Redefining the In-store Experience

POSTED BY Christina Arbini on Sep 8, 2014

In the September 2014 issue of Marketing NW, Hornall Anderson Design Director, Mark Buchalter, discusses how the in-store retail experience is being redefined. 

By Mark Buchalter

Today’s leading retailers are looking at innovation in a much more holistic way. Shifts in consumer behavior, new technologies and expectations around service delivery are rapidly changing the retail landscape.

It’s no longer enough to focus on one aspect of the retail experience; it’s about examining the entire ecosystem—from the store layout, to how services are delivered, to the way in which the brand expresses its unique point of view. So, what becomes the true differentiator? For us, it requires a clever combination of all the elements:

Emphasizing the experience. In a world with seemingly endless online shopping options, bricks-and-mortar retailers need to go beyond creating a space to conduct a transaction to delivering meaningful experiences that help set them apart.

Although 90% of total retail transactions still are taking place in stores, the customer journey has changed and people want reassurance that a store visit is worth their while. Physical stores need to communicate and execute on an aspect of the brand consumers place the highest value on: perhaps a place to kick-the-tires on products or gear, helpful and relevant expert advice and service or an immersive, sensory experience or attraction in itself. Once retailers define and deliver on this, they then have to deliver a seamless transition between bricks and clicks with a consistent brand voice.

Designing service solutions. We universally hear how being greeted with “Can I help you?” is a major turn-off. We often use the mantra “conversation before conversion” to describe to our clients what consumers are searching for in their retail experiences.

Staff often is incentivized toward making the quick sale. However, if provided the tools to first empathize and understand their customers and then provide a strong point-of-view about a product and educate the consumer while engaging with them, they’re more likely to build a strong relationship and trigger a purchase decision.

Balancing selection with stock. Retailers have the opportunity to focus on showcasing the products themselves over the stock available on shelf. Stores that have products out that can be touched and engaged with helps to build interest and focus and keeps consumers from feeling overwhelmed with too much “stuff” to sift through. This often provides at least the perception [if not the reality] of an easier transaction for the consumer.

A place for community. An important part of creating an experience is generating a sense of community. Whether it’s simply creating an oasis or escape where tired shoppers can sit, reflect, play and imagine, or providing a space that’s less about selling artifacts and more about bringing together like-minded people to learn and share knowledge—it all contributes to creating a uniqueness for your brand. Retailers increasingly are looking for ways to tap into that “third space” mind set, providing a venue to engage and linger, while simultaneously creating a halo for the brand overall.

Seattle REI In-store Retail Experience

The right things at the right time. Brick-and-mortar stores also can deliver the delight of last-minute discovery. REI recently capitalized on this by “reimagining” its downtown Seattle store’s exit experience (see photo above). What was once a long line leading to 10 cash registers now has become two cues with relevant merchandising. While reducing the square footage dedicated to the transaction space by a third, those in line now are able to ship while they wait more efficiently. This has boosted impulse sales for the retailer by 149% and created a more cohesive in-store experience that begins with the end in mind.

While retailers continue to challenge one another for dominance, there still is plenty of opportunity to engage shoppers on a deeper level. Consider why shoppers are in your store and then focus on engaging them on their terms, rather than seeing them simply as another transaction.

WRITTEN BY Christina Arbini

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