Blog: Will experiential save the high street?

Ian Priestman, head of experiential at Blackjack Promotions, discusses why smart retailers are scrapping traditional retail design in their physical stores in favour of more immersive environments.

Priestman believes experiential activity could help transform the high street
Priestman believes experiential activity could help transform the high street

There’s a major shift taking place in retail and it will take bricks and mortar stores to a new level.

There were fears that the seemingly unstoppable rise of e-commerce would turn our city centre retail zones into urban deserts. And if stores retain the traditional shop format, this may well be the case. However, the rise of people doing their retail research online or on their mobile and then purchasing offline in a store (or ROPO) is a clear sign there is still plenty of appetite for the physical shopping experience.

More and more retail brands are realising the potential of this growing trend, and the smart ones are changing their shopping environments to suit, looking at creating a far more inviting, engaging, and more importantly, inspiring experience for shoppers to convert them from browsers to buyers.

Shoppers who browse online, but find that they need more convincing before they buy are unlikely to be swung by racks of clothes or piles of products. With this in mind, two major retailers are transforming their retail environments, incorporating experiential techniques to create a far more interactive, exciting and ultimately rewarding experience for shoppers, allowing them to ‘live with’ the products they are considering to buy.

In their new approach, John Lewis and Harvey Nichols are essentially taking the live product demo, sampling campaign and pop-up brand experience in-store to create an exciting and entertaining retail ‘destination’ that shoppers will enjoy as an experience rather than simply a purchase point.

John Lewis recently opened a 1,000 square foot space showcasing smart tech home products at its flagship Oxford Street store in London, which it believes it is the largest of its kind in the UK. Rather than the usual product categories, it features four zones, which include ‘kitchen’, ‘entertainment’, ‘sleep’ and ‘home monitoring’.

Developing more creative and engaging in-store experiences is a key part of the store’s strategy going forward, as it has seen customer demand for physical experiences before committing to purchase increase.

This is particularly the case with smart home products, where John Lewis hopes the new retail space will help to demystify the technology. And this isn’t simply a physical change for the retailer, John Lewis it has also re-trained its staff to provide added value and help guide customers along the smart home journey.

Harvey Nichols, meanwhile, has scrapped branded concessions in its stores altogether to provide a more intimate and intuitive shopping experience. The 28,000 square feet space in its central London store moves away from the traditional shop-in-shop format and instead features a collection of specialised areas – Contemporary, International, Off-Duty, Tailoring and Accessories.

Another important aspect of the new design is the introduction of Project 109, featuring experiential zones within the boutique store ranging from a café-cum-cocktail bar, a barber shop and an installation space showcasing pop-ups and immersive experiences.

This creates a ‘destination’ for the consumer, the idea being to keep people in the store for as long as possible by providing fun activities beyond traditional shopping. The experiential approach is a key future strategy for Harvey Nichols’ physical stores to create more engaging experiences for shoppers.

Far from disappearing, it looks like high street stores are likely to be better than ever, adding real value to the consumer experience that can’t be replicated online, and taking experiential marketing into a new and exciting sector.

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