interior of a men's retail store
Customers today want a trip to a physical store to seem like an experience rather than a necessity. PHOTO: Clark Street Mercantile

In an experience economy, it’s inevitable the role of brick-and-mortar is changing. And the change is happening on a global level.

Shopping in the physical space is moving from a necessity to more of a lifestyle choice, and stores are moving from being just a merchandising space to becoming an extension of the brand.

The staff inside the store is moving from people who are merchandisers to people who are consultants and experts.

The Shopping Experience

In a study by JWT Intelligence, it was noted that 81 percent of millennials and 79 percent of Generation X value experiences more than material items. Therefore, the role of stores and shopping in general is transitioning from necessity to pleasure.

Increasingly, experience-rich or experience-driven consumers are very choosy about where they spend their leisure time. So you need to make sure your shopping environment is more of a leisure environment and more in tune with consumer expectations.

The first examples of this were in-store cafes’ free Wi-Fi and phone charging stations, but now the bar is set far higher.

For instance, Melissa Shoes’ flagship store in Brazil was developed as a space where art, fashion and design co-exist. The space and merchandising methods resemble an art gallery where the shoes are positioned as exhibits, therefore taking browsing behavior to a new dimension.

French retailer Pinkie developed a mini bar concept for clothes in boutique hotels in Antwerp, Paris, Brussels and Milan. The clothes and accessories are selected to match weather, location and events and sold mini-bar style from hotel rooms.

The other advent is in the world of ‘pop up’ brand experiences, even in the form of image retailing by non-traditional brick and mortar retailers such as Johnny Walker, which created street-side glass house structures in Milan, Paris, Monaco and London in the style of a luxury, members only club.

German food discounter Lidl challenged consumer expectations by launching a pop up restaurant in London called Deluxe, which offered innovative menus diners could create at home, providing inspiration and to dispel the myth that price determines quality.

Individualizing Customer Experience

Consumers are used to having individually curated content in the palm of their hands through their smartphones, so we have to extend that into the in-store space and make them feel like the environment is entirely designed for them.

A way to do that is to merge the online world with the offline world in a seamless and integrated way. How you do that is through the tools you select in store.

We see this evidenced in all markets. Metro Bank in London uses gamification in their family zones to introduce children to the basic principles of money and banking; the bank understands that where you start banking is typically where you stay for life.

Another example is Kaisers in Germany that launched regular, ticket only "disco shopping" events, transitioning their entire store experience to mimic a nightclub and to capitalize on the young shoppers who visit on weekends for their pre-night out drinks and snacks.

Data in the Experience Economy

Big data has been a buzz phrase for a while now, but the key is how you use the data you’re collecting on consumer behavior.

The good news is shoppers are quite willing to share that information with you as long as it will result in some useful or relevant offer coming back to them.

We’ve already seen brands around the world evolve in their understanding of the importance of building customer experience driven by data.

The evidence is the new roles with titles such as “Customer Experience Director” and “Head of In-store Experience.” This will increase through the integration of data specialists and algorithm experts.

Brands that are able to unlock the potential of their data by identifying and predicting correlations between customer purchases, lifestyle preferences and “live” store visits will drive the next level of personalized customer engagement.

Immediately identifying a consumer when they enter a store and integrating with other key data sources will give brands a vital missing link in the chain between purchase intent, personal preference and physical purchase opportunity.