Creating Retail Experiences Critical to Winning Shoppers

Third Space & Experience Retail Driving Loyalty and Affinity

The notion of ‘retail experiences’ is not new. When malls and super centers first hit our landscape a generation ago, retailers and land developers recognized the need for elevating the reason to visit a store, developing a destination that became more than a place simply to make transactions.

Early pioneers like JC Penney had the omnipresent photo studio for family destination shopping, and I recall many a Saturday visiting the Sears candy counter to keep me entertained while my dad looked for his new Craftsman® tools. Home Depot has long conducted “How-to” workshops, and of course Build-A-Bear tapped into the childhood joys of personalization, experimenting and creating.

Three decades ago, Starbucks championed the concept of a “third space” beyond home and office, to create a customer engagement platform that moved their brand experience well beyond a hot, caffeinated beverage that had otherwise been humbly enjoyed for the previous 600 years. And now, more broadly, the economic reality is that retailers and mall operators are looking for ways to maximize their foot prints and energize their customers.

Fast forward to today, and we are seeing some extremely innovative thinking from brands and retailers to engage shoppers at their physical locations. Beyond having thousands of distribution points via BOPIS

(Buy Online Pickup In Store) and showrooming as a way to touch and feel, and test out considered purchases, experiences are being created to leverage expertise, social learning and community.

For example, optical dispensary Warby Parker was born on the internet, and customer demand created the need for a place for them to engage with the brand, look & feel and expert advice from their style counselors.

Similarly, Tom’s has had tremendous success in e-tailing their shoes, so how do they go about creating an effective in-store experience? In stylish Venice California, Tom’s flagship high-traffic “store” is one part coffee shop, one part internet café, and one part showroom – plus they manage to sprinkle in the ability to try and buy their merchandise.

Innovation and accessibility within the STEM category has significantly increased the “makerspace” market, where making, collaborating, learning and sharing are opportunities for improving brand engagement and loyalty. A notable bellwether of these future-forward moves is being seen with Apple stores – the most successful sales per square foot operation, is fundamentally shifting their approach. Apple’s retail chief Angela Ahrendts is boldly stating that “the store is now the biggest product we produce,” with the key being community-based learning centers, a modern take on the town square.

When it comes to engaging consumers and driving shopper experience, old is new again.


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