Earning retail returns demands a strategy of experiences

By Meredith O’Shaughnessy, Creative Strategist and Founder of Meredith Collective

In the last year there has been much commentary on how startup, direct to consumer brands are harnessing the power of experience to take on traditional retail models. Emotionally-driven experiences are helping a wave of challenger brands succeed and the power of retail stores shouldn’t be underestimated. In the last month alone there has been a steady stream of DTC retailers announcing experience-led strategies based on the success challengers are having on the high street.

Retail works best when it offers an engaging, personal and educational experience, not simply a place in which to house and sell products. With the impact of online, arguably the only reason to open a store is to create something special enough that consumers seek it out as a destination. Stores must understand that they are asking customers to trade their most valuable commodity; time. To that end a store must deliver delight, not just product.

A plethora of research has shown that the most positive and persuasive brand experiences are created through experiences. Contrary to popular debate, social media and online score significantly lower on engagement. Similarly consumers say that events and experiences best help them understand the benefits of products – followed by visiting stores. Arguably marrying the power of events and experiences with retail would increase the impact of both.

As such there is a strong movement towards brands owning a ‘share of experience’, which is a recognition of the continuing power of offline retail – when done right. The real challenge is for retailers to make each individual retail experience memorable, personal and relevant – that is where a creative experience strategy is key.

Retail experiences must delight, and surprise. Surprise can be created by adopting nimble retail strategies, driven by innovation that can offer unique experiences across multiple visits.

Constantly innovating product, alongside associated in-store experiences such as customisation, masterclasses or community driven, exclusive events makes a store a destination. DTC brands especially are in the enviable position of being able to respond quickly to trends, drawing data and insight from customers on the ground. They are free to be agile, brave and experimental, unlike larger retailers.

That’s why DTC pop-up stores are the perfect marketing tool for brands considering a store presence. Pop-ups are where you can test, refine and play with your offering.

However, the mistake some brands make is creating pop-ups that are just another shop – only for a limited amount of time. Pop-ups are experiences that showcase the brand and its unique attributes, not just another place to buy stuff. Through pop-ups you want customers to form a sense of being part of a community of early adopters – achieved through delight, education and meaningful experience.

By creating real life, shareable experiences through creative retail spaces you create the ideal platform for the customers to become brand amplifiers and ensure promotion is driven by real fans rather than marketers.

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