Depending on who you listen to, retail in the United States is either on its last legs or is about to be a part of a major evolution in experiential marketing. The truth is, it’s a little bit of both.
Traditional retailers – after years of trying to compete with the likes of Amazon – are falling by the wayside. Consumer behavior has changed in significant ways, which means the way we shop has changed. Even if we aren’t doing all of our shopping online, there is still less in-person shopping to go around. And many of the older brands are no longer able to keep up.
However, there are a number of companies who are having new or renewed success with brick and mortar retail. These companies have found ways to appeal to today’s shoppers and offer something that both the online experiences and the traditional retail experiences were lacking.
And so, more and more, companies are asking themselves:
What is a retail location for?
While the future may bring with it a number of different retail models that can be successful, there are already three categories of retail experiences that companies are having success with today. These include showrooming, support, and experience.
Showrooming is the broad category name we give to retail locations intended to get people to try out a company’s products in person. While many of these locations also sell products, that is not the primary reason for their existence.
Companies that have opened up Showrooming locations recognize that much of their actual sales will still happen online. However, the online experience is still bad at giving people the ability to try physical products before they buy. And this is where a Showroom can pay off.
Think of the Apple Store as the premier example of a Showrooming strategy. Many other technology companies are following suit, as are some fashion brands who will show off their wares and let customers try them on, but won’t necessarily hold the inventory necessary to sell on site.
There are some retail locations that are not for selling at all. Instead, they are places for existing customers to get help. In this way, they are intended to serve the customer experience – keeping customers happy and promoting brand loyalty in the long term. I put these retail locations into the Support category.
Again, this type of retail experience has been most common in the technology space, where products can often require an experienced professional to review a problem in person. Best Buy popularized this type of retail experience when they introduced their Geek Squad.
Some companies have decided that they want people in their stores regardless of whether they are customers or not. That’s because building a community of people around shared interests related to the brand is more important to them over the long run.
The Experience category includes storefronts that may or may not have been traditional retail environments in the past, but now include some combination of education and training, live events, speakers, meet and greets, and more.
Think of the bookstore that hosts a popular author on the release of her new book, or a camera retailer that features a free lecture given by a world-famous photographer. These are not direct selling experiences, but they help to attract an audience that companies hope will end up developing a lasting relationship with their brand.