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Is the Future of Retail Experiential?

Cecilia Bergman
Cecilia Bergman
Welcome to Camp - store for kids
We went to 10 immersive retail activations. Some of these experiences were truly adding value to the shopping experience. Others... not so much.

The P+S team works with a number of retailers on both innovation and e-commerce. So it’s important for us to know what’s happening in retail, what works and what...doesn’t. So we recently took a Friday field trip to discover a variety of different popular retail activations.

From our sample of 10+ stores, we were able to identify some important benchmarks to hit if you’re going to invest in this area.

The stores we hit up:

Team fieldtrip! Elliott (technologist) and the stratigest crew: Angus, Cecilia, Emily and Anath.
Team field trip! Elliot (technologist) and the strategist crew: Angus, Cecilia, Emily and Anath.
Here's what we found: 

Be Authentic - One of our unexpected favorite immersive retail experiences we hadn’t even planned to visit. Farm Rio is a Brazilian fashion brand that’s recently opened their first US store in SoHo. So how does a relatively unknown Brazilian brand command attention in one of the world’s busiest retail centers? By creating a beach paradise. Some strategic placed tropical plants and a sandy floor are really all they needed to create a physical translation for the brand. And it works. Why? Because not only is the activation truthful, it’s also fun and instagramable.

Farm Rio - retail field trip
High-Tech Activations are Risky

One of the only stores that managed to use high-tech in a way that actually served their customer was Amazon Go and that’s the result of many millions of dollars and years of development.  Download the app. Pick your products and walk out. Perfect for locals and work breaks.

Amazon Go
Checking out at Amazon Go

Rebecca Minkoff touch screen shopping

By contrast, Rebecca Minkoff’s smart dressing rooms left us wanting. The first employee we spoke to seemed to know nothing about them. Then with a little exploration, we found out they didn’t work.

The real question is, “does a luxury accessory brand with only around 40 pieces of clothing in their catalog need a high-tech dressing room?” Low engagement may be why the brand stopped maintaining the tech and training their sales people.

High-tech dressing rooms can work. Reformation, an innovative minimalist retail company with a strong e-commerce presence has seamless tech assisted dressing rooms that feel on brand.

Successful activations engage the audience with the product in a tactile way

We really enjoyed the little sleep houses at Casper which allowed us to try out the mattresses without feeling on display. They were fun, cozy, and most importantly made the experience of both the shopping AND the mattress better.

Casper Mattress Retail Store
Casper Bed
Casper Store
Emily and Angus at the Casper Store
Taking a nap on a Casper Bed at their retail store

Camp is another great example. They mix a toy store with a play area. Complete with scheduled activities. The holistic experience makes both shopping for toys and playing with them, more fun.

Camp Expressway at their retail store in manhattan
Camp's Magic Door

On the flipside, both Sonos and Samsung seemed to drop the ball here a little. Samsung had so much potential but the experience felt disjointed without a real perspective.

Sonos built little listening rooms, with speakers, but they didn’t replicate or enhance the experience as much as the little bedrooms at Casper.

Experiential and immersive retail

We definitely see that the retail experience is evolving. It’s important to understand what’s happening in your space and this is a great tool to have in the arsenal. But it’s not a simple solution for every brand. Make sure that you have good answers to the questions below before you start spending money and energy here.

Here are 8 questions to ask yourself before hitting “go” on an experiential retail activation:
  1. What are you trying to create? What feelings and sensations you are aiming for when people walk into your store?
  2. Who are you trying to reach? If it is a technology company, are you trying to convince the rival’s customers that you are better? If you are a kid company, are you trying to impress the kid, the parent, both?
  3. What’s the pain point? Your store should enable a better experience for your customers.
  4. Are you communicating the idea clearly? Make sure the experience/message you are trying to convey comes across loud and clear.
  5. Does the tech (or contraption) actually solve a pain point? Tech needs to have a clear purpose. Sometimes there’s a better (and cheaper!) analog solution.
  6. Is it easy? Make it as easy as possible. Again, the tech should be used to make life easier, not complicate things even more.
  7. How will you get your sales team on board? The customer service team needs to be engaged and part of the experience.
  8. Is it enhancing both your product and brand? Ultimately, this is a shopping experience and needs to enhance the product.
  9. Is this an experience people will genuinely enjoy? If not, it’s probably not worth it.