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Consumers crave enjoyable experiences – and that’s great news for high street retailers

In our previous post Why bricks & mortar retailing is not on the way outwe shared a number of reports and news items that suggest e-commerce won’t be replacing physical High Street stores any time soon.  Naturally we’re pleased about this as Dymond Shopfittings is focused on designing and fabricating bespoke metal display solutions for shopfitters, retail designers and store owners – so we have a vested interest in seeing them do well.

However, it is also true that new technology is undoubtedly changing consumer habits and expectations in ways that are forcing traditional shopkeepers to up their game.  In this post we look at some trends reshaping retail and share some fresh ideas in the hope you find them inspirational.

Convenience is not everything

The big benefit of online shopping is convenience.  Time pressured consumers don’t have to leave their couch, their desk or their car to browse, compare, research and buy.  They can even do all this while they wait for a train, enjoy a drink in the wine bar after work or take a walk in the park.

However, shoppers can’t touch, smell, taste, the goods, they can’t try on clothes and shoes for size, they can’t get expert advice from a real human being, they can’t examine things from every angle and they can’t be sure of the colour and texture.  In store, however, all these things are possible.

Joy of shopping

As well as the many practical benefits offered by a physical store, going shopping, is a rewarding form of social and leisure activity – you can go with your friends, chat to shop assistants, combine it with a coffee, a meal or even a visit to the cinema.

The actual store itself can also provide an escape from everyday pressures.  And the great advantage of bricks & mortar stores is the fact they can provide an environment that’s sensually immersive and emotionally stimulating.

In other words shopping in a physical store can be a rewarding experience.  It’s not just about the exchange of money for goods, but about all the other feel-good factors that smart retailers can add to attract more visitors, create desire, drive sales and engender loyalty.

Making the most of these experiences is becoming increasingly important – consumers have come to expect them.

When did the experience become such a big deal?

Sociologists have long been aware of the fact that demand for experiences is on the rise.  Alvin Toffler, writing in the early 1970s, spoke of an upcoming “experiential industry”, in which people in the “future”, would be willing to allocate a high percentage of their salaries to live amazing experiences.  Others were quick to pick up on this idea – in 1992, the German sociologist Gerhard Schulze coined the term “experience society” and in 1999, it was renamed “The Experience Economy” in The Dream Society by Rolf Jensen of the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies.

Other’s noted the implications for the retail industry.  In his book, Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of Consumption (1999), author George Ritzer coins the term “retailtainment”.  This he describes as the “use of ambience, emotion, sound and activity to get customers interested in the merchandise and in a mood to buy.”  In other words he draws attention to the importance of creating an in-store experience that is pleasurable, entertaining and fun.

The idea of the experience economy, and the concept of retailtainment, struck many people as slightly sinister and futuristic when first proposed.  Today, however, they are realities – so ubiquitous and well established that retailers and consumers alike accept them as the normal state of affairs.

Who, or what, created this brave new world of experiential retail?

It’s not just prescient retailers who have brought about this change – in many ways it is consumers who have initiated it, and the industry, keen to satisfy the needs of customers, has adapted accordingly.

Numerous reports and commentators over the last few years are suggesting that Toffler, Schulze, Jensen and Ritzer were right – people are becoming less interested in buying things and more interested in buying experiences.

In January 2016 an article in the Washington Post revealed that spending on air travel hit record levels in 2015, even as the average price of an airline ticket dropped. Restaurant sales were up a robust 8 percent in the first 11 months of 2015, easily outperforming the 2 percent increase seen in the overall retail industry. Millennials were on track to spend an average of $750 each in 2015 on media, including video games and streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify.

In the same article Steven Kirn, executive director of the University of Florida’s retail education and research center comments that “People are saying, ‘I’ve got enough stuff. I want to pamper myself a bit and do something that makes me feel good.’ ”  The New York Times also cites a study by research firm Mintel that suggests holidays and dining out are each projected to see a 27 percent increase in consumer spending between 2015 and 2019.

It’s a similar story in the UK.  An article in the Guardian notes the latest figures come from Barclaycard, which processes about half of all Britain’s credit and debit card transactions. Figures for April 2017 show a 20% increase in spending in pubs compared with the same month last year. Spending in restaurants went up 16%, while theatres and cinemas enjoyed a 13% rise. Meanwhile, department stores suffered a 1% drop, vehicle sales were down 11% and spending on household appliances fell by 2.5%.

What is driving this shift?  Steve Howard, head of sustainability at IKEA, the world’s biggest furniture retailer, recently suggested that it’s the result of market saturation.  “In the west we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff … peak home furnishings.”

Others are suggesting that millennials are initiating this realignment of priorities. James Wallman, a trend forecaster and the author of Stuffocation: Living More with Less, remarks that “It used to be that our car, or handbag or wallet showed our status. Now we post Facebook pictures from a chairlift in Chamonix or the latest music festival.  Social media is supporting this change. Posting pictures of what you just bought is gauche; posting pictures of something you’re doing is fine.” Strong also thinks the “slightly impoverished nature of millennials” is compelling them to get out more.

How is the retail industry adapting?

The shift away from spending on stuff, to spending on good times, is a mixed blessing for retailers.  It gives them an advantage over online retailers, but it means that they’ll have to work harder to convince people to buy physical products and meet rising consumer expectations.

Analysts can debate the causes of this change, and the implications, but retailers are busily experimenting with new ways of rising to the challenges and capitalising on the opportunities.  As always it’s a case of who dares wins and the devil take the hindmost.  Here are some bold examples of experiential retail innovation in action.  And the lesson, surely, is that you cannot afford to be boring!

  • Vans, the shoe brand beloved by skateboarders, has turned their 30,000 square foot London store into a space where art, music, BMX, street culture and fashion converge. The premises include a cinema, café, live music venue and art gallery, while the basement houses a concrete ramp, mini ramp and street course.
  • Beerwolf Books in Falmouth is a bookshop in a bar, or a bar in a bookshop. As well as stocking a wide selection of literature it operates as a café by day and a pub by night.
  • Topshop hosts numerous events, from expert consultations to yoga classes and free nail art. It’s most dramatic was staged at their Oxford Street store this summer with a gigantic, looping water slide that, through the powers of virtual reality (VR), took participants on a digital rollercoaster through Oxford Street.
  • IKEA arranged a sleepover event for over 100 fans who won a Facebook challenge, letting them spend the night in the warehouse in Essex. They were provided with massages, salons, and were able to select the mattress, sheets and pillows to fully give them a tailored experience to satisfy their needs. A sleep expert was on hand with tips for getting a good night’s rest, including how to find the perfect mattress for your sleeping style.
  • In 2015 shoe manufacturer/charity Tom’s placed VR headsets into 100 stores, enabling them to virtually transport customers to Peru to see the impact of their One for One giving campaign on local people.

Over to you!

Of course, not all retailers will be willing, or able, to go to some of these extremes.  However, all of these examples are in response to trends that cannot be ignored.  Consumer expectations are running high and it has never been more important to consider your in-store environment and the kind of ambience you are creating for shoppers.

If you’d like to talk to us about our  bespoke metal shop fittings and well-designed retail displays don’t hesitate to get in touch.  We’re also value engineering specialists which means we can create bespoke products that not only work effectively but which are economical to produce.  Finally, if your budget is really tight, our shop fitting systems are an economical way of achieving many of the benefits of a bespoke solution but for an even keener price.

Dymond Shop Fittings

Dymond Engineering and Metal Products Ltd
Combrew Lane
Devon EX31 2ND

Tel: 01271 372662
Fax: 01271 322077

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"For more than 20 years Dymond have supplied us with innovative solutions at competitive prices, often within tight time scales."
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