How will experiential shopping save the high street?

6th Feb 2017

During Black Friday 2016, UK shoppers spent a whopping £1.9 billion on retail goods. This, despite figures from Springboard that showed footfall on the high street fell by 7% compared to 2015, as consumers opted to avoid the in-store stampedes that have characterised previous years, by shopping online instead.

It’s part of a wider trend: the seemingly unstoppable rise of e-commerce that threatens to turn our city centre retail zones into urban deserts, and if stores retain their traditional ‘off the rack’ format, it may well be the case.

However, there’s been a recent rise in the number of people doing their retail research online before purchasing offline. If there’s still appetite for the physical shopping experience, it might be about to herald a major shift in retail that can take brick-and-mortar stores to a whole new level: experiential shopping—techniques to create a fulfilling, exciting and interactive experience for customers.


(Not) on the high street

In their new approach, John Lewis and Harvey Nichols are taking the live product demo and pop-up brand experience in-store to create an entertaining retail ‘destination’, rather than simply a purchase point.

John Lewis recently opened a space at its flagship Oxford Street store showcasing smart tech home products. It features a ‘home of the future’-type showroom, which includes ‘kitchen’, ‘entertainment’, ‘sleep’ and ‘home monitoring’. Meanwhile, during the festive period they brought their popular Buster the Boxer Christmas ad in store with an interactive VR trampoline experience.

Rivals Harvey Nichols, meanwhile, have scrapped branded concession stands in its stores to provide a more intuitive shopping experience featuring a collection of themed areas: contemporary; international; off-duty; tailoring and accessories.

Developing more creative and engaging in-store narratives is a key part of these stores’ strategy going forward, as we see customer demand for physical experiences before committing to purchase increase.

The ‘social’ experience

We’ve talked before about how augmented & virtual reality is changing brick and mortar retail, but instead of just creating content, retailers should be equally interested in creating opportunities for content creation—instagrammable moments, shareable experiences.

In 2015 Topshop’s Oxford Street store hosted the world’s first Twitter-powered crane. It formed part of ‘Topshop Playland’, which also included a Twitter-powered vending machine as well as Ms Pac Man and coin pusher machines. Customers were invited to control the machines via Twitter to win Topshop prizes.

River Island has joined forces with Snapchat to help boost their in store presence with a location-based ‘Snap & Share’ campaign. They’ve created bespoke branded filters that can only be used when entering one of its shops. With 280 stores located around the UK & Ireland, consumers can access these exclusive filters which are designed to convey messages that change with the fashion seasons.

In-store services

Apple initially led the way with the retail service shopping experience with its Genius Bar, which blended sales with aftercare to promote a lifetime retailer-consumer relationship built around its product. Best Buy and Carphone Warehouse followed suit with their respective Geek Squads.

And that covers hybrid stores too. Premium fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana opened a barber shop service in its store on London’s Bond Street, and luxury watch brand Bremont opened a flagship store in Mayfair that incorporated a bar into the retail space. Both brands are doing more than selling a product—they’re selling a lifestyle. And that’s something you won’t find online.

Online shops are moving offline

It’s probably not a surprise, then, that in an age where most businesses start online, they still make the move to good old brick and mortar stores. Amazon is one key example, which opened a ‘clinic’ on a university campus in the US—its first physical store in the 21 years of its existence. Now its first physical grocery store is set to hit the streets.

It’s funny to think that one of the world’s most recognisable ‘online’ companies felt the need to take itself ‘offline’, but it’s not the only one. 2015 saw Google open its first-ever branded shop, its pilot store located within Currys PC World on London’s Tottenham Court Road. The Google shop sells the company’s phones, computers and TV products, as well as hosting masterclasses showing consumers how to use the devices, and demonstrations featuring key Google apps.

While it is a difficult time for high street store, it’s also an exciting time. Far from disappearing, it looks like high street stores are likely to be better than ever, adding real value to the consumer experience that can’t be replicated online.

If you’re looking for support with your retail store development, OCS Retail Support offer the very highest calibre of retail planning and consultancy, so contact us today. We look forward to seeing what’s (pardon the pun) in store!