Why selling experience is the new direction for brick and mortar retail

Brick and mortar retail must begin selling experience if they plan to survive the Internet Age. Selling experience entices shoppers from their computers by offering something within their walls that e-commerce can never provide. 

Brick and mortar will never be able to compete with the convenience of shopping in underwear from the comfort of your couch. So the point is not to compete but to coexist, supplementing convenience with experience. 

In addition to getting people to notice—let alone purchase—your product, stores are now burdened with luring customers out of the house. The convenience and accessibility that online shopping provides keeps consumers at home rather than in stores. I can shop in Australia or Italy from the comfort of my couch, with neither a worry about shipping costs nor a concern for putting pants on. But does this mean brick and mortar is obsolete?

So how do physical stores compete with in-your-home and then at-your-door convenience?

 Well, the obvious answer is to ensure they have a solid online presence. This expands a local market into a global one. The less obvious is to provide something within their walls that a website cannot.

Why brick and mortar is still relevant

Location-bound retail is caught in the rapid transition of an increasingly online market. Regardless, in this increasingly digital economy, old-fashioned, in-store shopping still has relevancy, as long as stores adapt to the change.

In order to combat obsolescence in the tech age, brick and mortar establishments must diverge from their traditional model as a distribution point. Instead of selling product, physical stores should pivot their focus on selling experience. 

The necessity for brick and mortar is still proven to be a relevant structure in the retail industry. This trend is evident when an online store reaches a checkpoint for growth by opening brick and mortar locations. Clearly, this would be an ill-advised move if brick and mortar were an endangered species. 

Evidence shows the online sector is finding a significant use for expanding to physical locations as a means to reinforce their web presence and supplement their branding with experience. When your customer has immediate fingertip access to literally. everything. you have to combat over-saturation and hyper-convenience with distinguishing experience.

So getting consumers in a door that is less convenient to them than clicking ‘check out now,’ requires that you provide meaningful value for both their money and time.

Self-Fulfillment is the new luxury

As the fashion industry adapts to the age of technology propelled by the millennial consumer, retail has had to make multiple millennial-oriented revisions. The retail industry has come under pressure from growing competition via accelerated methods of commerce, expanding modes of convenient accessibility, industry saturation leading to option overload, and consumerism shifting in favor of experience over materials. 

This may be due in part to the continuous, filtered photo reel of peer highlights we are inundated with on our social feeds. It is an inspiring yet competitive ecosystem of living. Landscapes syndicated through the Valencia filter, selfies accented with dog ears, meals that must be digested by followers before mouths.

The new consumer is placing more value on a life well-lived rather than a life well-dressed. Purchasing and then socially documenting fulfilling intangibles, such as wellness, travel, and leisure is the new indulgence. 

But that does not mean there is no longer a place for tangible retail. In fact, tangible consumption is still strong. There is simply a new opportunity to combine experience with product by creating intangible experiences that lead to tangible consumption. Inadvertently, this generates loyalty that was previously lost on a generation plagued by saturation and option overload. 

Whatever the cause, the result is concrete. The new consumer prefers an experience more than a product. 

Experience is the new Millennial Investment Portfolio

Market analyses claim Millennial expenses have trended towards a desire for acquiring fulfilling experiences rather than acquiring showy “stuff.”

This does not entirely mean that millennials are minimalist backpackers who have forfeited material things; the e-commerce market shows that materials are still relevant. But now time is the new currency.

Millennials love convenience and efficiency as much as experience. This is why they opt to digitize tangible consumption and go into the real world for experience-based, real-life consumption.

They are more preoccupied with how they are spending their coveted free time. They can simultaneously allow their packages to make their way to their doorstep while they hike a mountain or swim with dolphins. 

So if your new primary consumer would prefer to spend time on safaris and hikes and spas and brunch, how can you become a place worthy of their time?

Millennials are cherishing each moment differently than their ancestors. Precious moments are to be enjoyed and then widely syndicated through various social mediums. This is the new word-of-mouth marketing strategy.


Branding in the era of option-overload

Brand loyalty now rests on the shoulders of the unique experiences that brands can provide their clients. So in a tech-driven market, where it is already a task to get your customer from behind a glowing screen, brick and mortar may have found a new niche.

Society formerly expressed luxury materialistically. But in our current life-sharing ecosystem, where we document and share every minute experience, Instagrammable exploits, whether small or large, are centric to the portrayal of indulgence.

Cue the age of pop-up shops, rotating themes, locale-centric branding, eco-consciousness, in-store restaurants, thematic events and even DIY workshops.


Chain stores that over-value branding consistency are becoming dated. We have heard the demise of several of our teenaged mall staples that didn’t update their methods in time.

The new consumer only goes out of their way for experiences that can further authenticate and reinforce the uniqueness of the location they are in. Chain stores that employ the same uniformity at home and afar will rarely compel a tourist or otherwise to seek them out.

Now visual and experience branding should be approached with subtlety—with unifying touchpoints that whisper a congruent essence rather than a sweeping saturation of branded aesthetics.

Rather than the previous rule of thumb that dictated homogenous branding regardless of whether visited from Miami or Iceland, unique, location-based branding better communicates to residents and tourists alike. A tourist will not likely go out of their way to visit a Hollister, as they likely have 5 identical stores at home.    

Products are merely a byproduct

You must turn yourself into a destination, creating experience being primary and moving product being the periphery goal.

The product they are coming into your store for is no longer as conventional and obvious as the items on your shelves or racks. Rather, your product sales are a byproduct of the valuable experiences enjoyed by your customer. That wins their hard-to-maintain attention, then their consumption, and ultimately their loyalty. Product sales are the conclusion, a souvenir, to the experience.

Creating an immersive experience engages the customer, engenders loyalty and brings them back for more.

Experience Sales Requires Intimacy

But cultivating an experience-driven business model requires you know your customer personally, not just demographically. Only then can you build a branded experience-based lifestyle around them.

When you know them personally, you know what they go out of their real-life way for and then you can provide them with that destination.

Experience does your marketing better than any ubiquitous campaign inundating their social feeds and web page sidebars. It is an interactive showcase, an active display of your brand inserting its potential in the context of their own perspective and their lives.

Selling customers experience also caters to their wish for achieving a fulfilling use of time. Naturally, once someone has spent the time, (especially in a society that is so short on the resource) the money is soon to follow. You just have to win that initial bid for that always-connected, time-constrained, modern consumer.

It all engenders within shoppers a feeling of loyalty,  a consumer quality that has been lost on millennials who have access and option-overload.

Experience will modernize retail

Stores have already begun implementing diversified offerings within their walls in order to create a unique and fulfilling experience. 

This diversified, experience-oriented product line suits preexisting customers but also communicates with demographics you may have never targeted. Diversified products diversify demographics which ultimately diversifies revenue opportunities.

Bergdorf’s in New York offers high tea while the Ralph Lauren flagship has an in-store coffee shop. Nordstrom, Armani, and Burberry are also well-versed on the incorporation of the on-brand food experience in an attempt to not only keep people’s experience in their stores well-rounded, multi-faceted and experience-oriented but to also promote their branded lifestyle on a plate in addition to a rack.

Etsy hosts pop-up shops to generate buzz and showcase their artisans.

Story NYC is a unique boutique that cycles through monthly or bi-monthly themed installations, hosted events and sponsorships that get customers in the door because they don’t want to miss the window and they keep customers coming back for more just to see what’s next.

These methods hold a time-constrained consumer’s attention much longer than the quick perusal of racks. Experiences also drive home a complete, branded, lifestyle message that easily surpasses the mono-faceted fashion themes of the boutiques of shopper’s past.

A store can no longer rest its success solely upon the shoulders of its mannequins. A compelling window display and impeccably decorated interior do not a successful boutique make. After all, every store pivots upon these principle features. The basics have changed. Experience is necessary.

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