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A Recommendation for Recommendations

How tapping influencers may strengthen computer-based picks




As someone who shops both online and in store, I must admit that I am much more inclined to explore a website’s product recommendations based on my browsing and purchase history than I would be from an associate in the store. I know that probably sounds weird (or maybe not), but I’ve been at the mercy of salespersons before who think they know my style or try to persuade me to “try something different,” and I find it a waste of valuable time. At least the recommended picks offered by a website have statistically enhanced odds of hitting the mark, since the picks are based on my actual tracked shopping behavior. And I like the benign way they just scroll along the bottom of the page – there if I want them, or easy to ignore if I do not. It’s just not as efficient as with a person, who I must either rebuff or humor. But perhaps there is something in between?

As the effect of influencers on the retail industry continues to expand, there are mega-influencers with rising prominence that are becoming directly linked with the lift in sales of specific retailers. I was reading recently about the collaboration between Arielle Charnas of Something Navy and Nordstrom and their Something Navy x Treasure & Bond line that went live exclusively on last month. The success makes total sense: You have a mega-influencer followed by 1 million-plus people for her style, and given the opportunity to develop a line with a reputable retailer that aligns with her taste, it’s only natural that the followers will purchase the line at the speed of social media. I think many items completely sold out in the first 24 hours.

So what if, instead of utilizing aggregated data to provide recommendations based on product selections, a retailer’s website offered recommendations of influencers that align with the shopper’s selections? Because really, not everyone has time to search out and keep up with the ever-growing contingent of influencer voices out there now. This would be the inverse of the influencer marketer equation: In the case of a multi-brand retailer, have the retailer offer to its customer a cadre of influencers who are advocates of the brands they carry; or in the case of a mono-brand retailer, they would advocate for the specific products they sell. It’s like matchmaking for shopping, or better yet, aligning the customer with the ultimate personal shopper of their choice.

Retailers could even pull this experience in store. Of course, there are always the ever-popular in-person events hosted by a store, a la trunk show-style, featuring a guest appearance by the influencer. Or perhaps this is an opportunity for artificial intelligence (AI) or virtual reality (VR) to be put to good use. I could imagine a hologram, or some kind of augmented reality (AR) interface, that would offer a selection of influencers to choose from, and that would allow a customer to engage with the influencer (or the influencer’s avatar) while in store to ask their opinion of the particular items in which they are interested. Perhaps the customer could even interview the influencers to help them choose which influencer(s) to go with, via voice-enabled or chat-bot technology.

Ultimately, the fact that shopping has shifted from transactional to conversational needs to pushed to its new physical reality as we all know. I believe this new reality will lie at the intersection of democratized fashion authority via social media with technology as it continues to push forward with more and more frictionless solution applications. Seeing seamless payments offered in the Amazon Go concept as a harbinger of the tip of the iceberg of what is to come, I think shopping will move to a place where the actual physical environment will engage the consumer as it tracks eye movements, recognizes facial expressions, and influencers associated with brand advocacy rather than (or in conjunction with) sales associates will virtually engage the consumer in a real-time conversation about the very product they are looking at. 

Kathleen Jordan, AIA, CID, LEED AP, is a principal in Gensler’s New York office, and a leader of its retail practice with over 24 years of experience across the United States and internationally. Jordan has led a broad range of retail design projects as both an outside consultant and as an in-house designer. She has led projects from merchandising and design development all the way through construction documentation and administration, and many of her projects have earned national and international design awards. Contact her at




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