The retail store of the future: creating a destination experience

09.10.14

The term ‘brand experience' is not a new one. In terms of retail, it's been talked about for many years in relation to the overall shopping experience, from merchandising, product range and customer service, as well as to the general retail environment. But with the growth in multichannel retail and an online retail proposition that blends the concept ‘shopping' with ‘convenience', bricks and mortar retailers have upped their game and are taking brand experience to the next level with the development of destination stores.

The destination store is taking store retailers in whole new directions as they seek to cement their place in the ever changing multichannel retail arena. Increasingly, the retail store is being viewed as more than just a shopping channel and store retailers are seizing the creative opportunity with both hands by offering something that online retail just isn't equipped to provide - a rich, immersive, sensory experience to excite and satisfy today's expectant consumer.

Flaghsip store experience

With a new understanding of the role of the store in today's shopping arena, retailers are creating new, exciting environments focused on experiential elements which build brand engagement and boost customer loyalty. Consider the huge success of the 35,000 sq ft M&M store in Leicester Square, which draws visitors from far and wide looking to experience the fun and excitement of the bright, interactive environment; or the entertainment innovations implemented by Regent Street's Burberry flagship store, such as its fashion, music and art events, which put the Burberry store well and truly on the map as a must-visit tourist destination. 

But don't assume that entertainment and innovation is the domain of the flagships. A little bit of creativity is all that's needed to turn a store of any size into a 21st century experiential zone.Take Audi City in Mayfair, for example. Shopworks played a key role in helping Audi develop a brand-new showroom concept in a small footprint, high street environment that would generate interest in both the store and the Audi City brand. The new digital showroom links table-mounted touch screens with 4 huge, floor-to-ceiling screens, enabling customers to configure the car of their choice with a range of specifications and then view the finished product in large screen, with the added benefit of being able to rotate the car, open doors, look through windows and then watch and listen as their virtual car drives away.

So let's examine the four main routes taken by retailers in developing a destination store experience - inspiration and innovation, social opportunities, educational experience and leisure - whilst being mindful that each route is not necessarily exclusive with many examples of stores combining two, three or four of the routes to create their unique brand experience.

Retail inspiration and innovation

Creating an inspirational and innovative experience excites and encourages customers to think differently about the brand, perhaps even igniting customers' own aspirations too. 

For example, customers to Canadian sports store, Sport Chek, cross into the store through a stadium tunnel-like entrance and are then treated to a display of great sporting moments on interactive in-store screens. Store employees are encouraged to be part of the experience, advising customers on local sporting activities and pointing them in the direction of in-store registers where customers can sign up to take part in local events.

US eyewear brand, Warby Parker, also took a new approach to bricks and mortar retail when it created an in-store environment completely different to that associated with traditional eyewear retailers, and with a particular focus on creating "special moments" for its customers. The in-store look is inspired by the classic library, perhaps with a nod towards the founders' university days when they found the cost of eyewear out of reach, an experience which led to the establishment of Warby Parker and its range of fixed price, $95 each glasses. The in-store concept, with its wood panelling, high shelving and display benches, creates a sense of nostalgia in keeping with the brand's retro eyewear style and promotes a sensory experience which encourages customers to touch and try on glasses. Glasses are displayed among an array of arty books while customers are made to feel welcome and encouraged to extend their stay through the use of seating areas, pot plants, welcoming staff and the clever use of materials, such as warm wood and bare brickwork.

Social retail experience

Sweaty Betty uses its London store to create a social experience which also has the benefit of connecting more closely with customers. The brand runs a Get Fit for Free initiative, hosting nearly 70 free fitness classes, both in-store and in its upstairs studios.  

Social opportunities also go hand-in-hand with well-being at Mothercare, where they offer a range of events for parents, carers and children, including family yoga classes, parent and baby groups, and movement classes for pregnant women.

Approaching the socialising element from a different angle, the increasingly innovative Waitrose recently introduced its new ‘grazing area', located within the wine department, where customers can relax in an allocated seating area and indulge in a selection of deli platters, alongside a glass of wine if they wish. Also taking advantage of the natural social elements of food and drink, The Urban Coffee Company in Birmingham offers a range of social events such as, ‘Afternoon Play,' where people meet up to play board games and ‘Poetry Jam', where poets and poetry lovers are invited to come along to read and share poetry over coffee and cake.

Educational retail experience

The brand that immediately springs to mind in terms of its focus on educating customers is Apple, which offers free computer workshops, private 1:1 IT lessons and a summer camp for children where they have the opportunity to learn skills involving new technology. But other brands are starting to recognise the power of passing on their knowledge to their customers as a way of strengthening the relationship between them.

For example, Barclays Digital Eagles is a new programme provided by Barclays bank to helpeducate the local community around the use of digital products, including the Internet; wine company, Majestic, offers free wine tasting and wine appreciation activities to its customers; and on a more local basis, family-run Newlyns Farm Shop in Hampshire has taken on the experience challenge by offering a range of cookery courses, including University Survival, Men's Only, French Cuisine, Express Dinner Parties and Healthy Eating. Classes are regularly fully booked.

Leisure retail experience

In March of this year, Superdrug introduced its new nail printing service, called Fingernails 2 Go, which allows customers to have fun decorating their own nails through a form of technology which prints the chosen design directly onto the customer's nails. The service, presently only available in its Milton Keynes and Queens West, Cardiff stores, gives customers the option to choose either one of their own photographs or to pick from over 1000 specially selected images. Importantly, not only is the service both fun and convenient, the innovative and inspirational element is creating a real word of mouth marketing buzz.

Molton Brown's Wet Shave Barber Weekend, which offered a professional wet shave from a Kings Road Barber, also proved popular with customers - so much so that the company is repeating the event. And Jo Malone, known for luxurious scents, also took the pampering approach at a recent event to celebrate the new Wood Sage and Sea Salt scent. While an in-store Artisan designed bespoke bracelets inspired by the English coast, customers were offered champagne and ‘evocative treats' - a sensory way to remember, and connect with, Jo Malone.

Despite initial fears that online retail spelt the beginning of the end for the physical store, this is far from being the case. Companies such as Oak Furniture Land and JD Williams, who both originally started as online retailers, have now moved into bricks and mortar, with Oak Furniture Land now achieving 65% of business in-store. What brands such as these are recognising is that people still love to go out and shop. However, as shopping habits have changed, in-store retailers need to adapt their offering to meet new desires and expectations, extending their role to something more than product sales. The bar has been set, the destination venue is emerging; bright, bold and confident, an exciting new retail format for a new retail era.

If you'd like to find out about how we can help you create the perfect brand experience in your stores we'd love to hear from you. You can call us on +44(0) 1442 875666 or email us here.

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