I constantly hear calls for stores and shopping centres to become more experiential in order to fend off the online threat. Make your in-store offering more experiential and customers will forego the virtual for the physical. So goes the argument.
In some cases this seems like a no-brainer. The product is such that you need – or at least prefer – to experience it before purchase. Fresh produce often falls into this category. Other, less variable products are often experienced once in-store, only to migrates online for repeat purchases. My business shirts are a case in point.
But this isn’t really what commentators mean by experiences. It’s not just about physically interacting with the product to help decide whether to buy it. Most consider experiences to be activities that are outside of, but complementary to, the core product set.
High tech shoe fitting. Pet grooming. Advice on putting together an outfit. These are all examples of this experiential shift. Adding food courts to shopping centres is another. There’s just one problem. These aren’t experiences either; they’re services. There’s little emotion in them. It’s just that you need to go to the store or shopping centre to participate. For now.
True experiences are emotional; they leave an impression on you. They are not chores; you choose them. You would be happy to pay for them. You are sad if you miss them.
This is not a new concept, at least in shopping centres. Thirty years ago I visited the West Edmonton Mall in Canada – then the largest shopping centre in the World. It contained an ice-skating rink and even a submarine ride, alongside conventional stores. The centre was a place to go for entertainment, where you might also buy something to take home. In-centre cinemas are a similar concept.
But the link isn’t strong. Just because you’ve enjoyed watching ‘The Trip to Spain’, doesn’t mean you’ll stop off and buy a flight ticket to take you there. Although it might… if there is collaboration between stores and the cinema to cross promote their offers.
True experiences need to be congruent with the store’s core offering – in-store cookery classes, using utensils that you can then buy, for example. There are only so many cookery classes that you can mount, yet some argue that, rather than extend from product, through service to experiences, the future lies in focusing on providing experiences first and foremost.
Doug Stephens, the Retail Prophet, foresees a future where a new breed of experiential retailer – part media outlet, part sales agent, part design firm – will employ product ambassadors and technology to deliver something truly unique, remarkable and memorable. You might even pay for it.
The sole aim of these new-era retailers will be to drive significant sales for the brands they represent across every available channel – themselves, their vendors, even their competitors.
Lights, camera, action! Are you ready to pivot to an experience-first approach?
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