Retail Success - the Importance of In-store Experiences
Experiential marketing is by no means a new phenomenon, however, with the rise of e-commerce it has evolved quite significantly in recent years. Consumers have increasingly high expectations when it comes to their shopping experiences, which has consequently resulted in the experience ‘bar’ being set very high for retailers and brands. It is therefore not surprising that brands and retailers who fail to meet these high expectations will almost certainly fall behind.
A recent global survey undertaken by Freeman evidences this by revealing that one in three global marketers expect to allocate up to half of their budget to experiential marketing in the next three years. Regardless of the sector, retailers are focusing their efforts on enticing the consumer into the store by appealing to their senses. Examples include the interactive ‘perfume lab’ in Selfridges and the ‘selfies booth’ in Harvey Nichols.
Ultimately, from the appearance of the store to the checkout line, creating a positive, memorable experience in the retail store environment is a great way for a retailer to achieve differentiation and thrive in the long run.
Combining digital and traditional
It’s no surprise that retailers and brands who are most likely to prosper are the ones that provide a seamless, memorable and consistent experience across all touch points.
As people are spending as much as five hours  per day on their smart phones, it’s no wonder that they have become a key touch point and that the growth in mobile commerce has skyrocketed in recent years. More and more shoppers are taking advantage of the ease and convenience of researching and shopping with their mobile device.
In spite of the staggering 25% growth in e-commerce, which amounted to €530  in Europe in 2017, bricks and mortar (B&M) still has the edge when it comes to commerce. With 85% of retail sales coming from physical stores, it is evident that factors such as seeing and touching the merchandise and engaging with other people are key reasons why high street retail is not dead.
Savvy retailers are therefore thinking of new ways in which the online and offline experiences can be combined.
Sports wear giant Nike, for example, provide the customer with an immersive experience, bringing their website into the stores using interactive screens, thus responding to the movement to bring online stores into physical locations. Customers are able to browse through their product selection on the spot, both in the store and online, giving them the best of both worlds.
Another example is Swedish home ware retailer Ikea’s virtual reality showroom, which enables visitors to learn more about its products in virtual reality. Shoppers have the option to play a ‘pillow toss’ game or to interact with a panda inside a bamboo lamp, which has proven to be an effective way to encourage the spread of positive word of mouth and repeat business.
Enhanced customer service equals great customer experience
A retailer’s in-store experiences don’t, however, have to be as extravagant as the examples above. Offering free samples or tasting sessions in-store, for example, is a great way to enhance the customer experience, thus encouraging repeat business. It can also be a powerful tool to boost brand awareness, whilst enabling shoppers to try new products without committing to buy. A study undertaken by the University of Wisconsin-Madison  evidenced the effectiveness of sampling by proving that it has both an immediate effect and a sustained impact on sales.
Waitrose is onto a winner
In terms of providing a fantastic customer experience, supermarket Waitrose is a clear winner in the UK. Having been voted the UK’s favourite supermarket in a Which? survey on customer satisfaction last year (2017), the chain strives to go the extra mile to provide customers with an exceptional in-store experience. Spacious store layouts, enticing product appearance, minimal queues, ease of finding products, high quality staff and overall product quality are just a handful of reasons why Waitrose provides an arguably superior in-store experience compared with their competitors.
Waitrose also offer a number of in-store perks such as Waitrose Quick Check service (allowing customers to scan while they shop), their Hot Ideas program designed to drive innovation and their MyWaitrose loyalty scheme, which promises a free hot drink or newspaper to members.
There are a just a few examples of ways to tempt customers back to the store and maintain long-term customer loyalty.
As ‘experience’ continues to be the buzz word of the retail industry, if brands and retailers want to achieve and maintain customer loyalty, they must provide customers with a seamless, enjoyable experience (whether they are physically in the store or browsing through the website).