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Are You Creating an Immersive Shopping Experience?

Stores like Nike are adding basketball courts to their stores, while customers at Ralph Lauren in New York City can play with interactive touch-screen mirrors in dressing rooms. These are very interesting retail concepts, but perhaps not very practical for the majority of stores who are constrained by budget and space limitations. But, that doesn't mean there aren't lessons to learn from these high-end, incredibly immersive shopping experiences.

WHAT IS AN IMMERSIVE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE? 

An immersive shopping experience doesn't have to be high-tech. Nor does it have to be over-the-top. Immersive shopping experiences are simply about creating connections with your brand. They help you engage with your audience emotionally, whether it's to entertain, educate, or inspire.

The best immersive experiences captivate your customers, telling them a story about who they are, who they could become, and how your brand fits into that.

When we look at immersive retail in this way, it doesn't matter who has the flashiest technology or most development dollars. It's about companies who authentically create connections. It's about companies that tap into inspiring the good life for their customers.

Nike's basketball court was successful because it created a space where their customers could connect with each other, try out products, and inspire their sport. For Ralph Lauren, their high-end customers got the personalized fashion tips and assistance they craved, so they could become the fashionistas they already knew they were.

But you also know of simpler immersive experiences: Lush's bowls of water where you can try out their products, REI's small-scale climbing zones for testing new boots, MAC's makeup demonstrations, and William Sonoma's cooking classes.

WHY DO IMMERSIVE SHOPPING EXPERIENCES WORK? 

According to Accessories, between June 2016 and June 2017, more than 5,321 retail stores closed. During that time, more stores closed than stores opened. And all retailers know the struggle of competing with retail giants like Amazon and Wal-Mart.

However, stores that provide immersive shopping experiences, on any level, can differentiate themselves from these corporate giants by connecting emotionally with existing and potential customers. Because, for all of the challenges, we're still in a world where people crave authentic connection while shopping.

A recent report from brand intelligence firm L2 suggests:

"72% of online shoppers worldwide consider the brick-and-mortar experience most important when making a purchase."

Many also consider shopping itself a social experience. A Global Youth Retail study found that 78% of people in the U.S. planned to shop the same amount or more frequently as a social activity.

After they created an immersive and unique retail experience that matched their audience, Ralph Lauren saw a 90% engagement rate with their mirrors. The company also now has meaningful data, like which clothes are making it to the dressing room but not to the cash register.

ARE YOU CREATING IMMERSIVE RETAIL EXPERIENCES FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS? 

If you're not creating immersive experiences that set you apart from the majority of retail experiences, you're missing out on potential shoppers. Again, immersive retail experiences don't have to be high-tech or prohibitively expensive. They're about inspiring connection and the good life for your customers.

Before bringing out any new tools or technologies, consider these questions:

  • Who are you? What's your brand's story? How can you use immersive experiences to better illustrate the whole or a portion of that story? Why should a customer care?
  • Who is your target customer? Who do they aspire to be? What's stopping them from becoming a customer of your brand?
  • What do you want your customer to do at your store? Make a purchase? Share a post on social about your brand?

The answers to these questions will drive how you design your immersive spaces. 

HOW TO CREATE IMMERSIVE SHOPPING SPACES

Designing immersive experiences is about creating a reason for people to leave their homes to go to your store.

Think about how can you create an immersive experience that differs from browsing on Amazon. Many ideas play on themes of connection, creating a third space away from home and work, and inspiring emotion.

Some affordable immersive experience ideas for our retail spaces include:

  • Allowing customers to sample or test your products in the store, especially in a new and interesting way
  • Serving daily coffee, tea, or flavored water with a small sitting area
  • Creating and possibly serving weekly cocktails, with take-home recipe cards
  • Designating a play space to leave children while people shop (with hired child sitters if possible)
  • Bringing local artists, musicians, or chefs in to perform at your store
  • Inviting book or cooking clubs to meet at your store, and offering them in-store discounts
  • Supporting local charity events and groups, like runners or pet rescues
  • Creating small placards about products, with employee recommendations or more information about the piece
  • Designing small, tucked-away places for customers to take photos to post to social (cute props or themed chalk board phrases are quick and easy)
  • Serving small bites inspired by new pieces or product lines
  • Profiling locally-made products, with information about how they were designed and where they came from
  • Focusing on your customer's senses, by incorporating sound, smell, and sights into your store's overall experience

Again, creativity is always encouraged when it comes to creating immersive shopping experiences. Think about who your customers are and how you can encourage their best selves in your retail store. If you do that, you'll give them a reason to leave home.