Technology on Display: Reinventing Retail in an Experiential Era

Despite the barrage of headlines proclaiming that “retail is dead,” the reality is that retail is very much alive. In fact, according to CBRE, 90 percent of retail sales are still made in physical retail stores. For brick and mortar to remain a relevant component of the shopper’s journey in a highly digital era, however, it must evolve alongside shoppers’ changing expectations.

Today’s consumers demand more from their shopping journeys. In addition to being able to shop when and where they want, consumers want experiences — not just a product. As such, retailers that understand how to provide relevant shopping experiences that enhance or complement the shopping journey will ultimately differentiate themselves and win the hearts and minds of customers.

To better understand how retail can amaze customers in today’s experience-led era, we engaged industry experts from around the world and found there were five principles that amazing retail experiences embody. When employed, these five principles can help retailers connect with consumers and create lasting, loyal relationships.

Authentic: Be real. Be genuine. Be honest. Weary of the increasing number of celebrity endorsements and paid promotions, today’s consumers crave authenticity more than ever. Brands that are perceived as authentic, or having values and morals, and sticking to them no matter what, have an opportunity to create an emotional connection with consumers based on trust. In turn, they can create an unbreakable bond.

In a retail environment, authenticity is about staying true to a brand’s identity. Bringing that identity to life means providing customers with an experience that stands for something greater than just the products and services they sell.

Office Depot, for example, which recognized the need to create an experience that delivers more holistic solutions for its core customers, could have simply emulated a competitor with a service and support agent model. Instead, the company has undergone a dramatic transformation from a traditional office products retailer to an omnichannel business services platform. As part of this shift, the company has integrated its new Workonomy Business Services into stores, providing small-to-medium sized businesses and enterprise customers with end-to-end solutions encompassing administrative, marketing and technical support, in a manner that is authentic to its brand and aligned with its mission of “providing customers with the tools and resources they need to focus on their passion for starting, growing, and running their business.”

Discover: Think back to the last time you discovered something new; whether it was a new use for an old product, or a new restaurant, or a new mobile app. Chances are, that discovery excited you. Humans are naturally curious beings, constantly seeking new experiences — from traveling to new places, to wearing new clothes, to trying out a new technology — and finding stimulation in those discoveries.

Accordingly, brands that can create a retail experience wherein consumers have an opportunity to discover or learn something new about themselves or a product will attract the attention and affinity of those consumers.

Smart speaker manufacturer Sonos has embraced this approach by installing “listening rooms” in its stores that simulate different environments in the home — a kitchen, a study, and a living room — with different combinations of Sonos speakers. Doing so enables consumers to experience the speakers’ benefits and discover how the products are right for them.

Experiment: An experiment, by definition, is a scientific procedure undertaken to test a hypothesis. In the case of retail, while less scientific, experiments allow retailers to create unique and different experiences, to take risks and immerse consumers in a new way of seeing products come to life, enhancing the purchase beyond just the acquisition.

A great example of this is Lowe’s Holoroom Test Drive, a fully immersive, multisensory experience that utilizes augmented and virtual reality. It’s designed to allow customers to test and experiment with power equipment in a safe, virtual space, as well as try new products, visualize home improvement projects, and even obtain professional tips.

Curation: As today’s consumers continue to look for retail experiences that are personalized and relevant, curation, or the thoughtful collection and placement of products in the context of how they are used or how they may complement one another, will win over shoppers. Driven by deep insights on how customers live, work and play, this approach delivers the assurance that a brand understands its customers in a holistic way.

For retailers, this means more than simply editing down a list of products. Rather, it’s about creating an assortment of products for one specific type of customer or creating a collection of products across various categories that center around a particular consumer need.

Peloton showrooms, designed for showcasing the company’s high-tech indoor bike, have done this exceptionally well. They provide customers with a highly curated experience that not only allows them to test the product, but to also envision its place in their lives, surrounded by staged home furniture and complimentary cycling apparel and accessories.

Local: Lastly, as consumers are increasingly becoming more community oriented and locally driven, with a desire to cherish and celebrate what makes them unique, retailers have an opportunity to localize their offerings by region, city or even neighborhood, to create a more personal interaction with their brand.

This means adopting a local mindset and being conscious, representative and engaged with the communities that retailers operate in, whether that’s purchasing locally, having a section of the store dedicated to regional favorites, or attuning the design of the actual store to the local environment.

Nike has done this successfully with the launch of its inaugural Nike Live concept store in Los Angeles. The store was designed to reflect the culture and preferences of the region, from the mural on the exterior of the building, to the specific selection of hyper-locally curated products inside, based on Nike’s Los Angeles customers’ interests in running and edgier fashions.

Ultimately, while the way in which each of these five principles manifest themselves in a retail environment will vary, they collectively signal an important shift to a more consumer-centric retail approach. Today, a relevant shopping experience is about how shoppers want to buy, not how retailers want to sell, and retailers that adopt this mindset will have an opportunity unlike any other to create meaningful, lasting connections with their consumers. 

Stephanie Dismore is senior vice president and managing director, North America, at HP Inc. In this role, Dismore is responsible for leading all aspects of HP’s market strategy and managing the multibillion-dollar P&L for the company’s largest geographic region. She also oversees direct and indirect sales engagements across HP’s portfolio of products and services, for commercial, consumer and public sector customer segments for the region.