“How do I keep people coming in the door when my customer’s next purchase can be done anytime, anywhere?” This is the question that’s been on nearly every brick-and-mortar retailer’s mind for years. The emergence of experiential retail has been a saving grace keeping physical stores alive — even if they look and feel different than they used to. Although e-commerce offers speed and convenience, the physical act of shopping is a pastime and an important component to building brand loyalty. People make purchases because the things they love evoke certain emotions, therefore, if retailers can create in-store experiences that amplify those feelings, they have a better chance of drawing people away from their screens and toward their shops. From yoga classes at lululemon to rock climbing at REI, coming up with fun, unique experiences that a website can’t offer is the only way to compete with online-only brands.
However, with the wide variety of solutions for experiential retail, it can be difficult to determine what tactics will bring customers in-store. Retailers should consider the following trends when looking to create enticing experiences in their physical spaces.
5 Trends Driving Experiential Retail
- Engagement: Leveraging all the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste), retailers are creating touchpoints to connect with customers and stimulate their minds. There are endless ways to bring this to life — chairs and couches to host community meetings, class offerings, complimentary drinks, or virtual reality are all ways to engage customers beyond the cash register. For example, Apple hosts one-hour lessons at its stores to teach kids how to code. Conjuring up feelings that help shoppers relax and have fun can create positive memories with the brand, and encourage them to keep coming back.
- Authenticity: As hard as they try, online-only retailers can’t replicate the experience of trying out — or on — a product in person. Consumers that visit a store to try a product have an authentic experience surrounded by people knowledgeable about the brand, increasing the chance of purchase. Home Depot does a great job of offering product demos in its stores through Do-it-Yourself and Kid's Workshops.
- Localization: Every brick-and-mortar location should strive to look like the community where it does business. Retailers can change up their building’s architecture, hire local artists to paint a mural, or sponsor a local event or festival in the area. By discovering ways to play up local character, not only do retailers draw in more people that resonate with the local touches, but they also attract loyalists from neighboring cities that want to experience something different. For example, West Elm invites local business owners to set up pop-up shops in its stores on weekends.
- Exclusivity: The modern consumer has a miniscule attention span, so retailers are coming up with experiences that keep customers on their toes. Short-term or surprise events, like a pop-up store or product launches with limited availability, can spark interest from consumers and keep them from getting bored with the brand. Nike has successfully created experiences that generate buzz and drive results, like making products exclusive to certain stores and hosting live events. Nike by Melrose is a store in Los Angeles that serves as a hub for local NikePlus members and offers city-specific styles.
- Technology: Virtual reality and augmented reality are the latest tools to hit the floor in experiential retail. They create experiences for shoppers that can’t be replicated online or anywhere else, therefore, enticing customers with something new and exciting. For example, Jerome’s Furniture launched a 3D augmented reality app that enables virtual room planning for customers.
The goal of experiential retail is to create a visit so memorable the customer doesn’t want to leave after the purchase is over. These trends allow retailers to prove that they understand the customer on a personal level and can connect with them in a way that can’t be done online.
However, we’re also seeing retailers execute experiential retail trends that illustrate a lack of understanding of customer preferences. Some in-store experiences can cause negative interactions that can prevent customers from stepping in the store ever again. To ensure experiential retail doesn’t drive customers away, retailers should avoid the following trends.
5 Trends Derailing Experiential Retail
- Deal Shopping: The physical act of "shopping" should never be the in-store experience retailers lean on to bring customers into their shops. Many brands have tried "deal shopping" where they feature coupons online and in marketing materials that can only be used for in-store purchases. The intention is to entice customers into coming into their shop because they will get a deal they can’t get online. However, this tactic ends up making customers feeling frustrated. Experiential retail should make shopping more enjoyable, not create more work for the consumer.
- Social Media: Although social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook hold a lot of retail power, leveraging them for in-store experiences is not the right use case. We’re seeing retailers use social media to create photo opportunities in their stores, but this strategy rarely ends up influencing a purchase. Grabbing the attention of consumers is half the battle, but it’s only worthwhile if those consumers are eventually persuaded to buy something.
- Standardization: Investing in the resources and time needed to create experiential retail opportunities can be costly, so retailers tend to develop a level of repeatability to get the most bang for their buck. However, standardizing in-store experiences makes shopping feel mundane and uniform, going against the trend of creating authentic shopping experiences.
- Disruptivity: Retailers shouldn’t try to be “disruptive” just for the sake of it. Some brands tend to go over the top with ideas of how to get consumers to engage with their products to the point where the experience doesn’t make sense anymore. Take mattress company Casper, for example. Casper opened up a “Dreamery” in New York City attached to its store, offering $25 nap pods to customers for a 45-minute nap. Although this provides a direct opportunity for shoppers to experience Casper's product, the logistics were poorly planned. Most people don’t know when they're going to be tired throughout the day, so making an appointment to take a nap isn’t beneficial. Creating difficult experiences that disrupt customers’ days are off-putting and can evoke negative feelings toward the brand.
- Technology: Although retailers should be using digital tools to make improvements or simplify processes, technology as the driver of in-store experiences can create confusion or complications for shoppers. Physical stores offer something that online stores don’t — humans. As people are naturally social beings, we crave human interactions. Therefore, placing people at the heart of customer service can differentiate the in-store experience.
E-commerce has loomed over many retailers that operate physical spaces, however, with the right strategy, they can still compete to win over consumers. By creating unique in-store experiences that show an understanding of customers with personalized interactions, retailers differentiate themselves from the Amazon’s of the world that can’t connect with shoppers in the same way.
Martin Kurpiel is the senior vice president of technology solutions and IT at Valid, a global technology provider that offers a complete portfolio of solutions in payment, mobile, data and identity solutions, as well as digital marketing and digital certification.