Blog: Experiential architecture

Michael Brown, MD of psLIVE, pops along to Google's retail experience inside Curry's flagship store in London's Tottenham Court Road for his first blog for Event.

Experiential Blog: Michael Brown of psLIVE
Experiential Blog: Michael Brown of psLIVE

The Google retail experience inside Curry’s in London’s Tottenham Court Road has reached the grand old age of over a month! Which is a time frame well beyond the life expectancy of your average pop-up.

A few weeks on from launch, I thought I would drop by to see whether or not the experience is still alive and kicking: Do we need to pension it off or are we, as I believe, seeing the evolution of a new opportunity to diversify our services; to build on the notion of retail experiential to become experiential architects?!

Vend: The online POS software provider predicted that more web brands would be setting up in bricks and mortar in 2015 – they pointed to Birchbox’s shop in New York as proof of this. The launch of Google’s store in March backs up their clairvoyance and other earlier precedents might include eBay’s in-store partnership with Argos and the fact that Microsoft are rolling out ever more retail outlets – their latest in São Paulo opened this week.


Moreover, they say that in order for these online brands to compete with the established players on the high street, they will need to focus on the experience, as opposed to plonking stuff on a shelf in a supermarket and expecting people to buy it. This mirrors long held views about the shopper experience. As far back as 2006, the seminal book Retailization spoke about shoppers only being loyal to the superior shopping experience and asked marketers if shopping for your brand was a fun-filled and exciting thing to do.

Experiential doubters

Almost a decade later, and there is still much marketing theorising about the point of engagement getting ever closer to the point of purchase, which is particularly salient for the future of our discipline: For, while we all know and love the myriad benefits of doing experiential, who hasn’t come against the odd cynic in a pitch for instance, or at a chemistry meeting who is an experiential doubter?! The sort of person who darkly mutters something about how you can’t link what we do to actual sales uplift, despite your best persuasive efforts. Which is actually a fair enough reaction if we practitioners cannot actually prove a correlation!

While there is plenty of research linking sales uplifts directly with experiential – the EventTrack 2014 Study out of the US for instance – Google, Birchbox, eBay et al are plumping for the safest option it seems and setting up shop err… in a shop. Which makes the point of engagement and the point of purchase so close that they risk getting hot and steamy, and we should perhaps draw the curtains.

If, then, in the future, every online brand wants to build a retail experience around their core offer, then forget hiring a shop fitter! Who better to design an engaging consumer journey through a store than an experiential practitioner? Who better to dictate how the experience will impact on the structure of a store and the customer journey through it?

This is not so much "Retail Experiential" but "Experiential Architecture". It is different from the pop-up, which in terms of design and experience has to fit into a designated or pre-existing space, and often has to be mindful of any co-partners brand guidelines – as in the case with Google and Curry’s PC World.

In other words, the ambition of the pop-up or retail experiential risks compromise by the limitations of the space whether brand led, physical or regulatory – ever tried to build a wall higher than 2.5 metres in a mall space?! Is anyone else seeing the opportunity here?

Experiential Architecture

Agency TRO certainly do. On its website they state that they are leading the way in retail experiential. Could they become architects?!  Michael Wyrley-Birch, chief operating officer for TRO EMEA, outlines his view here:

"As sales move online, every brand interaction is a retail opportunity. Consumers are therefore looking for something different from the physical retail space – be it education or entertainment. We are in the business of creating face-to-face live experiences that stand-out, and are relevant and authentic to the brand and product story.

"It is not surprising that this is more and more within the retail environment. We are excited about the future of retail experience and continuing to offer innovative ways for brands to engage physically with people taking it beyond a purely transactional relationship."

London’s Green Bridge

In my opinion, this opportunity is not limited to the retail sector only: It’s potentially everywhere you look e.g. The Mayor of London’s office rubber-stamped plans for an, admittedly controversial, green bridge on the Thames last year.  This initiative will effectively turn the river into a green playground. It is an entirely experience-led proposition that could sell London as the green city of the future, and add more experience led visitor attractions to the Capital, as well as being useful to Londoners.

I bet they have not even thought about engaging an experiential consultant to help design the experience, the user journey and advise on how that should impact on the architecture to have the best impact on the people participating in the experience. In a world where people actually value experience over product, it won’t take much imagination to identify many other opportunities where consultants like us can get involved.

I don’t know about you, but I fancied becoming an architect as a kid. I may just do that now.

Michael Brown is managing director of psLIVE.

More: For more industry opinion and experiential trends, check out Event's blogs page.

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