Is experiential retail what you’re missing?

It’s the inescapable trend that seems to run and run – experience and narrative are the two buzzwords absolutely dominating retail marketing at the moment. And indeed, there are many benefits to this approach if you can get it right.

It’s immersive, it encourages customers to interact with your brand and spread the word, and it makes the best use of technology to maximise order value and get you some of those precious customer advocates who can really change your business fortunes. But sometimes, getting experiential retail right can be harder than it looks. On the outside it’s all swimming pools full of colourful inflatables or in-store meditation pods, but making that happen successfully requires a whole lot of groundwork, advance planning and deep pockets. So can small businesses get a slice of the experiential retail pie?

Work out the tech requirements

Behind every great experiential retail in-store experience is a huge amount of technical, logistical and facilities support – and if you’re a small retailer, be aware that this may all fall on your head. There’s no customer events team waiting in the wings to swoop in and set things up. You will need to do thorough research about the requirements, on a practical level, of what you are planning. This could be anything from sourcing miniature trees to create a garden installation indoors to ordering a custom neon light to create a selfie spot, measuring out dimensions to be sure an installation will fit or making sure you have plenty of Digital Aerials so you can stream a catwalk show on large screens. Your only limit is your imagination. Use customer research or social listening to work out exactly what kind of experience your target audience will respond to- you really have to know the customer. Then there are plenty of staging companies or events prop hire where you can find almost anything you need to make an idea come to life.

Think sensory design

In retail, we are used to good visual merchandising practice and using our eyes to sell our wares. But creating an experiential retail experience means thinking about the other senses as well and ensuring that these are engaged. Pull together a playlist which enhances the mood that you’re going for and sets the tone as soon as customers walk in. Complement your experience with themed food or drinks to create the sense of something special happening – this could be anything from mini cupcakes with your logo iced on to cones of fish and chips, sea salt scents, and stripy deckchairs if you’re going for a beachside experience. Have some interactive elements in your experimental retail store which encourage people to stay in the store and create an interaction – either with a member of staff or even sharing something on their social channels – you could incentivise this with the chance to win a prize.

Get the layout right

Store design is a whole profession on it’s own, but even if you’re working in a smaller space, you need to consider spacing, flow and how customers will interact with the physical environment you’re shaping. Frame the view as they first enter the space, so that there is a moment for them to pause and consider and drink in the scene, even if it’s only five feet or so. Create small pockets of space where people can interact in different ways, and surprising elements which are tucked out of the main footflow. Staging doesn’t have to cost the earth – it’s all about the creative display of your products and presenting them in new and exciting ways which will make people stop and reconsider what you have to offer.