sun and stars … and all the buildings throw your phone’s compass out.

new york brookyn tourist travel blog

Brooklyn bridge is beautiful, awe-inspiring and like every other iconic, global landmark, now home to its own community of love locks. These things are officially everywhere. Stopping in the middle of the bridge and turning back to look at the shiny giants towering over Manhattan, you can’t help but feel moved by the city. It’s alive with energy, and full to the brim with eccentric, charismatic and friendly New Yorkers. Crossing into Brooklyn, we headed to Dumbo and went in search of Grimaldi’s – home to the best pizza in New York.

grimaldis brooklyn pizza

Grimaldi’s only sells entire pies (not pizza by the slice) and due to an earlier visit to Chipotle, it was left for another day. Chipotle is the equivalent of Nandos for Mexican food. It’s everything. When you arrive in New York, forget your apartment and just take up residence in their kitchen. It will save you a lot of commuting back and forth between your hotel and breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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Instead we wandered into the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and had a butter pecan cone. If you can’t eat ice cream at -4 degrees, when can you? These guys know what they’re doing, so get yourself there and good luck choosing just one flavour.

If you stand facing the Ice Cream Factory, you’ll see a long promenade stretching out to your right (although as witnessed above, I’m not great with navigation, so it could also be your left at this point). This is the Brooklyn Heights promenade and one day after making my millions thanks to reviewing cupcakes on this blog, I’ll be retiring here. It’s right on the water and faces the downtown Manhattan skyline. It’s home to outdoor gyms, parks and views of Lady Liberty. The promenade is clean and lovingly cared for; everything is looked after.

brooklyn heights promenade tourist

Brooklyn is not what I expected, we’ve been back since and each time it gets better. Sadly I’m going to miss the Cherry Blossoms flowering in Prospect Park, the barbecues on the promenade and their pop-up pool. We’ve only seen a small part of it and it’s been freezing, but even in the dead of Winter, Brooklyn is a special place.


If you’re visiting New York and have the time, take a wander over to Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights. There are great places to eat and it’s a short walk over the bridge, a stop for something yummy, a stroll down the promenade and then up to a subway station for a quick ride home to Manhattan.

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Favourite 4 | Super Bowl & Digital 2015

While most of South Africa slept, I snacked on buffalo wings, backed the Pats and settled in to watch Super Bowl Sunday. This has effectively become the biggest day for digital advertising (Adweek) and with brands like Coke, McDonalds, Victoria’s Secret and Dove this year, there is serious money being thrown around. Now there is a lot of rubbish, at times we just stared at the screen, shook our heads and marvelled at how these ads had made it through to approval BUT there are also some spectacular examples of brands doing smart things with digital in mind. Without further ado, here are the standout brands doing rad stuff with digital.


1. McDonalds

McDonalds won XLIV Superbowl for me. Their brand refresh and new ad campaign, with the tagline “Give Lovin” is allowing customers (at selected stores) to pay for their meals with a selfie, a phone call to their Mum and several other random acts of love. McDonalds coupled this with a RT and Win competition –  no don’t cringe just yet – that gave away products advertising in the Super Bowl spots. We’re talking new cars, a lot of Snickers bars and movie tickets for a year.


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Adding to all of this, they even treated their Twitter critics with a little of the “Give Loving” attitude.

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 2. T-Mobile and Kim Kardashian

Look, we all know she’s the most over-exposed celebrity out there but the digital spin on this ad was pretty smart. T-Mobile encouraged users to visit their campaign site:, authenticate their twitter account and get a personal tweet and picture from Kim Kardashian.  Now obviously they’re running a script and it’s not really Miss West herself, but with support from TV and all of Kim’s social accounts, the T-Mobile Twitter account went into overdrive. They paired it with relevant video content on the site, where Kim will show you how to take the perfect selfie. The Twitter component is ridiculously simple and created serious buzz.

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3. SquareSpace and Jeff Bridges

First time advertiser, SquareSpace, captured viewer’s attention with a well odd ad featuring Jeff Bridges seeming to meditate and a link to Here they offered users a brand new album from Jeff, completely free to download. The site also encouraged visitors to consider donating to No Kid Hungry and help end hunger in America. I loved it because the ad focused entirely on the website link, unfortunately this post doesn’t have the stats at hand, but this 30 second spot in front of roughly 160 million viewers must have generated some traffic right?

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4. Coke and #MakeitHappy

Coke has noticed that there’s a lot of hate and negativity on the Internet and is attempting to #makeithappy. The campaign lives in a microsite: and really is turning the Internet into a happier place. Coke encourages you to call out a negative tweet using #Makeithappy and then a script turns the wording from the negative tweet into a happy cartoon. In essence Coke is ‘happifying twitter.’

We have all come to expect nothing less than excellence from the world’s most famous soft drink and they’ve ticked all the boxes.

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Super Bowl and Digital as a whole:

Every brand taking part had a team monitoring their social pages and each brand had some kind of crossover from the TV spot into digital, whether it be a tame hashtag or a full-blown campaign. Most live tweeted events during the game. I was disappointed with what the games and apps did, as they could have done so much more and pushed boundaries with download codes, exclusive content, unlockable easter eggs on certain levels or even gifting users superbowl-themed, in-app content. Maybe some of them did and I missed it? There is just a lot of scope till left to explore here.

However, this spot from Clash of Clans with Liam Neeson is damn awesome and is probably going to win the Internet.


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New York | Magnolia Bakery

After a visit to the New York Historical Society to see Annie Liebovitz’s latest exhibition, Pilgrimage, we found ourselves on the upper west side. Before this post gets to Magnolia, do visit the museum if you are ever in New York. The museum is very underrated and with a range of exhibits on New York’s history, is incredibly interesting. The city has a fascinating story and the museum explores it beautifully.

new york bakery magnolia

I’ve booked a cupcake class at Magnolia and wanted to find out where their bakery was on the Upper West Side. They’re a gorgeous brand and after flipping through all of their cookbooks, I was dying to see it in the flesh.  At 6pm, as night had comfortably set in and the snow flurried around New Yorkers, the warmly lit bakery felt like a much appreciate cuddle. This is the first Magnolia bakery, which opened its doors in 1996 – almost 20 years ago. The bakery has a cupcake of the month and January’s is caramel cake with caramel meringue buttercream and caramel drizzle.

Fan-damn-tastic. You see, I’ve fallen in love with  caramel (also read salted caramel) and suggest you do the same when here, as whether it’s a macaroon, ice cream, cupcake or tart – this city utterly nails the flavour.

new york bakery west side

If you’re not into cucpakes (shame), Magonolia has coffees, hot cocoa, pies and cakes a plenty, so you’re sure to find something you like. Unless you don’t like bakeries, in which case, why are you even still reading this? Aside from baked goodness, Magnolia also has adorable 50′s style aprons. Typically I didn’t get a picture as was busy trying to not look like an idiot in front of the cashier and payment console.

In America there is a DIY policy when it comes to cards and even after 2 weeks I still attempt to hand my card over to the cashier and stare blankly at them whilst they stare blankly back waiting for me to swipe the card myself. The styluses are hard to manoeuvre, requiring finesse I haven’t mustered and each store has had a different variation of signature that looks like a spider got intoxicated, dipped itself in ink and then tap danced over the screen.

new york bakery

If you’re not here, don’t worry, they have an online store (of course they do) where you can order cupcakes, aprons and even onesies. Here are the aprons by the way. They probably don’t ship to South Africa, but still, it’s nice to see what bakeries look like in the first world.

In almost 20 years, Magnolia has styled themselves a beautiful brand that lives up to all the hype. The venue, the packaging, the typography and of course the humble cupcake.  The cupcake was light and moist, just the right amount of sweet and the icing didn’t spill over on to the cupcake wrapper – irrational pet peeve. I think in my next life I’ll come back as a cupcake connoisseur  please.

magnolia cupcake of the day new york

They’re a little piece of heaven and highly recommended.

I can’t wait for the icing class. You can find Magnolia bakeries across New York city, so find your closest store and add it to your New York bucket list. Why not book a class? I’ll let you know how it goes.

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