Three experiential retailers doing store design right

Photo: Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor
Jun 26, 2019
Bob Phibbs

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail Doctor’s blog.

What is experiential retail? It’s when the retailer gives you a distraction in hopes you’ll find it compelling enough to want to hang out.

It is store design divorced from the need to make a sale.

You might want to turn to experiential retail like Camp does with its secret room attached to a toy store or like House of Vans in London, which has a skate park in the basement.

For me, the delivery of experiential is oftentimes more gimmick than genuine — like being able to catch your own dinner. 

Once you’ve done it, will you return? Unless the experience is genuine, I think not.

Here are three retailers whose experiential retail is baked into their entire store design:

Suit Supply was started in Amsterdam and now boasts about 100 men’s stores around the world. How they get you to linger: Carefully curated merchandising, mirror tricks and amazing graphics.

RH Gallery – Restoration Hardware: This five-story, New York city showroom blurs the lines between restaurant and retail and between indoor and outdoor. Your gaze is caught by the glass elevator being swept up from the atrium to the soaring glass roof. How they get you to linger: Food, alcohol and windows draw you through the display showrooms, and everything is spot-lit.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery: Starbucks’ original novelty of espresso machines has worn off. The mammoth store I visited in the Meatpacking District of New York features Italian aperitivo bars, high-end food, deluxe decor, on-site coffee roasting and more. Prices are more expensive than other Starbucks and the food and drink are served in exclusive cups and trays. How they get you to linger: Watching the process of roasting the coffee, making the specialty bakery items and a curated selection of retail.

DISCUSSION QUESTION: Are many experiential retail efforts more likely to drive one-and-done rather than recurring visits? Are there other retailers using experiential concepts that you think may be sustainable in the long turn?

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"At the risk of splitting hairs, I have to disagree with the definition of experiential retailing as a “distraction … divorced from the need to make a sale.”"

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9 Comments on "Three experiential retailers doing store design right"

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Neil Saunders

Experiential spaces have become a lot more important in terms of driving footfall. However, unless the products or services being sold within them are needed and accessible then they are little more than nice museums that people will visit only once in a while. Good retail is about aligning all aspects of the proposition –places, products, prices, etc.

Jeff Sward

At the risk of splitting hairs, I have to disagree with the definition of experiential retailing as a “distraction … divorced from the need to make a sale.” I doubt that was the thinking behind the new Nike and Starbucks flagship stores.

“Treasure hunt” does it for me. And both words are operative. If the treasure is found, great. And the treasure may be a product or anything that stimulates the 5 senses. And if a specific treasure is not found, then hopefully the hunt created some kind of pleasant memory.

Ken Wyker

Experiential stores are about more than just giving you a reason to linger and hopefully buy something. In many instances, they are like a physical form of advertisement. They work best when they convey something about the brand and make you feel better about doing business with them.

The Starbucks Roastery is more about celebrating coffee and showing the quality and sophistication of what they do. It shouldn’t be only about generating profit from that specific store. I’m guessing that’s why they changed their plans from 1,000 stores to just 10. The idea is that after visiting that store, you are more likely to visit your local Starbucks because you appreciate the brand more.

Tom Erskine
8 months 8 hours ago

“Experiential Retail” is a way of describing a 2-fold effort by retailers and brands: 1) get better at storytelling, and 2) create a physical experience that makes customers feel welcome and comfortable. But make no mistake, ultimately the goal is to sell MORE, not less. In our latest episodes of “Off The Shelf,” we feature Showfields in New York City as a retailer that is doing an amazing job of this.

Ian Percy
I’m the self-declared President of the Phibbs fan club, but I think something is missing in this discussion. There’s a big difference between “experiential” and “design.” Experience is omnipresent like air. One cannot not have an experience. “Design” has a wide etymological history but basically it gets down to “de” (out) and “sign” (to mark). Personally, I think “Design Rules!” But it needs a strategic, mission-critical purpose. So here’s the problem. Too many times the link between design and experience is accidental and haphazard. Design can make or ruin you. We seem to think that the purpose of design in retail is to cause customers to linger as in “they get to watch coffee being made.” Frankly, that’s the sign of an empty life! Lingering is not the best economic strategy IMHO. This is why Starbucks is still the best office rental deal you can get — for $4 you get to stay all day with free internet. Starbucks profits come from those who do NOT linger. The area I know best is the design… Read more »
Bob Andersen

If they do it well, (like Restoration Hardware) it won’t be a one-and-done visit. Well executed retail experiential can be costly, but online shopping can’t really compete. Brick and mortar stores need to leverage their “experiential” advantage. Good experiential retail can drive traffic and also trigger the “herd” effect. That is, a store full of customers (e.g. Apple store) will get your attention and even make you wonder if you’re missing out on something. On the other hand, when I’m inside an empty store, I sometimes wonder, “Why am I the only one here?”

David Naumann
David Naumann
Vice President, Retail Marketing, enVista
8 months 7 hours ago

Many experiential stores are designed to attract shoppers with a destination that may not be as compelling for return visits. The trick is to make the experiences dynamic with new experiences every week or month to inspire shoppers to come again and again. In some cases, like a flagship location in Times Square NYC, the objective of the store is brand awareness and image. However, for other stores, it is imperative that the experience complements the purchase experience and does not distract shoppers from completing a purchase.

Experiential retail is here to stay, as it is what many consumers want and expect and it is how stores can effectively differentiate and compete with online retail.

Steve Dennis

As I’ve written about, the term “experiential” retail gets thrown around a lot but is poorly defined. In my mind a remarkable experience occurs at the intersection of memorable (unique, intensely customer relevant, authentic, scalable and delivering a real “wow) and making an emotional connection. It’s not a distraction, it’s not a gimmick, it’s not merely trying to get posts on Instagrams. There are plenty of examples of retailers doing this well, including Eataly, Hema and Canada Goose.

Michael Decker
Michael Decker
Vice President, Marketing Strategy
8 months 6 hours ago

As Bob says, the gold standard for physical retailers right now is the presentation of an “authentic experience.” What that means to customers is they want stories, they want theatre, they want one-of-a-kind experiences that they can social media-tize…. Clean, well kept environments, great selection (including sizing) of product and great customer service is also expected. All of this and instant gratification are the key deliverables that e-commerce can NOT promise or deliver. That kind of differentiation via experiential marketing is what will save the bricks from the clicks!

"At the risk of splitting hairs, I have to disagree with the definition of experiential retailing as a “distraction … divorced from the need to make a sale.”"

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