'Distanced Experiential': Understanding the New Experience Economy
At the close of 2019, which for most of us seems like a decade ago, it was predicted by many that the experience economy would be valued at $12 billion by the close of 2023. At the time, 72 percent of millennials said they would rather spend money to engage in live events than on material possessions. Brands and retailers responded to the desire for unique experiences by embracing trends that allow shoppers to be physically immersed in a brand’s world, as well as trends towards personalization that made shoppers feel individually seen and included. The shift has been the lifeblood of other major trending areas, such as the influencer economy and the omnichannel shopper experience.
Obviously this year we’re seeing a screeching halt to the experience economy, and most retail businesses for that matter. However, to paraphrase an old adage, “you can’t keep a good industry down.”
In our current new normal, where a retail experience can be something as simple as a trip to the gas station or a restaurant to grab some takeout, consumers are clearly starved for experiences now more than ever. There has never been a better time to make a lasting impression on consumers by dazzling them with a little creativity, ingenuity and real re-imagining of what a brand experience is.
For evidence, look no further than Walmart’s Mother’s Day drive-thru sample stations, which provided guests with a unique experience and new products, yet still kept safety top of mind.
Or Amazon.com/Whole Foods, which already had a big leg up in the click-and-collect space prior to COVID-19, is now providing services that might not have been thought of as “experiential” prior to quarantine, but now fall firmly into the "consumer experience" space.
These include customers using their mobile app to tell the retailer when they're on their way and having a parking spot designated for them when they arrive. Foot Locker and H&M stores are using LED screens outside their stores to keep shoppers informed about how many people are in the store currently, displaying messaging when the store is at capacity and branding content while shoppers wait to be admitted.
This is the new “distanced experience” economy in a nutshell, and as retail stores begin to reopen, the smartest ones are looking closely at how to apply it to their current marketing plans.
Shoppers will emerge from quarantine with a new list of expectations that will turn our old way of thinking about experiential on its head because it will come with a whole new set of considerations for consumers. Still, many will be drawn to what makes them feel the greatest sense of normalcy and offer a reprieve from the near-constant worry that has plagued us all the past few months.
Distanced experiential has the potential to play a starring role in welcoming shoppers back into the marketplace. A great experience now more than ever will solidify the success of brands and retailers in the post-COVID-19 world. Retailers will find their future success determined by their ability to adapt, grow and impress through expressions of their core values that respect shopper concerns and allow for simple joys of shopping and brand discovery — at an experiential distance, of course.
Bryan Blackmon is a strategic supervisor for IN Connected Marketing, an agency steeped in shopper and retail marketing experience and insights.
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