Experiential Retail – Staying ahead of the curve

Experiential Retail – Staying ahead of the curve

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Ask anyone linked to retail trends and predicting the future and you’ll be guaranteed to hear the words ‘customer experience’ at least once. But what does it actually mean? How can you create an experience in retail and more importantly, why would you want to?

Post By Nino Calandra -
Projects Director

Experimental Retail...

Experiential retail is at its core, about creating an experience and a memory as well as providing an opportunity to make a purchase.  It’s the difference between having your customers simply buy something and offering more meaningful shopping experience.  It sounds somewhat far-fetched to link creating memories to popping into a shop to buy something like an item of clothing but there’s no denying it’s where retail is heading.

The powerful combination of social media, smart phones and brand awareness amongst key shopping groups, particularly in the younger demographic, means it’s no longer enough to be transactional in the shopping experience you offer.  Whether online or in a physical store, consumers want to feel immersed in the brands they are interested in; part of the kudos of spending money on a particular brand or range is the ability to tell your network that you’ve done so through the likes of Instagram or Twitter which in itself creates a new dynamic for retailers.  To be a truly Instagram worthy picture, for example, the lighting must be right, the product range in the picture desirable and the commentary interesting enough to be ‘likeable’ by the poster’s followers.  A drab-looking till area and cheap plastic carrier bag will not cut it with today’s shoppers.  So it’s the brands that invest in their experience that are the ones being coveted by brand-savvy consumers.

Creating an experience, or a memory, is also about more than just the purchase, though of course this is the end result retailers are aiming for.  Brands that are winning in the experiential retail space are those that embrace what their brand stands for and are creating a whole physical experience around it.

The House of Vans in London sells Vans trainers, primarily to a young/millennial demographic who like skating.  But they have also created a clever space that brings together art, music, BMX bike and skating culture and fashion in a 30,000sqft space.  In a nod to the fact the space was designed by skaters for skaters, there is a unique concrete ramp, mini ramp and street course on the bottom floor of the building that is free to use for riders of all ages and abilities.  This is a perfect example of how a bricks and mortar store is more than just a place to buy trainers; it is a space in which you can experience the culture linked to the brand and products, connect with a community of like-minded people and immerse yourself in all that the brand stands for whilst being able leave with a purchase that allows you to hold on to that feeling of being part of something.  In short, they help create memories and an experience which is the very essence of experiential retail.

Of course, this isn’t practical with every brand or product type, particularly in times of economical and commercial uncertainty as big production budgets aren’t always available to deliver the perfect experience.  However, emerging trends such as brand partners, in which two or more complimentary brands exist in the same space (think Next and Paperchase), retail space transformation embracing new design and sensory elements, and creating a seamless transition from online to physical store, allows retailers a multitude of ways to start to create an experience without having to break the bank.

Innovation in Retail

There a lot of talk about the need for innovation in retail but looking around at what’s happening already should be enough to give many brands a starting point for their own transformation into more experiential retail.  From the new mega-store Primark in Birmingham which offers cafes, drop-in beauty bars and comfy seating areas for weary shopping partners, through to the likes of Apple and Samsung where you can easily and freely interact with the products available to purchase as well as seek advice and guidance on how to use products you’ve already bought, there are many ways to start to stand out from the crowd.

A note of caution, however, is to not forget what’s actually important to your brand and your customers.  Embracing a more immersive customer experience should be nothing but positive for your brand, but it should be done with careful consideration as to what you stand for and what your customers would want to connect to your brand so that it feels authentic and relevant rather than being done for the sake of doing something.

It’s worth remembering that when it comes to memory making, sometimes less is more and it’s how you make someone feel during and after their purchase that will stay with them, whether good or bad.


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