What You Need to Know about Immersive and Experiential Retail

The rise of eCommerce has certainly impacted the retail industry in a major way. That said, it’s important to understand that brick-and-mortar retail isn’t going anywhere. Surveys reveal consumers still prefer to make most purchases at brick-and-mortar establishments. The teams managing these establishments simply need to make sure they’re taking all steps necessary to stand out in an increasingly competitive market.

One way to do so is to develop an immersive and experiential retail strategy. You want to offer customers unique experiences to attract them on a consistent basis. The following points will explain what experiential retail is, why it helps brick-and-mortar shops thrive, and what you can do to apply this concept to your own business:

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It’s worth noting that experiential retail and immersive retail are general terms encompassing many potential strategies and features. The exact way you implement an experiential retail strategy may be different from the way another business does so. However, as the name implies, experiential retail basically involves providing shoppers with experiences and features they may not associate with a traditional retail experience.

For example, House of Vans (the popular footwear brand) is a London establishment that features more than just a selection of shoes. It’s also home to a movie theater, art gallery, music venue, and a small indoor skate park. TOMS is another brand experimenting with immersive retail. In 100 locations where TOMS is sold, guests can don VR headsets to see the direct impact of TOMS’ charitable activities around the world. This helps the company forge an emotional relationship with customers by promoting its mission and values in a dynamic and unique manner.

Experiential retail can also bridge the gap between digital brand engagement and brick-and-mortar shopping. For instance, Ikea ran a social media contest that involved allowing 100 winners to spend a night at one of the company’s warehouses. During their stay, the winners could select their bedding and pillows. Additionally, a sleep expert was on-site, offering tips for getting a better night’s sleep.

Those are merely a few examples. Again, while they should help you more clearly appreciate what experiential retail is, they also illustrate how the specific nature of experiential retail can vary depending on the nature of a business.

There are many reasons brick-and-mortar shops need to embrace the benefits of experiential and immersive retail.

First, although eCommerce has not replaced brick-and-mortar shopping entirely, it has made purchasing some items much more convenient for customers. Thus, brick-and-mortar establishments need to give customers a reason to buy items in person when they have the option of easily ordering them online. One way to do so is to offer experiences they can’t get anywhere else.

Experiential marketing also helps retailers optimize their marketing budgets. After all, when people have unique experiences, they often post about them on social media. If a brick-and-mortar shop offers that kind of impressive experience, customers may share it with their own social media followers. This will help the brand reach a wider audience without spending more on marketing campaigns.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Additionally, experiential retail helps to sustain brand engagement across all channels and venues. To return to a previous example, Ikea cultivated digital engagement by hosting a Facebook contest, which naturally led to continued engagement at a brick-and-mortar establishment.

Immersive and experiential retail also help companies break into new markets. For example, perhaps you run a chain of apparel stores in the US. Maybe your company is growing and you want to start opening locations in Europe. If you’ve been restricted to one country up until now, many potential customers overseas might not be familiar with your brand. That means they’d have little reason to pay attention when one of your stores opened up in their area.

However, if your stores offered unique experiences, you’d attract customers much more easily. This is key to spreading brand awareness efficiently.

Once more, the specific way in which you can incorporate more experiences and immersion into your brick-and-mortar retail shops must be directly tied to the nature of your business and brand. You should coordinate with your marketing team to develop ideas that represent your business in a natural and authentic manner.

In the meantime, however, you should also keep in mind that experiential marketing can simply involve using technology to improve the overall retail experience. For instance, you might leverage Internet of Things tech to allow customers to purchase items by simply walking out with them instead of waiting on a checkout line. This is a strategy that’s yielded results for Amazon.

Regardless, you can’t ignore experiential retail. In an age when customers can make purchases with the click of a button, an immersive retail strategy plays a key role in your success.

Will Obeid is a New York-based real estate professional with nearly two decades of experience in upscale hospitality, retail, and residential development.