Experiential retail

“retailtainment” is the future of brick-and-mortar



Reading time: 7 minutes

Just shopping was yesterday. Today we want to experience something real: feel, see, test, exchange with others, discover and explore.

The concept of pure supply trade works fine via online shops as we all had to experience in times of the pandemic and its lockdowns. However, this applies primarily for goods and services with everyday use since the purchasing decisions for them are made rationally. Emotions and experiences connected to the purchase are playing a subordinate role.

Presenting products in a store and waiting full of hope for the next customer is no longer sufficient for any retailer today. Retailers started gaining awareness of a large number of different customers, a change in the consumers behavior towards an increased online activity and the various needs and desires that come with it.

Due to the extensive use and growth of the e-commerce the brick-and-mortar was treated as obsolete already years ago. In response, major brands (e.g. Nike, Zara or Bonprix) turned their strategies into experiential retail ones to revitalize the customer experience in physical stores. These strategies focus less on sales than on creating pleasant and unique experiences for the consumer – a key to brand loyalty and customer relation.

Markus Demirci, founder and CEO of mPocket shares his thoughts about the current situation: “The quality of your customers stay, level of convenience and the desire for an experience as well as for social interactions drive consumer to city center and into physical stores. Especially now after a long time of isolation when shops, cafes, restaurants and beer gardens are reopening, people are longing for that special atmosphere that simply does not exist online.”
According to the Global consumer behavior survey from March 2021 in-store shopping remains the first choice, although consumers supposedly got used to online shopping.

In order to cope with the changed customer behavior of the largest consumer group, the millennials and generation Z and their affinity for technology, retailers need to reposition the integration of physical stores into the customer journey. In the first place these are engaging experiences which cannot be reproduced online. Potential customers should be provided with sensual experiences which turn stationary retail into the so-called “Third place” through emotional enrichment. In addition to where we live and work, the Third place is the one where we spend our free time, relax, feel good and have fun. As a retailer, how do I design such a Third place that invites customers to stay and shop?

Prioritize customer loyalty – not sales

“Recommended for you”, “product available again” or “you might also like..:” – we all know automated emails and personalized offers generated from intelligent algorithms of online shops – after our data is stored or at least a search history exists. Why does brick-and-mortar retail not make use of such data? Does a local retailer actually know his/her customers? Does he/she know what is exciting for his/her customers, what attracts them and can he/she tailor his/her communication specifically to their needs and maybe even personalize it for each person?

Therefore, the first step should be collecting and digitizing your customers’ data. What used to be laborious and only possible in personal conversations and using handwritten lists can now be done over various touchpoints – both online and offline. The collected data allows you to collect feedback from your customers more quickly and easily. Consequently, you do not only gain more visibility and attention, but also other useful data. Knowledge and understanding of your customers is the base for you to tell a story which wants to be experienced – adapted to regions, target groups or your concept. This storytelling can occur in different ways – online or visually in your store. The consolidation of the collected customer data in your storytelling enables a seamless and surprising experience for your customers.

Customers determine the success of any company. Focus entirely on your customers, their wishes and expectations and offer them entertaining, unique and personal experiences that lift shopping to a new level.

Stimulate the customers’ senses and create experiences worth the share

“It’s colorful, it smells nice, it is interactive, something is happening, I’ve never experienced anything like that” – your customer should experience something like this while walking through your store. He/she should remember, talk about and share it. Your storytelling, adapted to the needs of your target group, should not only be reflected online, but particularly in the store experience and should be perceived by your customers as immersive, noteworthy and therefore memorable.

This can be represented by a wide variety of incentives – depending on the business and target group: theme worlds, gastronomy concepts, guest WIFI, digital in-store maps, interactive designs e.g. through displays, comfortable sitting areas, in-store events or some networking with partners (fashion shows, lectures, live music, etc.).

Some big brands are demonstrating how to do it: Space Ninety 8 is a retail space over 5 floors combining everything an adventurous consumer desires: retailers, galleries, restaurants and bars, yoga courses and much more. Vans unites everything the brand stands for in London under one roof respectively in underground tunnels: art, music, BMX, street culture and skateboarding. Not only did it generate public attention, the initiative also helped Vans to strengthen its reputation as the premium skate brand within the community. Farfetch was awarded as “Retailer of the future” thanks to its augmented reality solution in their London store: mirrors with touchscreens and terminals that provide customers insights in their shopping history and wish lists are just some of many features.

The equation is as simple as Markus explains: “The longer the stay and the more unique the experience, the higher the turnover and the recommendation rate or customer loyalty. Memories appealing to our five senses have a greater recognition factor. Link the values that you want to transfer with your shop or product with the experiences: enjoyment, fun, health, luxury, sportiness, naturalness, environmental awareness.” You do not have to spend huge amounts of money to achieve this. Experiential retail is above all about a personalized, incomparable shopping experience.

Merge online and offline

Online? Offline? Do I have to be online at all with my brick-and-mortar retail when the shops reopen? Go beyond the lines of your store and use the advantages of the online world. The silver bullet is of course to connect both worlds. Online and offline can go hand in hand – the right technology is key here as well. The leading brands are investing in developing their omni-channel or unified strategies for years. Also, local retailer should react to the shifting customer behavior accelerated by Covid-19 and involve the consumer in the choice of channel and strengthen their digital engagement.

Anyone who cannot be found does not exist. This has never been more valid in the digital space. Not only do consumers search specifically for products or shops online, they also decide which store to go to based on the online presence on social media & Co. and other users’ reviews. Business profiles on Google or Facebook, live streaming and buy-online-pick-up-in-store services or to virtual and augmented reality – there are plenty imaginable online services to use.

However, it is all about quality over quantity. Present yourself online just like you do in your store. Catch your customers’ attention by telling your story here too.

Ikea demonstrated how to: 100 participants of a Facebook competition were allowed to spend a night in one of Ikea’s stores. The “Sleepover Contest” was supposed to be a personalized experience for the 100 winners – from the mattress to the cover – this campaign achieved more visibility and attention than any paid commercial could have done.

Form a community around your store or your product – the storytelling and the entertainment factor associated with it will unite people with a similar mindset whose interests and commitments will have a boomerang effect.

Employees as brand ambassadors

To implement technology with the goal of bridging the gap between in-store and online presence you first need to evaluate what your customers want based on the insights of your store employees. They interact directly with your customers during the consultation and are after all also the ones who will later work with a possible solution in the daily business. With the right solution, you and your team will quickly recognize not only the advantage in customer acquisition and loyalty, but also an improved productivity within the team.

Functioning as the eyes and ears of your shop, your employees are the main part of the reinvention for the experiential retail. Given the new consumer behavior and additional sales methods and channels, talented salespeople can use digital solutions to strengthen customer loyalty and contribute to the long-term success of your company. Other industries such as financial services or healthcare show how a digital solution can support an increasing engagement and performance of teams that work “at the front lines” and enable at the same time customers to meet the experiences they want.

Customer got used to online convenience. Product search, checking availability, asking a question over text- or video chat, order and a payment – all just a click away. This is the expectation level customers have of brick-and-mortar today. The online convenience combined with the ability to be touched by human senses will make the difference in my opinion. Whoever offers that combination will prevail. Only addressing the five senses is not going to be sufficient moving forward.” Markus Demirci, founder and CEO of mPocket.

Experiential retail is more relevant than ever. Due to the pandemic and months of lockdowns, some inner cities seem like one of a ghost town, even though many retailers have tried to survive the crisis through online presences and with special services.

Especially now with people starving for face-to-face interactions and feeling a completely new need for personal exchange experiential retail plays a crucial role, if retailers want to gain a decisive competitive advantage. Your customers and their commitment is the highest priority in experiential retail. Sales will follow with friendly, knowledgeable salespeople and good services automatically – through the loyalty of your satisfied customers.

“Technology will be the key to support local businesses, their sales associates and stores to create a unique warmhearted atmosphere. Just like that, visiting local businesses becomes a shopping experience to remember.” Markus Demirci, founder and CEO of mPocket.

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Jasmin Janson

Marketing & Communication Manager mPocket

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