The fashion industry is constantly changing. Thanks to new technologies, we have new fabrics, new trends and silhouettes, new fields within the industry, new methods of advertising, just to name a few. So, the way we shop also must change. Today, we are seeing a surge of experiential elements brought into retail environments. Shopping is no longer a chore; it is an event and an experience.
Instead of just running into the store, picking up a few items and quickly leaving, and onto the next errand, many retailers are looking to create a more positive, enjoyable atmosphere in their stores. An environment which allows for relaxed browsing, socializing and inspiring.
Retailers have always created and defined brand images for their establishments. A brand image is necessary for defining customers, a target market and niche. This brand identity has always included a basic description of the customer: gender, age range, average income, and lifestyle. The ‘lifestyle’ component is arguably the most complex and can go in many different directions.
Lifestyle encompasses different things in different people. To some, lifestyle may mean where the customer lives, what type of job the customer has and the customer’s hobbies; this is very general. To others, lifestyle may mean what the customer does on the weekend, the customer’s go-to Spotify playlist and what type of coffee/tea the customer drinks. All these things help better paint the ideal customer for the store. Creating an in-store lifestyle experience not only appeals to the base customer, it also better teaches the retailer about the customer.
Life today is all about what you can share on social media. Millennials and Generation Z are constantly updating their profiles on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, just to name a few. In a recent Business of Fashion article, statistics from Pew Research Center show that “92 percent of US teens go online daily, and 24 percent are online “almost constantly” according to the 2015 study”.
According to Piers Guilar, executive strategy director of Fitch, a retail and branding consultancy, generation Z and younger millennials do not distinguish from buying online (whether on an e-commerce website or over social media referrals) versus a physical brick-and-mortar store. This is significant because retailers often approach online versus brick-and-mortar retail/sales very differently, but the growing trend is to think of them all under the same umbrella.
Whether its sharing a snap from the fitting room or an “artsy” picture of the store’s layout and merchandise, today’s teens want to share everything. “Pics or it didn’t happen”, right? This major shift has caused retailers to change their visual merchandising and social strategies in order to optimize their customer’s shopping experience.
It is very smart for retailers to create a more experiential shopping atmosphere because that gives shoppers an incentive to snap pictures and post about their experience, whether its a simple Snapchat to a few friends or an Instagram post. This is free and organic advertising, arguably one of the best kinds. For example: what do you trust more, a billboard showing a cool pair of sneakers or your best friend telling you how great they are, from personal experience? Same goes with social media/online advertising.
In order to make shopping more of an enjoyable experience, stores have installed new departments and layouts. Currently, most of these developments and changes are happening in larger store locations or flagship stores. If these additions are successful, I suspect that slowly, these new departments and additions will expand and enter more store locations, until the majority of stores have these experiential elements.
Urban Outfitters is one of the most popular stores for teenagers and young adults. Their customer is looking for something unique, fun and young. In the past year and a half or so, Urban Outfitters has installed photo booths in many of their larger locations. This is an easy way for Urban Outfitters to increase revenue (customers have to pay a few dollars for the photo booth) and have customers share where they shop. The photo strips have “Urban Outfitters” on the bottom. The photo booth is an easy way to make customers happy, increase revenue and create some simple word-of-mouth advertising, whether the photo strip is hanging on a bulletin board or posted on Instagram.
Additionally, in the Herald Square location in New York City, Urban Outfitters has installed many other shops within their store. There is Amoeba Music, a record shop, Tortoise Blonde Shop, an eyeglasses and sunglasses brand and Three Potato Four Souvenir Shop, a Philadelphia based brand selling “feature NYC-related tchotchkes with a minimalist design”. These three “shop-in-shops” are permanent, little departments within the larger store. These cater to the Urban Outfitters customer because each shop provides unique products that cannot be found anywhere else in the city, thus giving an incentive for customers to shop there.
The aforementioned pop-up shops within Urban Outfitters is not a new idea, though. Stores like Nordstrom have been doing pop-up shops for a few years now. Urban Outfitters, being the young and inventive brand it is, has taken experiential shopping one step further. Connected to the Herald Square store is Hairroin Salon, a LA based hair salon that does cuts, colors and extensions for men and women of all hair types, making it useful for all Urban Outfitters customers. Additionally, on the opposite side of the store, Intelligensia Coffee has a small coffee bar, the perfect place for parents, significant others and uninterested friends to hang out while their friends and family shop.
These additions serve a few purposes. First, it gives the salon and coffee shop some credibility in a new city because they are partnering with a hugely successful brand that has already established customer loyalty. Second, it makes the Herald Square Urban Outfitters less of a store and more of a gathering place. Stop in the store, pick out an outfit for the night, then pop over to the salon to get a quick haircut, run back home to put it all together, and you’re all ready for a night out. Similarly, instead of meeting at Starbucks to catch up over coffee, friends can meet at the Herald Square Urban Outfitters, grab some coffee while browsing Urban’s newest arrivals. This makes the customer feel special because the store is catering to their needs beyond what most other stores do. These additions and features are trademarks of the luxury market. And now, they are able to shop at a store that has all these special, luxurious features without breaking the budget.
Many other stores are adopting similar additions and experiences. Urban Outfitters was not the first store to do this, and will certainly not be the last. Club Monaco also installed a coffee shop in their flagship store in the flatiron district of New York City. Ralph Lauren has introduced Ralph’s Coffee in their Fifth Avenue location as well as The Polo Bar restaurant in their Upper East Side, NY location and restaurants in their Chicago and Paris locations as well.
Experiential shopping is a growing trend in the retail world and I think it will only continue to grow as social media becomes a more prevalent force in our lives. Each brand will have a very different take on this concept because each brand is catering to a different customer base and lifestyle. Overall, with the growth and expansion of experiential shopping, brands will further define their customer in order to create a more personalized shopping experience.
What do you think about this experiential shopping phenomenon? Comment below!