Experiential Retail: Everything You Need to Know for 2024

Experiential Retail: Everything You Need to Know for 2024
by Noah Twining / December 21, 2023

Did you know that 81% of global consumers are willing to pay more for elevated shopping experiences? Or that experiential and event marketing is rated the most successful marketing tactic among industry professionals? 

Global consumers are still craving in-person, interactive experiences. For retail brands, this is nothing but good news. Experiential retail is changing the way we shop and the way brands connect with consumers. 

Companies like Whole Foods pioneered this approach by taking a more thoughtful approach to the grocery interior and by offering free samples of products throughout the store. Experiential retail engages the customer and invites them not just to shop, but to participate in an experience. It’s the difference between Bed Bath and Beyond and IKEA. One is high-volume and discount-driven, while the other is immersive, experiential, and value-driven. 

Below we’ll walk you through how experiential retail shapes the modern shopping experience and how to leverage this marketing and strategic approach to benefit your brand.


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What is Experiential Retail?

 

A retail space that provides memorable, interactive experiences to customers and invites their participation. This elevated store environment allows customers to immerse themselves in the brand’s narrative, taking shopping from a necessary chore to an integrated entertainment event. This can be achieved through uniquely designed interactive spaces, creative use of technology, or person-to-person engagement.

7 Ways Experiential Retail Benefits Brands

Generates earned media – A successful experiential retail space connects with customers and inspires them to tell others about the experience or to take pictures and share via social media. This type of earned media organically builds brand awareness and piques the interest of new and existing customers to get out of their houses and see it for themselves.

Boosts positive feelings about the brand and builds authenticity – Well-orchestrated retail experiences inspire awe, provide value and connect with guests in an emotional and multi-sensory way. This has been shown to increase positive feelings toward brands and helps brands demonstrate, authentically, how well they know their customers. 

Increases customers’ likelihood to purchase – Creating a memorable experience that allows customers to engage directly with a product through demos, interactive retail displays, and in-store try-ons, or to develop a personal connection with the brand through an immersive environment that highlights shared core values, boosts customers’ likelihood to purchase. Customers feel more confident making a purchase once they have experienced the brand or product in this way.  

Helps differentiate brands – There are countless other brands operating in your space. Creating an immersive retail space can help differentiate your brand from your competitors. It can also help customers better remember your brand because novel experiences stick with us in a manner that more routine experiences do not. 

Incentivizes customers to pay more – Research shows that customers are willing to pay more for brands that elevate their shopping experience and provide a more engaging retail experience for in-person shopping. In part, this may be because premium prices are better understood when customers can engage directly with a product, interact with brand ambassadors, and see, feel, and interact with the product itself. 

Builds loyalty to in-person shopping – Creating an engaging, consumer-centric destination for shopping also helps incentivize customers to get off their couches and come back into stores. While online shopping is convenient, it doesn’t provide a multi-sensory experience, much less something to talk about with friends or share on social media.  

Attracts new audiences – Finally, experiential retail environments attract new customers who may be unfamiliar with your brand or who have heard of you but never engaged directly with your products. Immersive experiences pique curiosity and invite new audiences in for the experience, boosting brand awareness and increasing your customer base.

How to Leverage Retail Experiences for Your Brand

How easy is it to translate a multi-sensory environment like the Van Gogh immersive experience into a retail space? Well, for starters it doesn’t have to be a full-fledged renovation to be effective. A good place to start is by creating engaging points of contact between your products and customers. Maybe it’s an in-store half-court where customers can test out sneakers or a demo station to try out a high-end digital camera or kitchen appliance. The point is to allow customers to see, touch, and experience the products firsthand. 

Another method is by hosting events. Game nights, book signings, guest speakers, and classes are all valuable ways to create community and build positive connections with your customers. Focus on activities that are only tangential to the product or service you offer. These events are specifically NOT about making a sale. They are explicitly about community and connection. Some examples include hosting seed propagation classes at a plant store, offering trivia at a coffee shop, or showing an outdoor film series at an outdoor gear retailer. 

If your brand has already caught the eye of influencers or certain products are trending on social media, leverage it in-store through displays, signage, and direct invitations to participate. Barnes & Noble takes advantage of the “BookTok” trend by creating tabletop displays featuring the most popular books on TikTok. Social content creators are always looking for unique backdrops for photos and an opportunity to align themselves with brands they love, so develop branded hashtags and selfie stations to invite participation.

Technology, including virtual and augmented reality, offers incredible opportunities for brands to create one-of-a-kind experiences and try-before-you-buy opportunities both online and in-store. AR allows furniture shoppers to “see” a sofa in their living room before they commit to it, while VR can bring the experience of playing in a soccer match to the store environment allowing customers to test gear in a life-like setting. 

Next, design retail spaces with technology and interaction in mind. Think of an Apple Store’s bright lighting, sleek countertops, muted colors, and minimalist interiors. The environment reflects the simplicity of the product. When designing or renovating a space, build in opportunities for a multi-sensory experience – whether it’s through materials choices, lighting, sound, or aesthetics – this kind of spatial storytelling conveys a brand’s values and style, making a subtle but lasting impression on customers.

Finally, consider cross-promotion or collaboration with other brands. Collabs are all the rage right now and for good reason. Partnering with a brand that shares your target audience but is in an adjacent industry can bring great value to both brands, boosting awareness and amplifying reach. Draw new visitors into your store by hosting an in-store pop-up or store within a store. Target and Ulta have teamed up to provide higher-end beauty products to Target shoppers and allow Ulta regulars another way to access its products. Everyone wins.

Experiential Retail – The New Normal

As consumers become more savvy and competition for their attention (and dollars) becomes more intense, experiential retail is no longer an option, but a necessity for today’s brands. Understanding how it can benefit your business – from building awareness to inspiring customer loyalty – is the first step to strategically leveraging it. 

Inviting your audience to “do something” versus to” buy something” is a mental shift for many retailers. But the evidence is in. Creating thoughtful, relevant experiences is effective, and more and more, it's also expected.

Ready to take advantage of experiential retail for your brand? Unsure where to begin? Whether you are building out a space from scratch, considering a redesign, or just want to incorporate some experiential elements into an existing space – a fully integrated strategy, design, and production studio can be an invaluable partner. 

At Bridgewater, we help brands create memorable, engaging experiences, and we can manage it all – from design to delivery – under one roof. Schedule a no-obligation introduction to Bridgewater today and get a free, customized plan for your retail experience.

 

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