How Leveraging Experiential Retail Can Build Face-to-Face Relationships

September 20, 2021 | Experiential Retail

There’s no doubt about it — e-commerce has been a formidable opponent for brick-and-mortar retailers, particularly during the pandemic. But with consumers’ comfort levels around the return to in-person shopping steadily increasing, more and more retail brands are going experiential to draw them to physical stores and encourage them to take off their coats and stay awhile.

From traditional brick-and-mortar retailers to companies moving to a direct-to-consumer model, a host of brands are leveraging in-person retail experiences to create human connection and boost sales at the same time. Here, we take a look at some of the reasons why an experiential retail strategy can enhance face-to-face relationships and deepen customer engagement.

Providing Consumers with a Memorable Experience

While shopping online and exploring products on a digital level certainly has its benefits, for many consumers, nothing quite compares to the feeling of physically holding an item or trying on an outfit before deciding to purchase. There’s also the social aspect of shopping — many times it’s an entire experience, from a fun weekend outing at the mall, a day of window shopping, or even the search for the right gift.

It’s because of those factors that for many people, the return to in-store retail has been a welcome opportunity. And to provide consumers with a memorable experience that also prioritizes health and safety, more retailers are now adopting an experiential retail strategy. Not only can this route serve to pique consumer interest and boost excitement, it also offers a thoughtful way to differentiate the in-person retail experience from that of its digital counterpart.

“After months of online shopping, consumers are looking forward to getting back into stores, trying on clothing and interacting with products,” notes the National Retail Federation. “With expectations higher than ever, experiential shopping remains a strong trend heading into the future.”

So what does a more experiential retail strategy look like in 2021? The answer is nuanced. From utilizing concept stores to give consumers a more interactive, hands-on, omnichannel experience, to adding more personalized touches, to getting creative with technology, the goal is to provide consumers with memorable moments that deepen brand affinity, loyalty, and confidence. All important factors, especially among younger generations like Gen Z and Millennials, who are actively looking for brands to think outside the box.

And as RetailDive notes, a good place to start actually involves taking a step back to remember a pre-pandemic past.

“Shopping used to be an experience, and as the public re-emerges from a year of restrictions and risk, all retailers — particularly department stores with a strong brick-and-mortar presence — should take a lesson from the past in order to create future success . . .,” notes Retail Dive. “With less real estate demand but more hunger for a bespoke experience, there is a unique opportunity for retailers to reimagine how spaces can be used, and they are only limited by their own imagination.”

And when it comes to reimagining and reinventing traditional retail spaces, the possibilities are seemingly endless. But a good rule of thumb for retail brands is to provide a unique, more personalized experience.

Prioritizing Personalization and Looking at an Example Up-Close

When we think about personalized or outside-the-box retail experiences, we can look to several tactics. One meaningful approach to an experiential retail strategy? Stimulating the senses, whether it’s with interactive elements or visual moments. One particular example that we can look to is M&M’S and their vibrant direct-to-consumer approach.

M&M’S expanded their presence in the d-to-c realm with a 24,000-square-foot “brand experience” store at Minnesota’s Mall of America. With the space’s decor featuring nods to its locale, the shopper experience is anything but traditional.

“The free interactive experiences include a series of firsts for M&M’S stores with elements unique to the Mall of America location, including ‘M&M’S Sweet Moves,’ which allow fans to express their personality through color, sound and movement,” notes Retail Touchpoints. “Store visitors also can visit ‘Peanut Peak,’ a rooftop celebration of the local landscape inspired by the Minnesota views. Additionally, the store will feature M&M’S favorites, including the personalization station, signature M&M’S, ‘Wall of Chocolate’ and exclusive in-store merchandise.”

Visitors can also enjoy the M&M’S Mirror, which virtually transforms participants into one of the brand’s mascots, an option to personalize M&M’S and a chance to choose sweets from 132 candy bins comprising the Wall of Chocolate. In addition to the Mall of America, M&M’S fans can also head to the brand’s Disney Springs location in Orlando, Florida, to enjoy a hands-on, experiential retail experience, with another location in Berlin, Germany, coming soon.

Convincing consumers to engage face-to-face in a retail setting is no easy task these days—the safety and convenience of online shopping is hard to beat. But adopting an experiential retail strategy seems to be the antidote. It provides consumers with a tangible connection to a brand, not to mention the personalized service they receive and the Instagram-worthy environments they encounter. The evidence is clear: when it comes to the future of face-to-face engagement for retail brands, experiential is what’s in store.

Check out custom retail experiences designed and produced by Sparks.

Posted by Dyan Cornacchio | Request as a Speaker

Social media and creative writing connoisseur. Obsessed with my golden retriever, pop culture, and pizza. Nothing makes me happier than being home on LI, relaxing at the beach with my family.