Context, Education And Entertainment Drive Experiential Retail Success

Retail TouchPoints – As consumers purchase more goods online, traditional retailers are struggling with the integration of digital and brick-and-mortar commerce. But 66% of U.S. consumers still say it’s important to feel and sense a product during their shopping experience, according to Westfield. Many retailers, recognizing the need to offer hands-on, authentic experiences that will draw shoppers into their stores, are adapting their store formats to do so. Experiential retail gives shoppers an enhanced opportunity to touch, feel and/or taste items before committing to a purchase.

But before taking this plunge, retailers should understand the five elements of successful experiential retail programs.

· Educating and empowering consumers;
· Providing sampling and showrooming capabilities;
· Adopting technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR);
· Turning stores into entertainment destinations; and
· Building communities that engage via social media.

Forward-thinking brands are embracing Experiential Retail. This report highlights examples from four retail leaders: The Home Depot, Sephora, Restoration Hardware and REI.

“This is really about theater, and it always has been,” said Ken Morris, Principal at Boston Retail Partners. “It’s what you don’t get online. Interactive, hands-on events are a great way to emotionally engage with the customer. Free events, and even paid events, can provide some value and brand loyalty and create brand enthusiasts that will feel obliged to make purchases.”

While The Home Depot hasn’t had issues driving consumers into the store, the retailer is still going the extra mile to educate shoppers by offering DIY workshops. Home Depot also has specific “Do-It-Herself” workshops that mix demos and hands-on learning to help women tackle a variety of home improvement projects, as well as kids’ workshops for future DIYers.

On a grander scale, Restoration Hardware is offering design-oriented showrooms where shoppers can see how products will look in the home and meet with designers. The Design Galleries currently are located in markets such as Boston, New York, Chicago and Atlanta.

“They’ve created showrooms where you don’t really buy product,” Morris said. “You see the rooms set up, you meet with designers, go in with your own blueprint and they help you understand and furnish a room. They understand that people are showrooming, they’re webrooming and they’re catalog-rooming. After my wife and I got home from a trip there, we looked at the catalog, called customer service and literally ordered $10,000 worth of merchandise that was custom fit. They had walked us through the measurements of this room, and when it arrived it fit perfectly in the room.”

Morris also suggested that retailers focus more on a “create your own product” mentality, highlighting Nike as a brand that allows consumers to customize products extensively. “You could choose all of the colors and customize the shoe exactly the way you wanted it, as long as you left enough time for them to make it,” he said.

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