• Play Retail Ltd.

The art of experiential retail: blending unforgettable experiences with ultra-convenience

Updated: Feb 15, 2019

- Mark Howell, Creative Director at Play

Elements of experiential retail have surrounded us for years, with useful experiences – complimentary tasters, fitting services for clothes, advice on how to use devices or prepare food – supporting brands to attract new and retain existing customers.

More recently, ‘unforgettable’ experiences have come to the fore too. Abercrombie & Fitch, for example, became well-known a decade ago for its methods to proactively encourage customers into stores, enticing customers into shops by spritzing all stock with perfume. Hollister, an off-shoot of Abercrombie & Fitch, opts for very low lighting alongside loud music to create a memorable environment. Both examples highlight a trend to engage the senses through the use of scent, lighting, sound, and distinct visuals, in order to attract and leave a lasting impression on shoppers.

Today, Dover Street Market takes an innovative approach that mixes art with fashion. Twice a year the retail space is completely closed for a few days so that the entire location can be reimagined. The venue resembles an art gallery and customers are drawn to return regularly to see the new décor as much as the new clothing lines.

In our fast-paced, tech-focused and convenience-obsessed culture, brands investing in experiential retail need to be smart in deciding whether ultimately unforgettable, or ultra-convenient experiences, will best suit their objectives and their shoppers’ needs – and need to work with creatives and leaders in shopper experience design to ensure that the right blend of unforgettable and ultra-convenience is achieved.

Jo Loves, the latest fragrance brand from Jo Malone, creator of the eponymous fragrance brand which was sold to Estée Lauder in 1999, has excelled in creating distinct and memorable retail experiences, to set the new brand apart.

The flagship London store revolves around experiences: shoppers can indulge in a ‘fragrance tapas’ to learn about and try different fragrances, and can create their own layered scented candles. Jo Loves has also collaborated with others to expand the reach – for instance working with London restaurant Bluebird’s head barman to create a cocktail menu for customers, inspired by Jo’s favourite scents – as an extension of the brand’s ‘brand as an experience’ philosophy. Jo Loves identified an opportunity to improve customer satisfaction by incorporating experiences into retail and found that, choosing to create unforgettable, personalised experiences led to a 92% conversation rate for shoppers immersed in the brands’ experiential retail environment.

This year Nike has announced its latest foray into experiential retail: Nike Live. The most convenient location for a new LA store was determined by analysing customer data in the local area, with Nike’s focus being to provide customers with ultra-convenient, useful, shopping experiences, rather than the unforgettable experiences akin to Jo Loves’ fragrance tapas and personalised candles. Data was analysed to inform which services to provide: from drive through or locker-system collections and returns, to product testing using gym facilities, or 30 minute 1-2-1 consultations with training experts and in-house stylists. Nike is also using local customers’ buying habits and preferences to determine what stock will be kept in-store and which community services to offer.

These Jo Loves and Nike campaigns are both examples of how experiential retail can draw on both unforgettable and ultra-convenient concepts depending on the desired outcomes of the shopper journey. Both brands identified a need to offer shoppers something over and above what is usually expected in traditional retail and both have effectively identified the appropriate experiential elements to suit their business objectives and their unique product capabilities. To create experiences that would succeed, they considered exactly what experiences their target customers would want or need.

Determining whether an unforgettable or ultra-convenient experience will offer the most success is no easy job, because of the complexities involved in identifying which elements of popular culture, which characteristics of a target customer group, and which logistical considerations need to be prioritised, and combined with a brand’s objectives and a product’s unique capabilities.

Some brands wish to create unique experiences which enable them to ‘stand out’ from their competitors in a crowded retail environment – cosmetics are a good example. Offering an unforgettable experience will create a buzz, attracting existing and new customers alike, and driving greater traffic to sales-staff who, equipped with knowledge and capacity to tailor the offering, seduce shoppers into making purchases. What’s more, the experience will often nurture a cognitive shift in shoppers, driving them to become brand loyalists, advocates and influencers.

For Shiseido, we were tasked with creating a unique and interactive experience to drive traffic and social engagement with NARS in a busy shopping mall environment. We created a sophisticated augmented reality lip trial, where shoppers were invited to use filters to see what the best-selling shades would look like on their own lips. Once they had chosen their favourite shade, they could keep a selfie – meaning that those who wanted to would easily have share-able, branded NARS content for their social networks. Their favourite shade was also captured as a ‘kiss’ and published to a dynamic particle video wall which, over time, attracted more shoppers to participate, and created a visual representation of the most popular shades at that location. The experience was highly disruptive, and unforgettable, with shoppers queuing to participate. In our experience, the simpler the idea, the greater the likelihood of its success, provided that barriers to participation – such as mandatory social engagement or excessive time burdens – are mitigated.

At the other end of the spectrum useful or convenience-based experiences tend to benefit brands by removing barriers to purchase. Convenience experiences enable shoppers to make impulse decisions, purchasing journeys are simplified, and drop-offs during the purchasing process are eliminated. Convenience experiences also support sales of products that need to be tested, demonstrated or tailored – being able to trial a product in-store can provide assurances about quality and usability. For instance, we created a world first augmented reality experience for OPI, to enable shoppers to digitally trial nail lacquer shades on their own hands – particularly shoppers passing through duty free who often have just a few minutes to spare – to support them in quickly selecting the best shade for their desired look. But such investment, in truly useful experiences and improved convenience, can be a costly outlay for brands, so it tends to be bigger brands like OPI, or higher ticket price items – such as car sales – that warrant such investment.

For the higher ticket price items, such as cars, it’s often the case that shoppers will have conducted extensive research – both online and by perusing forecourts – before entering or speaking to anyone in a dealership. So, dealers stand to benefit a great deal from seamlessly linking a potential customer’s online and offline purchasing journey into a single omni-channel solution. For example, Hyundai found that when people walked into their showrooms they were often ready to buy, as long as the process was straightforward and supported what they had discovered during their research.

To help unlock Hyundai’s full sales potential we evolved their omni-channel approach by enabling them to engage with customers using digital retail units in the showroom – which acted as ‘one’ single, seamless entity across all interventions, throughout the consumers’ engagements with the brand. The Silent Salesman we created gave Hyundai the ability to talk to customers directly, allowing sales teams to control content presented across Hyundai showrooms. We understood that investing in the sales process and enhancing convenience would maximise conversion from warm leads to paying customers.

So, to make a success shoppers’ purchase journey it is vital that brands work in collaboration with expert creatives, technology providers and retailers to clearly identify their business objectives. The process hinges on seamlessly conflating unique product offerings with shopper needs in retail in order to leverage the correct blend of unforgettable and ultra-convenience, allowing us to create winning retail experiences.

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