FEATURED ON ADNEWS: The power of bricks and mortar 'experience centers'


In the article below, Carat Strategy Director Andrew Hardeman explores how brands can be successful in re-igniting the traditional brick-and-mortar store as an ‘experience center’.


On a recent holiday, a visit to Victoria’s Secret with my partner prompted me to consider how much a good in-store experience truly influences purchase, word of mouth, and brand love. It wasn’t just the personalised fitting, constant assistance locating options, or the fact every staff member helped find a better, more cost effective deal that provided freebies. It was the entire experience.

It was without doubt one of the best examples of how a brand can not only compete, but actually thrive in a retail landscape that is quickly becoming dominated by online sales. It also showed that despite the profound need for digital in the customer journey, it is tough to beat an amazing, personalised in-store experience.

Sadly, they are in scarce supply.

The ‘experience economy’ – the idea that the brand experience is as much of a sell-able proposition as the product itself – has forced brands to re-evaluate the customer experience at every touch point. The rapid uptake of technology and online shopping, however, has fueled a greater emphasis on the digital experience, in lieu of its bricks and mortar counterpart.

It has driven the rise of the ‘user experience’ expert and whole departments (and agencies) devoted to making the online customer experience better – faster, easier to find and do what you want, when you want to do it.

It isn’t a surprise when the numbers are considered; the Deloitte ‘2016 Global Powers of Retailing’ report showed that digital influences 40% of retail bricks-and-mortar store visits.

Still, I can’t help but feel the in-store experience has not received anywhere near the level of attention and advancement as the digital customer experience. They’re failing as a format because their purpose (and potential) has not evolved in step with online. 

The fact is, consumers have not stopped wanting to experience a product or brand in person; the prevalence of online-only stores (including retail-giant Amazon) launching offline counterparts like roadshows and ‘pop-ups’ is testament to that.

It’s just that their purpose in the eyes of consumers has changed. The fact they no longer need to come in-store to buy a product – it is no longer the guaranteed culmination of the purchase journey – means brands must create an environment or experience that makes them want to come in-store.

Like Victoria’s Secret, they need to evolve their concept of retail stores beyond a distribution channel alone, and re-imagine them as brand ‘experience centers’. 

Here’s how:

  1. Understand consumer needs.

Know how consumers interact with your brand and what barriers exist to them moving through the consumer journey.

  1. Humanise and personalise as much as possible.

Build connection by engaging on a person-to-person level, not business-to-customer.

  1. Provide value beyond what is expected.

Appreciate what “value” means to consumers in the context of what they are doing. It could be new information, a better deal, or a memory that can be taken away.

  1. Leverage data to enhance or build relationships

Harvest customer data to make decision making quicker and easier for people entering stores. Or, invite them to engage in a relationship by connecting with them after purchase.

  1. Empower staff

Build an internal market orientation to drive staff satisfaction and make them promoters of the brand. Employees are the front line to customers and have been shown to significantly impact customer perceptions and experiences with brands.

Digital user experience will and must remain an integral focus in delivering enquiry and traffic in-store. After all, the penetration of digital devices has seen 65% of customers use them before shopping, and 31% while shopping. The emphasis, however, now needs to shift to developing a seamless experience as people move between on and offline on their journey to purchase.

Essentially, combine the best of online and in-store to deliver the best customer experience. As I found with my experience in Victoria Secret, brands that get this right can drive more purchases, stronger positive word of mouth, and a deeper connection with the customer.


An abbreviated version of this article originally appeared on AdNews

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