At the Rebecca Minkoff store in New York’s Soho, “smart” digital walls and mirrors let you tap for a different clothing size or color — as well as a free glass of champagne. At the Warby Parker store near Hollywood, you and your friends can create your own 15-second shareable video in a “green room” furnished with props and backdrops. At Jungle Jim’s International Market near Cincinnati, bizarre animatronic figures entertain you while you browse unusual gourmet foods. And at Pirch’s luxury home appliance stores, you can try out the appliances before buying them, including shower heads (just bring your own swimsuit.)
Other brick-and-mortar retailers offer cooking classes, celebrity appearances, personalized makeup advice, wine tastings: the list goes on and on. Much of this activity, of course, is intended to combat the juggernaut of online ordering via Amazon and other sites.
“The customer can get all of their clothing without ever leaving their bed,” says Stacey Bendet, CEO and creative director of designer clothing company Alice + Olivia. “So the experience in-store has to become more VIP, more exciting.”
“You can’t just [look at] … what’s the ROI on a certain thing in the store, like short-term, immediate impact,” says Denise Dahlhoff, research director at Wharton’s Jay H. Baker Retailing Center. While various measurements are possible — comparing test stores to control stores, measuring differences in amount of revenue or number of new customers — she recommends thinking bigger-picture. Store experiences should be considered holistically, “part of your branding and marketing in general.”
Barbara Kahn, a Wharton marketing professor and director of the Baker Retailing Center, cautions that not all in-store experiences are created equal. For example, simply installing a photo booth in your store probably isn’t enough to get people to come in and shop. Rather, retailers should “create something that’s of value … an experience that people would go out of their way to take part in. Not just incidental experiential trappings.”
She talks about “drop culture” as a successful example. Urban clothing brands such as Supreme create specially-timed launches — “drops” — of unique new apparel that actually draw crowds. The scenario is similar to people camping out outside an Apple store to get the newest iPhone. With Supreme’s drops, she says, you can only get that cool thing if you’re in the right place at the right time. The customer is essentially purchasing excitement, a crowd experience, a social experience in addition to the clothing itself.
Another experiential success, in Kahn’s view, is Eataly, a chain of Italian marketplaces that combines restaurants, grocery stores and cooking schools. It capitalizes on the appeal of Italian culture and sophistication. “It all works together like a little universe,” she says. “There’s a nice synergy there; you can taste the foods in the restaurant … you might then go to the grocery store to buy it so you can make it at home.”
Beauty products, too, lend themselves well to in-person experiences, says Kahn. She says makeup is about “trying on, learning, a little bit of instruction about … what will look good on me particularly; talking to other people.” Physical stores such as Sephora and Ulta are doing well as a result. While cosmetics are of course sold online, too, says Kahn, those transactions are missing that experiential, social piece.