Experiential Retail

Why Consumers Want the Activated Shopping Experience

Experiential retail.

Ah, there it is.  The buzz phrase you’ve likely heard one million times over the last year.

I know what you’re thinking.  What could possibly be said about experiential retail that hasn’t already been detailed?

We’re all hip to Hudson Yards, sneaker enthusiasts are aware (and still impressed) with Nike’s House of Innovation 000, and Sephora’s augmented reality and American Eagle’s announcement of virtual dressing rooms have been exhaustively covered by industry media.

Point being: countless companies and retailers have been employing strategies to activate their brand for some time now.

But while we’ve read about the bells and whistles that make up many retailers’ experiential shopping trips – defined by everything from grandiose events with innovative, social media-worthy applications to simpler experiences that allow consumers to interact with a brand – many articles leave out one burning question.  Why?

Here we detail the reasons behind why successful businesses are choosing to put their brand in motion.

A Deeper Connection

The nature of brick-and-mortar retail promotes interaction.  Customers can feel a fabric, visualize a couch’s size, and compare the picture quality of one TV versus another.  No matter how many reviews on a website or augmented reality functions on an app, e-commerce could never match the capabilities in-store shopping affords.

Did you know the simple act of holding an item in your hands increases the probability you’ll buy it?  Now imagine the customer loyalty earned after shoppers interact with a product on an even more intimate level.

That’s what experiential retail affords.

It’s the chance to use a treadmill to gain insight on your gait so an associate can recommend the best running shoes for your stride.

It’s taking a nap on a mattress company’s product in the middle of a hectic work day.

It’s when an outerwear company lets you put its jackets to the test in a room set to -27 Fahrenheit.

According to a special report by Event Marketer Magazine and Mosaic, “Eighty-five percent of consumers are likely to purchase after participating in events and experiences, and over 90% have more positive feelings about brands after attending.”

The thing about experiential retail, though, is that it doesn’t need to be over-the-top.  An experience can also be viewing a product demonstration or taking a class at the local craft store.  In that same study, when consumers were asked what most influenced their purchase at events and experiences, 47% indicated they sampled a product or viewed a demonstration.

As humans, we seek out emotional connections.  So, brands and retailers that offer interaction through these deeper level experiences play to our instinct, influencing our loyalty and buying habits.

Acme of Cool

I’m from Milwaukee.  We’re commonly known for beer, cheese, and a gorgeous art museum.

But if you plan a visit to our city, you’ll likely see a gang of people on the Milwaukee Riverwalk doing a thumbs up next to another famous emblem – a bronze statue of the Fonz from Happy Days.

What is it about a big metal sculpture of a fictional character from the past that makes people want to strike a goofy pose next to it?

It’s connected to our sense of wanting to belong.  Taking your photo with Arthur Fonzarelli is showing you’re ‘in’ on the fun.  And when you, and hundreds of others, post the snap to Instagram, Snapchat, or your social media platform of choice, you’re assigning invisible cool credits to this particular photo op and generating a desire for others to partake, too.

How does the Fonz have anything to do with experiential retail?

Easy.  Engaging retail has now become a destination.  As a shopper, you not only interact with a brand but can check in to the company’s location and share pictures of their products on social media.

And because activated experiences tend to be pretty interesting, you get to boast to your followers that you’ve been part of the excitement.  Documenting a concert at a House of Vans (#houseofvans) or revealing your inner child at FAO Schwarz’s new NYC location (#returntowonder) becomes like your “badge of awesome.”  You’re on-trend, my friend.

Adweek succinctly sums up the effect of immersive experiences on Generation Z’ers in an article that states how experiences provide “social currency that buys them influence online.”  And because this next generation will continue to demand engagement from their favorite brands, the Instagram-worthy stores and events will keep replacing the old hangouts of our youth.

The Convenience Factor

In 2017, Nordstrom opened its first service-focused shop Nordstrom Local.  Something you couldn’t find in this store?  Inventory.

Touted as a “drop-in hub for service and style,” people use Nordstrom Local as a one-stop-shop to pick up hand-selected orders chosen by Nordstrom stylists, make a return, or take advantage of the onsite alterations. Visitors can even enjoy refreshments while they stay for a manicure.

When the first location opened, the move was considered risky.  Would people visit a store where they couldn’t browse merchandise and buy?  Today, with more shops in the Los Angeles area and a recent announcement of a coming New York location, it’s safe to say the strategy has paid off.

The concept is a perfect example of offering convenience and personalization.  Instead of beating the busy department store crowd, shoppers appreciate the individual attention inherent in the store’s model.  Furthermore, each location curates its services based on the area and what local customers desire.

While large events and news-worthy store activations will always draw buzz, often the simple details that tailor an experience to what the shopper wants is all it takes to provide an exceptional experience.

The Takeaway

The numerous experiential retail success stories making headlines reflect the changing expectations customers have for brands and retailers.

So whether your business organizes an out-of-the-box immersive event for your target demographic or invests in in-store technology like interactive kiosks, be sure to avoid a gimmick and go for value by offering interaction, a shareworthy experience, or convenience.  Or maybe even all three.

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