Blog: Why retail theatre is the right fit for certain brands

While digital may be dominant, physical stores may be about to reclaim their share of the retail spotlight when it comes to experiences, says Kevin Gill, UK managing director of brand design agency Start JG.

Gill says retail brands can learn a lot from the likes of Louis Vuitton and Burberry
Gill says retail brands can learn a lot from the likes of Louis Vuitton and Burberry

The ‘death of the high street’ has been widely reported for the last few years, as consumers choose the speed and convenience of virtual shopping over instore purchasing. However, it seems that exciting new steps have recently been taken towards overhauling this new status quo. With online retail giant Amazon venturing offline with its first real-world store, even previously digital-only brands are realising the powerful potential of a more tangible experience.

These brands are looking beyond the products themselves, exploring the possibility of creating immersive experiences which more deeply and meaningfully connect with their customers. This ‘retail theatre’ represents a completely new aspect of the seller-buyer dynamic, and could prove to be the USP that sets physical stores apart from their virtual counterparts, as well as the competition.

As we stand on the brink of a new era for both retail and brand marketing, what are brands already doing to provide a unique experience for their consumers? How are they ensuring their physical stores communicate their brand message and offer unforgettable retail experiences?

So far luxury brands are leading the way, giving us a glimpse of what may be on the horizon for the entire industry.

Memorable experiences

More so than in any other retail sector, luxury brands’ stores should be carefully orchestrated immersive environments. They should make consumers want to participate in the one-of-a-kind experience they can only get from that brand at that location. Today’s consumers crave new, innovative and multi-sensory experiences. 

Retail stores no longer compete just with their high street counterparts, but with the entire internet-based retail experience. That means they need to integrate the world of digital, including virtual or augmented reality (AR). 

For a great example of a luxury brand doing this, you need look no further than fashion house Louis Vuitton, which recently took over a venue near Somerset House and invited the world to discover artistic director Nicolas Ghesquière’s 2015 collection.

Louis Vuitton understands that in the world of retail today, the experience is just as important as the items on sale. To this end, the brand created an immersive, hedonistic and multi-sensory environment.

Each room exuded a sense of uniqueness, from wall-to-wall video to a laser room. However, fashion is not just about the look. It is just as much about how clothes make the wearer feel, which is why the exhibition also focused on the other senses. For example, visitors were encouraged to stroke the various materials, smell the leather and play with the clutch clasps. 

Louis Vuitton has certainly set the bar for immersive consumer experiences, but retailers don’t have to commit to multi-sensory extravaganzas to draw in new customers. Cosmetics firm Sephora, for example, is finding new ways for consumers to learn about its products by enabling them to see how particular make-up product would look on their own face with the use of a digital screen. 

What brands like Sephora understand is the importance of combining the intimacy and immediacy of an individualised experience with the scale that online brings. A memorable experience may stick in the mind for some time, but unless people can take an action – such as making a purchase – at the same time, then it will likely remain just a memory.

Find new ways to engage

Digital-only brands are beginning to realise that the lack of physical premises can work against them, and make them feel more removed from their audience. Convenience and scale, important as they are, are not enough on their own to create a great rapport with customers. 

Traditional premises-based retailers have an important advantage over their online competitors, which is the ability to create a sense of theatre within their physical stores. The challenge for exclusively digital brands is how to give people a real sense of the experience of using their products, what it’s like to be part of the brand’s extended 'family' of users, and to build a truly personal connection.

That’s not to deny the importance of digital to the wider goals of building relationships. For example, Burberry’s recent campaign allowed customers to have their initials carved on a 90ml My Burberry bottle for free, highlights the move into social media that brands are taking. The brand is spanning its influence over a range of digital media, through interactive TV, billboard and social media adverts. When passing Burberry’s interactive billboards in Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden, users were able to submit their details to see their monogrammed bottle appear live on screen and from there they can pick it up the bottle from their nearest store.  

This enabled social media users able to create their own monogrammed bottles from within their Twitter and Facebook apps, and these creations were shared countless times online, leading to extra promotion and a positive impression of the brand for the customer. 

There’s much that retailers can learn from brands like Louis Vuitton and Burberry, which are in the vanguard of creating memorable brand experiences. The nature of memorable brand experiences is that they are unique; they reflect the core qualities and values of each particular brand.

Other retailers can certainly look towards the successful campaigns of their peers, but to succeed they must imbue their efforts with the spark of creativity and uniqueness that sets them apart in the market.

More: Burberry recent launched a festive interactive billboard campaign at Piccadilly Circus

In pictures: Louis Vuitton's Series 3 exhibition in London

Comment below to let us know what you think.

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