- Claire Kalikman
Can experiential help to deliver the engagement that customers and brands have been craving?
The pandemic brought a wave of convenient and contactless delivery that brought brands into our home when and where we wanted them. But after so long at home, people are craving experiences - IRL. Legacy and start-up brands alike are reinvigorating their in-store experiences, shifting from simply selling product to instead turning stores into fully immersive experiences to attract and engage customers in new ways. In fact, a full third of marketers polled by Digiday said they expect to do some kind of experiential activation during the upcoming holiday season. Experiential retail formats not only bring brands to life in a more concrete way, but can also serve as a way to connect with the local community, build brand loyalists, and create truly memorable moments. From Glossier's latest venture in Seattle to Warner Bros' Harry Potter store in New York, we take a hard look at the value of a store, that’s more than just a store.
DTC darling Glossier opened a flagship store in Seattle as a revival of their global retail ambitions following a wave of pandemic closures. Located in the eclectic Capitol Hill neighborhood, the store’s design pairs the Glossier aesthetic with elements inspired by the Pacific Northwest landscape. From pale-pink furniture and shiny pink tiles to sprouting mushrooms and flowers atop moss hills, this flagship store creates a truly unique experience that can make people forget they’re in a store. "As a digital-first company, Glossier has had the freedom to be experimental with retail in a way that beauty companies so closely tied to brick and mortar haven't," said the brand. As brands find ways to increase foot traffic and encourage consumers to engage with their brand IRL, they should take note from Glossier on how to foster an intimate connection with the local community, ultimately creating a memorable experience for locals and tourists alike.
Knix, the Canadian DTC intimates brand, is expanding to the U.S. and using physical retail to do it. What began as a wholesale business pivoted to DTC and has grown 3,000% in three years after making the shift. Now, among other DTC brands who are pursuing scale, Knix is opening brick-and-mortar stores in Santa Monica, San Francisco, and San Diego as part of their growth strategy. These retail locations aren’t ordinary stores, however. The locations will put more emphasis on experiences, with Santa Monica store leveraging 2,500 square feet of outdoor space for community events and the San Diego store displaying art from local Californian artists. Building on its existing e-commerce presence in California, Knix is strategically using the different store formats to test how best to proceed with its U.S. expansion. Focusing on building the right in-store experience that draws customers in and engages them beyond a shopping transaction is certainly a good start.
Warner Bros. Harry Potter
When you enter the Harry Potter store in New York, you're immediately transported to another world. Here, it's okay to nerd out and declare proudly which fictional house you belong to. When we visited, there was a two-hour long wait just to enter. Once inside, the store is divided into sections including "Diagon Alley" where you can drink butter beer, a "Wizards Take Flight" quidditch virtual reality experience, and a wand wall to personalize your wand according to one of the characters from the franchise. This blend of experiences can't be recreated at home and underscores the importance of personalization to draw customers in. Speaking with a sales associate, they reported that the audience is split evenly between kids and adults, largely because there's something for everyone. Warner Bros. has stayed relentlessly relevant by creating a truly immersive experience that makes the audience feel like something bigger. Here, beyond just commerce, you can also find community.
Google opened a flagship store in NYC—its first physical, permanent retail store. The store is filled with "sandboxes" that are designed to highlight various Google products and features, such as in-store demos of its Google Assistant and Nest Hub connectivity, and specific rooms to test the Google Pixel’s low-light and ‘night-sight’ photo capabilities. Additionally, the store includes a workshop space that serves as a stage for events, concerts, and more. Google designed an experience for window shoppers too. The store's facade features a two-sided display of "Discovery Boxes" with QR codes that line the windows, enabling pedestrians to interact using AR to bring Google's product to life. Through this interactive in-store experience, Google has keyed into exactly what its customers want when shopping for a new device or accessory: the opportunity to test, play, and be wowed by Google’s technology.
Everyone from incumbents to digital natives is seeing the value of in-store experiences. Parade underwear held pop-up events recently called "Summer of Parade" timed for the dog days of summer. Now they're using their successful series B that valued them at $140M to double down on their bricks and mortar strategy. Parade is a digitally native company aimed at Gen Z. Its brand story anchors on sustainability and inclusion, two values especially important to Gen Z. Although the 1-year old brand has found a cult following online, it's clear that they see the value of physical retail too. Tellez reports that stores will help the brand achieve “ubiquity.”
Sources: Retail Dive, Glossy, De Zeen, The Drum, PSFK, The Verge, Digiday