How to create retail experiences?

May 18, 2021 | By RetailME Bureau

Brick-and-mortar retail isn’t dead, but boring retail is. The industry as a whole is at a trajectory where the meaning and purpose of every element of retail is being reimagined and redefined. One such prominent element is the physical store. For years, retailers were blinded to the vast potential of the physical store and treated it as just a point of touch and transaction. Today, e-commerce facilitates transactions in the easiest, most convenient, and efficient way making that particular role of the store redundant.

Moreover, the definition of shopping has also changed for customers today. It’s no more about going to a mall or store to buy an object. If people decide to get out of the comfort of their homes, they inadvertently expect an experience. Shopping, thus, has become a social activity where customers prefer going with friends or family to spend a few good quality hours there. So it becomes the job of retailers to give them an experience that forces them to spend hours there.

So what is this new-found purpose of the physical store? Well, a physical retail outlet is a stage, it’s media, and it’s a brand’s biggest marketing avenue. From retail therapy to retail theatre, the remit of the shop’s role is broad. Think of the store as a concert or a fashion show, where people pay to go and watch what it has to offer. All the back-end staffing operations would take place “backstage” and what customers see is this mesmerizing set-up, which could be a display of products, an activation, or a high-tech pop-up. What takes place inside the store needs to be seen and planned as an event round-up or an editorial calendar, with something new on offer every month (or week). And the design and appearance of the store would automatically end up being the best marketing the store could get, where one glimpse of the store is all it takes to engrain the brand to people’s minds and memory.

Eventually, it’s going to be about giving customers a purpose-driven reason to walk through the doors. How can that be achieved and how can a traditional brick-and-mortar store become an experiential retail space?

An experiential store of the future creates an immersive and shareable experience. In the UAE, the THAT Concept Store in the Mall of the Emirates is a unique ‘mall within a mall’ with a number of ‘wow’ elements that people can’t help but share on social media. From the funky activations to the luxe digitally integrated trial rooms, to brilliant artwork displays, there’s a lot to be photographed and Instagrammed. They also have a barbershop, nail spa, dry cleaning services, coffee shops and dining space, which encourages customers to spend a few hours, if not a whole day in that store without feeling the need to go elsewhere.

The future stores will also rewire their priorities, where the objective will be customer engagement and not sales. Many athletics shops, such as Nike stores in the U.S. have basketball courts within the shop to attract customers, engage with them and create a sense of community around the brand. Lululemon is another example where the shops organise workout classes, group meditations and scheduled events to create a sense of belonging and community.

Stimulating the customer’s senses is a scientific and psychological marketing tactic that has proven to be very effective in the recent past. Level Shoes in Dubai Mall curates an omni-sensory experience for its visitors where they immerse customers with the look, feel, sounds, and even smells inside the store. Starbucks too ensures a potent aroma in all its outlets that elicit a sensory reaction from its customers. Apple stores, with its white, minimalistic and clean design, which is replicated in its packaging, online channels, and after-sales services make sure customers don’t really have to see the signboard to know that they are in an Apple store.

The ideal retail experience would also need to defy customer experience, surprise them, and blow their minds. Technology is going to play a massive role in creating and curating all of these unique experiences and investments in the right kinds of technology and partnering with the right kinds of solution providers will be key.

Tryano is a concept department store in Yas Mall, Abu Dhabi offering experiences through a carefully curated edit of international and regional luxury, fashion, and beauty brands, which recently embarked on a rebirth and renovation journey to integrate technology into its retail experience.

“Today more than ever, the retail experience and “romance immersion” (how I like to call it) is primordial. Customers want to feel valued and want to feel the “human” factor after all this time spent in lockdown,” said David Dessureault, Head of Merchandising at Tryano.

“Stores need to come to life, and historically, Tryano was the best place for social gatherings, events, vernissage, product launches and designer appearances. For us, it’s important that our unique and inspiring concept is not cold and impersonal, but a place where we create moments of delight and memorable exchanges with guests with the main objective of making them feel at home,” he said.

The human factor, however, is what a lot of retailers seem to overshadow when it comes to creating these experiences. A design myth retailers buy into these days is the idea that experiential retail means more screens, robots, iPads, or really any technology at all. While technology plays a crucial role, it shouldn’t be bombarded upon customers that they start feeling disconnected from the brand.

“Just as many retailers are doing, we have incorporated new technology into our experiences, but for Tryano, our best and most powerful factor is the human one. One of the reasons Tryano embarked on this renovation, was to right-size the store and this was based on our guests’ input and suggestions. What’s important is that we craft the customer journey together with our guests.”

At the end of the day retail still needs to be about relationship building, interactions, and resonations. While store experience with all the technology, gimmicks, and innovations will be crucial, customer service will be the ultimate decider.

“The most important focus area is exceptional customer service. This is what makes you a destination to remember. This is what will make customers leave their laptops to come and visit you; they want your point of view, they want to get inspired and most importantly, they want to feel special. Investing in training to get the “la crème de la crème” team is what every retailer needs to do,” he concluded.

Key takeaways 

Immersive and shareable experience

The goal is customer engagement and not sales

Stimulate as many human senses as possible

Surprise elements and unexpectedness

Connectedness and community around a brand

Make people go ‘wow’


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