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Forget convenience. Nowadays, it’s all about the experience.

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 In my last blog post I discussed how important it is for retailers to get it right when it comes to attracting a whole new generation of shoppers – Generation Z. When it comes to reviving the high street and breathing life into bricks and mortar stores, research suggests that one way to achieve this is to disregard the Millennial penchant for efficiency and convenience, replacing this instead with ‘experiential retail’. This is one of those terms that sounds really great to say, but I doubt it’s going to provide an ‘aha’ moment for most retailers without delving into what is really meant by the term. What kind of experiences do shoppers want to have? And which retailers are doing this well already?

It’s easy to get carried away with the idea of experiential. As a Millennial myself, I’m pretty easily won over by a mobile payment wallet, a well-functioning self-service checkout (still seemingly elusive), and a trusty price comparison site. Yet even with my desire for quick, easy and functional, I can see the draw of a Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory-esque retail playground. In my opinion, the trick is to find a happy medium between this and the strip-lighting and grey carpet clad department stores that your mum used to drag you around. The latter environment does not inspire shoppers to make aspirational purchases, but turning a store into a theme park of activities may also work against brands, serving as a distraction from purchasing.

There’s a few brands that are absolutely nailing the whole idea of ‘experiential’. Topshop is one. The flagship store in Oxford Street is a joy for Gen Z’ers to behold, with make-up, hair styling, live DJs, and even piercings available across several floors – all adding to the shopper’s experience of transforming their personal appearance. Why not buy a dress to go with that new hair-do for your night out? A new wardrobe to complement the eyebrow piercing you’ve always wanted. The opportunities for shoppers are endless and the experience encourages rather than distracts from purchasing.

Dr Martens is another master of ‘the experience’. The Camden store features a DJ, a bar and weekly gigs. Shoppers are invited to use the in-store GIF station (the photobooth of Generation Z) and can even customise their own boots to make them totally unique. Genius given the value that Gen Z places on individuality.

It is possible for stores of all shapes and sizes to incorporate some of these experiential elements, without needing to go mad. In the case of department stores in particular you can see the opportunities for interaction. Take a leaf out of Hamley’s book and provide live demos in the toy department; follow Harvey Nichols’ lead and give cocktail masterclasses in the food hall; take inspiration from MAC and install augmented reality into make-up counters to allow shoppers to try out looks before they buy without having to queue for the attention of an assistant. The options are endless, and if you can make them appealing for social media sharing as well, then you’ve got it made!

As it turns out, that old saying ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ may just be true when it comes to retail. To win the affections of shoppers nowadays, retailers must provide an experience in which it is desirable to participate. Only by doing so can brands get younger shoppers through the door – and more importantly to the tills.

The new kids on the block: Why retailers need to pay attention to Gen Z
Is the high street dead? Long live the high street.

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Alex Rohloff
Alex Rohloff

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