To charm consumers and combat rivals, more retailers and even some suppliers are transforming shopping from a chore into an experience. 

They’re investing in experiential retail, which includes in-store events and interactive experiences that focus more on people, pleasure and purpose – such as connection and community – than on products. 

The vast majority (88%) of retail sales still take place in brick-and-mortar stores, yet that figure continues to erode as e-commerce grows in influence and convenience.1 Rooney, Kate. Online shopping overtakes a major part of retail for the first time ever. CNBC. April 2, 2019. But experiential retail gives consumers a reason to keep coming back to physical stores.

It’s all about attraction
To gain a competitive edge, retail companies are selling experiences that pull consumers to a brand rather than push the brand at them.2  Stone, Michael. 10 Brand Marketing Trends To Watch In 2019. Forbes. January 28, 2019.  

Fortunately, these experiences can be simpler and more affordable than grandiose retailtainment investments. For instance, experiential retail spans diverse consumer needs and interests, such as in-store eyebrow waxing, Champagne bars, pop-up stores within a store, tailoring services, personal stylists, culinary workshops and live cooking shows.3 Kelkoo Group. Top five consumer trends set to shape retail in 2019. Retail Week. January 29, 2019.

Memorable retail experiences are unique, customer-relevant,
meaningful, authentic, scalable and amplify the wow.
Dennis, Steve. Succeeding In Retail Is All About Experience — Here’s What That Means. Forbes. April 25, 2019.

To survive America’s changing demographics, including a widening wealth gap, more retailers and brands now deliberately create experiences to not only engage but also truly get to know the customer.5 Howland, Daphne. The wealth gap is a retail problem. Retail Dive. July 1, 2019. Getting to know consumers starts with engaging them through unique retail experiences that encourage connection to earn their trust and loyalty over the long term rather than focus on sales transactions in the short term.

Experiential retail can delight shoppers by elevating shopping from drudgery to a fun, engaging event to look forward to and enjoy with others. Vibrant in-store experiences can also reach beyond the physical store as consumers share their shopping experiences through enthusiastic social media posts and word of mouth.

Look who’s getting experiential
Here are several ways retailers and suppliers are getting experiential this year:

  • Lululemon: The yoga apparel leader just opened its largest store in Chicago, which features its first-ever restaurant, and yoga, high-intensity workout and meditation studios. Consumers can even wear and test products during workout classes. The store hosts special events, movie screenings, concerts and personal development workshops to encourage community and align with its purpose of inspiring health and wellness. Lululemon predicts that by 2023 10% percent of its stores will be experiential.6 Ryan, Tom. Lululemon takes experiential retailing to 20,000 square feet. RetailWire. July 15, 2019. 7 Wilson, Marianne. First Look: Lululemon shows its muscle with massive Chicago store. Chain Store Age. July 11, 2019
  • Sephora: To attract cosmetics shoppers to its physical stores, Sephora combines a traditional retail experience with mobile apps and activities to engage and connect with consumers without a pushy hard sell.8  Wertz, Jia. 5 Trends That Will Redefine Retail In 2019. Forbes. November 28, 2018.
  • Starbucks: To celebrate summer, Starbucks launched an innovative tie-dye Frappuccino available for a limited time only for Instagram-worthy in-store experiences.9 Kim, Alan. What does tie-dye taste like? Find out with Starbucks’ new Frappuccino. CNN. July 10, 2019.
  • Macy’s: In April, the department store launched its first pop-up concept, Colour Story, featuring whimsical rooms filled with an array of monochromatic products. Macy’s just unveiled its second experiential concept, Outdoor, which involves greenery-laden stores including lush couches made of plants.10 McDonald, Samantha. Why Macy’s Is Betting on an Unlikely Partnership With Miracle-Gro and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Footwear News. July 9, 2019.
    To extend the experience to the online realm, Macy’s encourages shoppers to use the hashtag #StoryatMacys on social media.11  Biron, Bethany. We visited Macy’s Colour Story pop-up and saw why it’s an Instagram dream. Business Insider. June 23, 2019.

  • Nordstrom: To act as convenient, pleasant neighborhood hubs, Nordstrom Local boutiques carry no inventory yet they offer returns and same-day online purchase pick-ups. To encourage consumers to linger, they offer personal stylists, tailoring, and manicures, as well as wine and beer.12 From Utilitarian to Experiential – How Leading Retailers are Disrupting Traditional Store Design. GLW. November 28, 2018.
  • Petco opened its first-ever pet food kitchen in New York this past spring to attract animal lovers by reinforcing the company’s commitment to better nutrition for pets and greater assortment choice for pet owners. Consumers and their fur babies are welcome to watch in-store chefs prepare veterinarian-approved pet food, and ask questions about ingredients and nutrition. This experiential retail concept could help Petco stand out in the $32 billion pet food category, which continues to grow as more consumers seek superior quality food for their beloved pets.13 Danziger, Pamela N. Petco Opens A Pet Kitchen In New York City, Leaning In On Retail Experiences For Pet Parents. Forbes. May 10, 2019. 
  • Restoration Hardware: The home furnishings retailer recently opened its own branded hotel, the Restoration Hardware Hotel in New York.14 Stone, Michael. 10 Brand Marketing Trends To Watch In 2019. Forbes. January 28, 2019.
  • Toys R Us: Now rebranded as Tru Kids, the retailer plans to open half a dozen stores this year and offer experiential in-store activities like toy testing.15 Ruff, Corrine and Ben Unglesbee. The new Toys R Us reportedly plans to open stores this year. Retail Dive. June 24, 2019.
  • Cover Girl: To directly connect with consumers, the cosmetics giant recently opened a permanent Cover Girl store in New York City.16 Stone, Michael. 10 Brand Marketing Trends To Watch In 2019. Forbes. January 28, 2019
  • Kellogg: Solidifying its leadership in breakfast foods, this top consumer goods brand opened a themed restaurant, the Kellogg’s Cereal Café, in New York City.17  Ibid.
  • Samsung: To stand out in the competitive consumer electronics sector, Samsung opened new experiential stores in New York, Los Angeles and Houston. Samsung also launched a pop-up store tour to boost in-store experiences to allow shoppers to try new technologies like virtual reality.18 O’Shea, Dan. Samsung set to open 3 experiential stores. Retail Dive. February 19, 2019.

Retailers and suppliers are using experiential retail to persuade consumers to skip e-commerce options and visit a physical store. Pampering and impressing consumers with in-store activities helps retail companies differentiate their offerings from rivals’. They also inspire consumers to share their experiences with others to maximize reach, sales and lifetime value per customer.

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