The Ultimate Guide to Experiential Retail for Ecommerce Brands
Ever wonder why the world’s most popular brands get so much attention online? Nike alone sports over 90 million followers on Instagram. It’s because the consumers of the social media age want their favorite brands to be part of their lives. This extends beyond the phone screen, according to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, as “consumers are seeking phenomenal experiences.” One way brands deliver on this expectation is through transforming trips to their stores into unforgettable experiences.
What is Experiential Retail?
Experiential retail can be defined in many ways, but at the risk of making it sound too simple, it is creating an interactive, immersive, or technology-enhanced experience in any of the millions of stores we shop in every single day. Gone are the days of walking into a store and heading to the same old aisles to pick up the same old items. Instead, the trend of experiential retail is growing with more marketers leveraging it as a core part of their advertising strategy.
Now, traditional retail has served a purpose for decades, but with the growth of online shopping and interest in spending on experiences over products, modern consumers find it less necessary to do their shopping in-person. For retailers, this means they need to make the brick and mortar experience more valuable.
Even cafes and restaurants are trying to create more unique, valuable experiences for their customers. For example, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf recently converted some of their shops into replicas of Central Perk from the hit sitcom Friends for the show’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Having the famous couches from the show provided their customers value as they got to feel what it was like to be in such an iconic setting, while also giving them plenty of opportunities for photos.
However, before we dive into experiential retail in more depth, let’s take a look at the benefits it has over traditional retail. Unlike traditional retail, experiential retail:
1. Stimulates your customers’ senses.
How you ask? Well, rather than the same tired designs you’ve seen in big box stores since what seems like the beginning of time, you will find that coming up with a strategic experience to promote your products will excite your customers. To celebrate the US Open, Adidas held a “Billie Jean King Your Shoes” event at its store in Queens, New York. During the event, local artists painted people’s shoes in Billie Jean King’s classic blue-and-white style. And for those who didn’t want their shoes painted, there were limited edition suede pairs ready for purchase. The event made you feel like you were connected with this moment in time.
2. Creates an immersive and shareable experience.
Social media allows customers to interact with your brand and inspire loyalty, so it’s not surprising that 73% of marketers find it an effective advertising channel. So give your customers a reason to break out their cell phones to snap a selfie.
Take the L’Occitane concept store in New York City, as an example. The beauty retailer outfitted its shop with exercise bikes onlooking a view of Provence, a virtual hot air balloon ride, and hand-massage stations to immerse shoppers in its French-inspired products—and differentiate itself from growing competition from Ulta and Sephora. The results? The NYC L’Occitane store signs up new customers at three times the rate as other boutiques.
Whether you sell glasses, electronics, or clothing, surprise your customers with strategically placed areas that call to them: “You want to take a selfie here!”
3. Leverages in-store events and services.
Bookstores have used experiential marketing for years in the form of book signings. Take this upcoming in-store signing with New York Times Best Selliing Author Joe Hill— fans purchase tickets beforehand, which gives them a copy of the book and access to the meet-and-greet. You can also host in-store events that help people use your products better or meet people who are like-minded, just as Apple does with its Photo Walk meetups.
4. Defies customer expectations.
People have come to expect very specific things when they go to the store, no matter what stores they are going to. Cash registers, end-cap promotions, shopping carts, and aisles are all expected when a customer walks into a grocery store. Each type of business has features that are just expected by its customers, but it’s important to offer the unexpected as well.
Ikea has mastered this technique using the Gruen effect to lead customers through the store slowly, giving them ample time to consider how all the products in the store can fit into their lives. The reason this is so successful is because it’s estimated that 50% of all retail purchases are unplanned. A small business owner could translate this style in a more private and personal way. Some stores have been designed to look more like art galleries than places to shop, and there are restaurants that bring the outside in. The key is to not just make a customer feel comfortable, but to surprise them with a positive experience as well.
5. Addresses the consumers’ needs.
Retail experiences also need to make it as easy for people to purchase as possible, but this can be done in a fun and immersive way. Take Tiffany & Co. as an example: its London store features a Style Studio where customers can pick out chic homeware to go along with their jewelry. Or, they can walk straight to the fragrance vending machine if they know the scent they’re looking for. This shop also features an interactive personalization studio where customers can design their own engravings for their pieces.
Using Experiential Retail to Inspire Customer Loyalty
There was a time when customer loyalty was the norm. Folks from all over the world had their favorite, go-to places for goods and services. Many never strayed from their favorites. Today it’s a whole new ballgame. With everything available at the click of a button, it’s harder for businesses to maintain customer loyalty.
According to HubSpot Research, 55% of consumers trust brands less than they used to and a recent study by In Moment has found 50% of people will seek out the services of a different company if they find it more relevant to their needs. Think about it for a minute. How many times have you opted to shop online rather than going to a local shop simply because it was more convenient? We’ve all done it. Now, consider the fact that your business could be impacted by that very action as others opt for the more convenient option.
So, how do you keep your customers coming back? Well, start by giving them the very things they expect and then some. Here are a handful of retail techniques to make every corner of your brick and mortar store more experiential:
- Keep it human. Shoppers want to come into contact with employees that are not only knowledgeable, but friendly and willing to go the extra mile.
- Make it immersive. Figure out the core concept of your business and build the store’s layout based around the theme. STORY at Macy’s does this masterfully by using the motif of a magazine for its layout. And like a magazine coming out with new issues, STORY changes its theme and layout every few months.
- Meaningful, meaningful, meaningful. Give customers a feeling of pride for choosing your business and build a community around this. Outdoor retailer REI knows people go to their store to buy products to see the world, and they use their store as a way to enable people to live their dreams through sponsoring classes and meetups.
- Cater to the omnichannel experience. Your customers have unique preferences. Whereas some of them will only want to shop online, others will want to physically browse through your products. However, strengthening one channel will also help drive traffic to the other. Sometimes a customer’s journey may begin online with research around your brand and end offline with a visit to your store (or vice versa), which means it’s important to reach them where they’re at. And having a great retail experience both on and offline will create positive buzz around your brand, which will help bring more people back into your brick and mortar or ecommerce stores.
- Stay intuitive. Make it easy for your customers to find what they want. And when they find it, make sure that those products are quality items. Give great service, and keep it fresh with new items popping up on the regular.
What Customers Want From In Real Life (IRL) Shopping Experiences
What makes experiential marketing work in an omnichannel approach is that it delivers the customer what they want from both the online and in-store experience: personalization.
For online direct-to-consumer brands, personalization is easy. Since there’s a record of what the person has purchased in the past, you can show them similar, relevant products to their interests. Accenture reports 91% of consumers are more likely to make purchases from brands that promote relevant offers and personalized recommendations.
Identifying customers is harder in brick-and-mortar spaces—so much so that only 13% of retail stores bother to do it. However, through experiential retail, you can offer customers more personalized experiences on a wider scale. Which brings us back to Nike.
In 2018, Nike launched a new flagship store in New York City. Unlike its other stores, this one focused exclusively on bringing personalized experiences to its customers on a massive scale. Inside, customers learn what sneaker culture means to the city as well as viewing artwork dedicated to New York.
Throughout the whole store, customers are able to use the NikeID’s in the Nike app to purchase whatever they see instantly. And on the top floor, customers are able to design their own sneaker styles, which will then be made for them in-store. However, the most ardent Nike fans can get one-on-one help with an actual shoe designer to create their perfect pair of sneakers. And when a brick and mortar store combines experiential retail moments along with retail analytics, they can get a better picture of who their customers are and how to market to them personally. All of this can then feed back into creating a better retail experience for customers both on and offline.