Kirsten Ward
Kirsten Ward 8 September 2020

Embracing a Radical New Approach to the Retail Experience

Few brands achieve lasting success without making a genuine connection with their customers. Understanding what motivates and inspires people is key to creating this connection, as is adapting to what they need in a changing world. As consumers grow increasingly frustrated with the in-store retail experience, brands need to fundamentally rethink their approach.

The Covid-19 pandemic changed attitudes to online and offline shopping alike.

It accelerated the trend for spending online, but also the trend towards more meaningful consumption. It emphasised the need for human connection and interaction, and reminded us how important physical experiences can be.

The challenge for brands now is to adapt to new motivations and deliver the experiences consumers were already beginning to seek out. Rising to that challenge is likely to require a radical new mindset.

Searching for excitement

Consumers have long been frustrated by the traditional retail model. The in-store experience is important to them, as the delight that comes from discovering something new and making an impulse purchase can’t be matched in any other channel.

But there is little excitement to be had in busy retail environments where every brands’ products are lined up side by side and staff knowledge about them is limited. Shoppers want to be ‘wowed’ by innovative products, but rarely have the opportunity to discover them and truly understand what they can do.

Perhaps that is why so many are embracing experiences over the accumulation of possessions, with Experian’s Spending Power Index showing lifestyle activity spending is on the increase.

Brands need to respond to this reality and consider how they can create unique, meaningful experiences.

And they need to do so quickly, as the entire retail industry is on the cusp of change. Consumers already believe more than half of all retail space should be devoted to experiences by 2025, according to research from shopping centre operator, Westfield.

In reality, change is coming sooner. Change that redefines the very concept of retail.

Powerful emotional connections

Experiential retail already has a place in the landscape, albeit confined to limited arenas. Trade shows and pop up stores give consumers fleeting opportunities to interact with products and brands in a more personal way.

But these approaches are almost entirely absent from the day-to-day shopping experience. 

When retailers attempt to enhance that experience through technology, they “often fall short of expectations”, as a recent McKinsey report on the digital future of retail noted.

The problem, in part, is mindset. In its 2030 Global Consumer Trends predictions, Mintel highlighted the changing role of offline interactions in the consumer decision-making process.

No longer should ‘the experiential’ be diminished as a mere marketing tool or a fad,” it said. “Instead, consumers are experiencing powerful emotional connections to brands that are creating a point of differentiation.”

For some, that differentiation will come by finding new ways to communicate their values. As people become more conscious of how their choices impact society and the planet, they are becoming more proactive in questioning brands about their ethos, purpose and production methods.

Brands without a clear story or a means to bring it to life will be left behind.

The best of both worlds

The question, then, is how do brands make the changes consumers want to see? The current retail model is outdated and restrictive, with limited value for brands and consumers alike. The online experience has its benefits, but lacks the interaction, emotion and connection that people crave.

Situ Live is working with innovative lifestyle brands on a radical new approach that maximises the impact of both the offline and online worlds.

CEO Warren Richmond explains that this will help redefine the very concept of retail and the role it plays in the path-to-purchase. With its first store opening in London in 2021, Situ Live will deliver a unique formula of emotive experiences and brand storytelling that could change the face of retail forever.

We believe retail outlets need to become experiential centres, facilitating a deeper connection between brands and their customers,” he says. “Purchases will increasingly happen online, seeing physical stores exert a bigger influence on brand awareness, consideration and loyalty.”

Our latest report, Retail: The Quantum Shift, examines the changing habits and preferences of consumers, and how brands should embrace this new reality, and ultimately help shape it.

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