Experiential Shopping

Creative retailing engages customers and gives them a special experience, or at least a way of interacting with products and services to assist with and encourage purchase. Philip Smith looks at the art of experiential shopping, and how it can help your business and enhance the shopper environment.

Experiential shopping goes way beyond function. It’s a way of enhancing your products and services so customers can better understand or appreciate them through interactivity, sampling, information or by creating appealing settings.

While this form of shopping isn’t new-think to traditional fruit and vegetable markets where the grower would slice off some fruit or snap a pea for customers to try-this broad concept has been developed in modern retail.

It interacts with each customer’s senses (taste, smell, hearing, sight and touch) to create an environment that assists purchasing. Not all senses will be heightened at each shopping experience. Experiential shopping is about creating a mood or feeling in the store that enhances the shopper environment. It is not themed shopping that creates an environment (such as Australia Geographic shops) but an environment that allows the shopper to understand and experience the product better.

In some retail environments the product itself manipulates the senses and is an important driver in the purchase. Food, especially fresh food, can manipulate the senses, especially taste (in a deli tasting cheese or olives) or smell (such as coffee or freshly baked bread). In food related areas ‘try before you buy’ and demonstrations are powerful persuasive measures.

Perfumes utilise three senses: smell, the actual fragrance; touch, being applied to the skin; and sight, the look of the bottle packaging. And that is why fragrance counters allow you to use testers, to ‘feel’ all dimensions of the product.

In other settings the senses are massaged so the customer can feel more immersed in the retail environment. Furniture in retail outlets such as Ikea and David Jones create rooms that allow the customer to see how the furniture will look in a room setting. To enhance and personalise the room, the products are set out with accessories, including curtaining, books, vases, and paintings. This creates an environment that allows the customer to experience the product. Real estate agents are using stylists (such as Designer Boys, Gav and Waz, from television’s The Block) to enhance properties for prospective buyers.

Each time you create the space for your product, do it with your target customer in mind. As a space is made more welcoming and familiar toward one customer group, it will be less so to another. Clothing can be enhanced for some customers through sound and lighting displays which might encourage one type of customer (such as youth in Surf Dive n Ski) at the sacrifice of another (in our example this would be older, more conservative shoppers).

Experiential shopping is also mentioned frequently in relation to web-based shopping behaviours. In this case it’s the interactivity and engagement with the site, not only the ease of movement and stimulation on the site but also the ability to assist the user to commit to the purchase.

Creating Spaces

Many businesses have the opportunity to enhance the shopping experience for their customers.

As a retailer, the questions you need to ask are: what does my customer need to experience about my product or service, how can I enhance this experience? You also need to think how that product will be used, to determine if this environment can be recreated in the retail outlet. An example here is the working kitchens in some Domayne showrooms.

Demonstrations of the product also enhance consumer understanding. You need to then consider whether it is better for the customer to experiment with the demonstration themselves, whether assistance is needed, or if a video demonstration or a voice guide is required to help them through the process (like the prompts when paying by BPAY). Allowing the customer to experience the product is a powerful persuasion tool.