The Rise of Experiential Retail…and a New World of Customer Experience

In an age where customers can buy anything they want or need online, the purpose of a brick-and-mortar retail store has changed.

Today’s consumers are looking for more than a transaction when they visit your store…something beyond simply a place to buy a product. They want a memorable, one-of-a-kind experience.

According to Salesforce’s 2022 State of the Connected Customer report, 88% of consumers said the experience a brand provides is just as important as the products or services it sells.

While the retail store once existed primarily as a place to purchase a product, today it must become much more. To attract and retain customers, brands must leverage unique, engaging experiences to win customers.

What we’ve just described is a concept called experiential retail, and it has the potential to revolutionize your customer relationships and in-store experience.

7 Ways Experiential Retail Creates a Different Customer Experience

1. The Primary Focus Is Customer Engagement, Not Sales (But Yes, Sales)

This concept of retail focuses less on sales and more on engaging the customer (which, eventually, leads to sales). The goal is to create an immersive, on-brand experience from the moment a customer arrives to the time they walk out the door.

The truth is, if all a consumer wants is to buy something, they can do that online from the comfort of their homes. Why would they visit you in-store?

However, if you offer an engaging experience paired with quality products and friendly, approachable staff, you create an emotional connection with the customer and give them a reason to visit (and to keep coming back).

2. A Shareable Experience

Today’s consumers are not only looking for a shopping experience that engages them, but also one they can share with their friends and peers.

This is especially true of Millennial and Gen Z consumers: As digital natives, they’ve grown up documenting their lives on social media. So when they shop, they want an experience they can share with their friends and followers.

To draw younger consumers, you need to give them a reason to visit your store that goes beyond a purchase. For example: creating in-store photo opportunities. Thoughtful store design that incorporates areas for authentic, organic photo opportunities engages consumers and encourages them to visit your store and create visual content while they’re there.

Rest assured, this doesn’t mean you need to plaster your walls with hashtags. It simply means creating inviting spaces that inspire visitors to take photos and share them. This user-generated content benefits you as well, as it gives you engaging content to share on your company’s social media pages.

3. Personalized Sensory Experiences

Due to the prevalence and ease of ecommerce, shopping in-store is no longer driven by necessity. Instead, it’s driven by a sense of discovery: the excitement of finding and experiencing something new.

Today’s consumers are looking for engaging, personalized shopping experiences. In fact, brands that create these personalized experiences see their revenue increase two-to-three times faster than those that don’t.

An integral part of creating this kind of shopping experience is engaging all five senses to build strong emotional connections between the consumer and the brand. For example: product demos allow people to explore, touch, and try out your products. This sensory input drives a feeling of ownership and spurs the customer to buy.

Consumers also love the concept of personalizing items and making them their own. Allowing them to customize products to their own needs and wants can help provide the kind of stimulating experience they’re looking for.

4. An Omnichannel Approach

Today’s consumers use multiple devices to shop (phone, computer, tablet, and so on) — sometimes all for a single purchase! If you hope to keep up, an omnichannel approach is non-negotiable. You need to make it easy for customers to shop with and buy from you no matter where or how they’re shopping.

Embracing an omnichannel approach—with options like buy online pickup in-store, curbside pickup, ship-to-home, and in-store fulfillment—allows consumers to buy in a way that is most convenient for them.

For some retailers, the online perception may be far stronger than the in-store payoff. For others, the in-store presence is stronger than the online one. Omnichannel encompasses the experience throughout these various channels. Do your online and offline experiences match, or better yet, build on one another?

5. Unconventional Displays and Spaces

Experiential retail spaces are more flexible than traditional retail spaces. They incorporate unconventional displays and experiences that help the consumer envision how they’ll use the products in their lives.

For example, displaying products in the context of where or how they’d be used rather than only on shelves will inspire the consumer to buy the products so they can recreate that experience at home.

6. “Retailtainment”

Today’s consumers are looking for more than a purchase from the stores they frequent: they’re looking for entertainment.

“Retailtainment''—a fusion of retail and entertainment—incorporates events and attractions that grab the consumer’s attention. The goal is to provide customers with unique, memorable experiences that inspire them to spend more time (and money) in your store.

This approach is a powerful tool for building customer loyalty and driving sales.

It gives people something they don’t see every day, and offers a chance for connection, conversation, and idea sharing. It also helps showcase the culture and values of your brand. Examples of retailtainment events include:

  • Bringing in celebrities or other professionals relevant to your industry

  • Holding classes or workshops focused on your products

  • Using interactive technology to create an immersive, engaging shopping experience

These kinds of events help create connections with the customer, giving them a reason to visit you outside of their typical shopping habits. But note: the events you choose to offer should feel authentic, like an extension of your brand—not a forced attempt at a connection.

7. Identifying and Meeting Customer Needs

This way of doing retail incorporates a greater focus on identifying and meeting customer needs.

One way to do this is through customer-centric services that address customer needs beyond making a purchase—such as repair and service, workshops with brand representatives, and so on. This is especially important in industries where the product’s life cycle (and, often, the time between purchases) is long.

In addition, valuing your customers’ time may be one of the most important things you can do to improve the customer experience. Stores that offer seamless convenience and take less of a customer’s time will consistently draw repeat business. This concept extends to all areas of the shopping experience: from having friendly, helpful staff and making products easy to find to providing a seamless checkout experience.

An in-store experience that resonates with customers and fulfills their needs is a powerful relationship builder. Meeting a customer’s needs and exceeding their expectations creates emotional connections that spur future purchases and greater customer loyalty.

Miller Wittman Is Your Guide To Experiential Retail

Experiential retail offers you a highly effective way to engage with consumers beyond simply selling them something. It helps you better support your customers and establishes your brand as more than a product.

Whether it’s retailtainment, community connection, discovery, convenience, or something else, when you identify what your brand can offer that no one else can, you can build an experience around that offering that separates your store from the rest.

If you’re ready to take the plunge into experiential retail, the Miller Wittman team would love to be your guide. Contact us at 612-991-0229 or to get started.