Experience is the Oxygen of Modern Retail
Beth Ann Kaminkow
Stores are dying in the US every day. In 2019 alone, more than 7,500 stores are expected to close; and by 2026, more than 75,000 stores will have shut their doors. In the midst of this so-called retail apocalypse, everyone is trying to predict the future of retail. How can we sell without stores?
Consider Glossier’s meteoric rise. On Instagram, the company defines itself as “a people-powered beauty ecosystem.” And lest we forget what that means, they added a catchphrase, “Skin first, makeup second,” with an emoji directing us to the company’s website. Why get caught in the foot traffic of 5th Ave, when you can refresh your lipstick collection from the comfort of your couch? A bonus is that Glossier actually cares about your skin. Just look at their feed, where a representative directly responds to each comment, inviting Glossier’s followers to DM them with any concerns.
By one estimate, seven out of ten millennials today actively consider company values when making brand choices. But how does a company effectively communicate its values except through experience? Experience allows brands to communicate authentically, while staying in sync with the consumer’s values and needs.
Ikea’s Innovation Lab, Space 10, for example, is connecting consumers with sustainable values through the experience of food, including offering recipes for meatballs made out of algae and bugs. When talking about the company’s experimental cookbook, Future Food Today, Space 10 cofounder Simon Casperson told Forbes, “You can try and predict the future, but the people who envision it often shape it. Let’s dream about a future we want to live in and pull the present in that direction."
Taking Casperson’s words to heart, we can survey the current retail landscape and see that the best brands are dreaming big by engaging with their customers’ values. These brands are sustainable, ethical, personalized, and efficient.
We love running shoes, and we love the planet. Now we can run in Adidas Futurecraft shoes. Made from a single material without any glue, they are 100% recyclable.
We live in a city but want deep experiences of nature. Now we can rent—not buy—snowshoes from REI. And we can get a discount on the rental along with different packages of outdoor adventures by joining the REI Co-op for a single fee of $20.
And while we’re out there in the wild, we don’t have to wear a brand new jacket—we can buy a used one from Patagonia, the ultimate way of saying thank you to Planet Earth. But, if we do buy a new one from North Face instead, we can still earn points toward a hiking trip in the Himalayas.
What if cosmetics stores spoke to products and usage with the depth of knowledge of a dermatologist? SK is pioneering this experience. What about a 3-D printed customized facial mask? Neutrogena has offered that. Or perhaps we just want a quick, free makeover from Sephora. We can join VIB Rouge.
Or maybe all we really want is to spend quality time with our pets. We love our dogs and want to see how their food is prepared, just as much as we want to sit at the chef’s table in a five-star restaurant. Plan a trip to Petco.
These companies are building brand equity through experience. They use their stores as arenas for connection.
In this rapidly shifting era of digitalization and AI, experience has become our new social currency. Experiences are what we remember and what we share with the people we love. Experiences are what bond us to one another and to the brands that deliver them. And in the current landscape of retail, the ways we think about and activate experiences will continue to evolve. As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos once said, “Customers are always beautifully and wonderfully dissatisfied.”
Only the brands that understand this and act on it will continue to thrive.