Do we still have time for experiential retail?

Cast your mind back a year or so – before the world was turned upside down by a global pandemic, and before so many bricks-and-mortar stores had to close for months on end.

Back then, experiential retail was a seriously hot topic in the industry. So, with online sales having surged over the past 15 months, where has that left experiential retail? And is it still relevant in a post-Covid world?

In short: yes. 

With the expectation that physical stores are set to make an impressive comeback, the truth is that in-store retail remains (and will remain for some time) the dominant channel. It’s a huge part of the customer journey and there is pent-up demand from consumers.

That pent-up demand, combined with the UK’s successful vaccination rollout, suggests that customers are keen to head back to the high street. But more to the point, they will expect new, exciting shopping experiences when they do.

But even though non-essential shops are open for business again in the UK, certain restrictions and health and safety measures remain in place. And this could cause a number of challenges for the return of experiential retail.

Here’s what we can expect from experiential retail over the coming months – how it can reinvent the physical retail space and, more importantly, how retailers can maximise its potential.

1. Recognising a desire for the human touch

Online retail is all very well, but it’s hardly the friendliest of retail activities. We all crave more face-to-face contact with people – and that includes the people we interact with when we do something as ‘normal’ as buying a new outfit.

With this in mind, brands that offer customers human interactions will have the upper hand over their ecommerce-only competitors.

This desire for human interaction was confirmed in 2020 when 75% of shoppers continued travelling to physical stores, with the vast majority making in-store purchases whilst there. In-store shopping remains the retail channel of choice for many shoppers, and retailers need to meet customer expectations. Retail associates will play a key role here, acting as brand advocates and going above and beyond in terms of customer service.

2. Creating personalised customer experiences

The rapid rise of ecommerce over the past 15 months might lead some to believe that the physical store is no longer essential. But offering a more personalised experience for customers will prove otherwise. The key to successful personalisation (e.g. relevant offers and innovative in-store experiences) lies in the ability to collect customer data at every touchpoint.

3. Using technology to make online and in-store retail more consistent

Online and offline don’t have to be mutually exclusive of one another. They can work beautifully in tandem – as long as you have the right technology.

Click and collect, contactless technology and self-service checkouts have all become more established during the pandemic. As well as creating frictionless shopping journeys, they allow retailers the opportunity to collect valuable customer data that can feed into omnichannel strategies.

Equally, AR and VR technologies can be used to bridge the gap between in-store and online – especially when targeting millennials and Gen Zers. Work out where the gaps lie within the in-store experience and fill them. But remember, the key here is to start small. And stay focused.

4. Empowering sales associates

In-store teams are invaluable in reinventing customer experiences. By giving retail associates the digital solutions they need to provide the curated experiences customers desire, retailers can boost employee engagement, performance and visibility. Successful in-store digital transformation empowers your people, which leads to happy employees and happy customers.

Brands and retailers need to make time for experiential retail in 2021. The Covid-19 crisis has fast-tracked the reinvention of physical stores and experience-craving customers are eager to see what lies in wait for them on the high street.

As visual communications specialists, Delta Group has the skills and solutions you need to empower your brand, empower your people, and reconnect with your customers. Get in touch today to find out more: