Guest Blog: Why retailers need to leverage the power of experiential to connect and convert – Charlotte Johnson, Live Consultancy

According to recent Eventbrite research, 3 out of 4 millennials would rather buy an experience than something desirable. Today people do not connect with just products they connect with emotional experiences – the product is a result of an experience or connection.

When we need something, we tap in the palm of our hand and it arrives tomorrow. When we desire something, we crave experience and inspiration – that is how the high-street will survive. The high-street then becomes less about functional errands and much more a place of experience, community and inspiration.

Behaviour and expectations changed as result of the mobile revolution, and millennials became under pressure to be interesting and have cool stuff to share. Clever brands switched up the retail environment from a shop floor to a place where you can have a nice experience, create a photo/shareable moment and buy a product.

It’s no longer enough to just have great adverts and influencer endorsement, the consumer needs to feel a connection that is personal to them –  this happens in-real-life-experiences ideally at the point of purchase or in a space where instant one click/tab purchases happen.

Retailers must respond to behavioral changes if they are to survive – the Local Data Company, studied the top 500 British town centers, found 2,564 outlets closed in the first half of 2017, equivalent to 14 a day. At the same time, there were 2,342 store openings, meaning that a net total of 222 High Street shops disappeared.

Brands tested this with pop-ups, but it is undeniable how successful pop-ups have become for retail, so now is the time to bring the experience into the store.

Although retailers have the added costs of fixed asset overheads, non-retail brands have the added costs of venue hire and trying to buy footfall. Retail stores, should therefore maximise these fixed assets with events and experiences to drive footfall and increase conversion through; experiences, education and unique sampling. For example, using the spaces at night or in the morning with ticketed events/experiences. They also have the added benefit of space, it’s just about being creative with it and putting in the extra work to curate the store into experiences. It shouldn’t just be within the city bubble either – retailers must test and learn in cities and identify what elements can be rolled out into other smaller stores and high streets.

As we look to the high street today we can see the big divide between retailers leveraging experiences successfully or not.  As an 80s baby the Toys R Us theme tune was stuck in my head and a trip to Toy R Us every Christmas and birthday was a must, it was the same for everyone I knew growing up in the same age group. Now my generation are the parents, they may have wanted to recreate this experience for their own kids, but they haven’t. Why? A normal shopping trip feels dated and the retailer failed to create the experience. Today we just buy what we need online, unless the child was with us at which point we think I need a place where the children are occupied and entertained.

On the other hand, although a premium and extreme example, Hamley’s and Harrods are thriving. They understood early on that the product is the result of an experience –  when families go in to buy toys they are given great experiences. Parents are happy as they get occupied happy children, multiple insta-worthy moments and products that will remind them of an emotional moment, not the result of a boring shopping experience.

John Lewis is really driving positive disruption within the retail industry putting consumers needs and desires at the heart of their new designs. They have curated experiences within the new Westfield store with demo bars, free stylist appointments and apartments to try out larger items.

Great experiences do not need bribes – if you create a photo opportunity, you do not need to push hashtags and competitions down the consumers throat. If the photo opportunity/experience is good enough people will want to be in it and share it. Overly branded opportunities with branded hashtags are un-cool and will be used less.

Clever brands are creating subtle moments but letting the consumer create their own story – give consumers the freedom to tell their own story.

The power of the palm means that consumers from across the world can see how brands are excelling in brand experiences, and they are now expecting retailers to do the same, by taking inspiration from non-retail brands who are using the power of experiential and then see how it can translate to their smaller stores if they are to connect and convert.

London is saturated with experiences; clever retailers will take experiences to the people within smaller towns and cities for higher impact.

Charlotte Johnson is Founder and CEO of Live Consultancy – a full service creative comms, digital and events agency, who are working with global brands including Estee Lauder Companies to revolutionise their retail spaces across EMEA.

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