Experiential Retail: How to Stay Strong in the Digital Age

By Alana Domingo, April 18, 2018

There are a lot of dangerous buzzwords plaguing the retail industry. “Retail apocalypse!” scream headlines every time a big brand declares bankruptcy. Stories of dead malls flood the news as more and more shopping complexes struggle to find tenants. This year alone, around 25 major retailers may file for bankruptcy, according to real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.

And really, it’s the industry’s own fault. People aren’t too thrilled with the current state of many brick-and-mortar establishments. Messy, overcrowded stores, pushy (or absent) sales staff, and lack of enticing inventory are major turn-offs for shoppers. Why waste time and risk disappointment when you can just buy what you want online?

In spite of ecommerce’s rising popularity, however, most shoppers would rather visit a store than buy things online. People like seeing, feeling, and trying out products in-person. Stores can offer immediate satisfaction, too; people can test and take home purchases all in the same trip.

To rekindle their relationships with customers, savvy retailers know they need to take the typical shopping experience to new heights. That’s where experiential retail comes in.

What’s Experiential Retail?

Experiential retail plays off people’s need for memorable interactions, turning standard shopping trips into delightful events. It’s a business strategy that promotes sales by giving customers a unique, positive encounter that connects back to a brand.

Thanks to technology today, it’s easier than ever for brands to tap into experiential retail. Brands are switching to omnichannel marketing methods, leveraging online and in-store channels to craft experiences tailored to fit customer needs.

Stellar Service

Nordstrom took a chance when they opened up an experimental retail concept in Los Angeles. Called Nordstrom Local, this store doesn’t exactly carry any inventory. Instead, it specializes in premium services, including tailoring, personal styling, and manicures, all in a chic, cozy environment.

nordstrom-localSource: Fashionista

There are a number of fitting rooms that look more like luxury suites than the standard closet-like spaces in typical department stores. Customers can even try on clothes while drinking juice, wine, and coffee from an in-house refreshment bar.

But the personalization doesn’t stop there. With the help of a Stylist and a tablet, customers can create digital inspiration boards to save and share their favorite items. Stylists then order the clothes from other nearby Nordstroms and have them ready for customers to try on at their next appointment.

Nordstrom Local also offers same-day online ordering and pickup, so customers can buy and have clothes altered on-site if necessary, all at once.

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This experimental business isn’t meant to replace the traditional Nordstrom department store, but rather to complement it. Nordstrom hopes an elevated, customer-centric focus will lead to more conversions and affirm its status as a luxury lifestyle brand.

Learning Experiences

Outdoor recreational brand REI hosts a variety of customer-centric events year-round, ranging from educational workshops to sponsored excursions that take place both in-store and off-site. The events include activities like camping, hiking, and fitness training, all of which appeal directly to REI’s customer base.

REIkayakSource: REI

REI’s literal hands-on approach to customer engagement does more than just bring people to the store. Hosting localized events entices customers in the surrounding area to come to the physical store to shop rather than just ordering online.

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The brand can also use event attendance to personalize a customer’s experience. For instance, if someone attends a lot of classes on backpacking, then the company could promote deals on backpacking equipment or highlight future backpacking events to that person. With enough incentive to return, REI might have themselves a lifelong customer.

Social Media Mecca

Riley Rose, a new spin-off brand by fast fashion giant Forever 21, is every Millennial makeup aficionado’s dream. Decked out in pastel pinks and trendy design touches, Riley Rose offers an array of beauty supplies and home furnishings from cult-favorite brands.

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Each element of the store’s atmosphere, from the displays to the lighting, is designed with social media sharing in mind. There’s even an accent wall dedicated entirely to selfie-taking; visitors are encouraged to upload their shots to Instagram for a chance to be featured on the company’s profile.

rileyroseSource: Instagram

Like REI, Riley Rose also hosts in-store events like makeup master classes and DIY workshops. Sometimes they’ll invite other popular vendors selling Insta-worthy goods, like the ice cream above, to attract the Millennial and Gen Z crowd.

All the social sharing not only boosts online engagement for the brand, but also gives them a healthy amount of user generated content to leverage for their own marketing campaigns.

The Future Is Bright

Yes, ecommerce is growing. But that doesn’t spell the end for brick-and-mortar. By finding creative and meaningful ways to surprise and delight their customers, brands can survive this new era of retail.

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Alana Domingo

Alana Domingo

Alana Domingo is the Junior Content Writer for Anura. Born in Philadelphia but raised in Delaware, she attended Temple University and earned a BA in Communication Studies, concentrating on contemporary media environments. When she's not working, you can usually find her playing The Sims, reading comic books, and taking care of her three pet frogs. More Articles by Alana Domingo