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Crafting an Experiential Store

Being inspiring, consultative, engaging and entertaining are becoming the new normal in retail environments where brands try to stay appealing and relevant to today’s consumer

By Surender Gnanaolivu

It is a known fact that retail today has evolved from a ‘transactional’ service to an ‘experiential’ one. In a world of multi-channel shopping choices, brands need to deliver value impacting consumer lives in both the physical and digital world with appeal and relevancy. The net value delivered determines the overall perception, often quantified in ratings, of the experience in the public domain, which in turn affects retention and new acquisition of consumers.

It is also a known global fact that the majority of consumers still prefer buying from physical stores. According to Euromonitor International, only 8.9 percent of the global retail sales come from e-commerce, which is growing at a faster CAGR of 15 percent.

The building products and home improvement industry has seen active participation of end-consumers alongside the influencers, designers and architects, a lot more than ever before. The world of information available on digital media is empowering the consumer of today to make well-informed technical and design choices. This trend is compelling brands in this segment to reimagine their in-store experiences by being inspiring, consultative, engaging and entertaining, to appeal and stay relevant to this new-age and connected consumer.

INSPIRE through Story Telling
It a world of information and communication overload, storytelling is being increasingly used to inspire consumers by using creative and emotive narratives. This is seen to help create a stronger and memorable emotional bond with the consumer. A great story, like that of a blockbuster, needs to be creative, original and believable. It should include the customer in the narrative.

Store design and visual merchandising play the lead role in presenting a memorable brand or product story. Japanese brand Toto, the world’s largest toilet ware maker, uses a stunning live setting of its latest tech-loaded products to evoke the desire for a regal lifestyle.


CONSULT to Help Make Informed Decisions
Today, the consumer actively seeks information, in both the physical and digital domain, to make informed decisions for investing in a product or service. Information on benefits and reviews from other users significantly influences these decisions. This has made the integration of consultative visual merchandising an essential component of the shopping journey.

Consultative presentation helps educate, inform and persuade customers to consider a brand or a store for a purchase. American brand Kohler, known for its innovative engineering in the sanitaryware segment, uses a combination of messaging, interactive digital information, and remote-controlled live demonstration at its experience centre to offer phygital consultation to deliver a complex set of specifications within a few minutes.


ENGAGE to Start a Conversation
Brands today endeavour to have meaningful two-way conversations with their consumers to start a relationship that could ultimately lead to preference and loyalty. To converse effectively with consumers, understanding their emotional and rational needs is very crucial. This is being done by meaningful engagement that allows for purposeful conversations with the consumer.

Somany Tiles, a leader in tile manufacturing in India, has a ‘tile master table’ located prominently in its experience centre, to enable prospective consumers to try specialised techniques in tile cutting and laying. This helps to create significant opportunities for conversations between the brand and the consumer, and foster a fruitful relationship between them.


ENTERTAIN to Create Moments of Emotional Delight
Consumers are people with emotions who appreciate and remember moments of happiness experienced in physical brand environments. In today’s world of multi-channel shopping choices, entertainment has become a critical add-on that gives a compelling reason for consumers to enjoy spending time in the physical shopping channel. Looked at as ‘space-consuming frills’ in the past, today these add-ns have become key requirements for curating in-store customer journeys.

Nike Towns have a live DJ console at their store entrance to entertain the active young consumer stepping in. Urban Outfitter outlets have a photo booth, to enable young customers to make their fun memories during shopping trips to these stores.


The Way Forward
It is very clear from the examples that these four ingredients are known to work best when they are driven by a vision from the top, and purposefully integrated into the brand’s experience design. This, followed by a collaboration of the brand’s stakeholders, combined with consumer insights, will help develop very sharp business objectives. With consumers actively connecting with brands that are willing to offer them a fulfilling experience, the time has come for all brands to seriously look at adopting them to stay relevant today and be adequately future-proofed.

Surender has more than two decades of experience in the Indian industry in retail strategy, store design, planning and development, retail marketing, visual merchandising, writing and academia. He’s held senior positions at leading retailers like Shoppers Stop, Reliance Retail, Mahindra Retail, and as a senior retail consultant to leading retailers and brands in India. He is lead-strategy & development with 4Dimensions Retail Design, chief retail strategist with Inspired Kinematics, and advisor for retail design & visual merchandising domain with Retailers Association of India.

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