Will online shopping impact experiential marketing?


Experiential marketing that also goes by the name, engagement marketing is a form of marketing that lets potential consumers experience a brand personally. The engagement takes place through one of many human senses like emotions, smell, etc. Although most experiential activities take place outdoors at malls, stores and public places, many brands have taken it online with the rise of social media users across the globe.

As the internet adoption by users globally grows at a lightening speed, especially in developing countries like India where it is expected to reach a whopping 500 million by 2018, as per some forecasts. More and more retailers and brands have taken the online route to sell their products, by introducing apps and websites. They primarily target smartphone users who are increasingly becoming internet savvy, as many of them do their shopping from their phones - call it a natural evolution. In fact, even Google has taken note of the fact that by year end, 50% of internet users will access it from their mobile devices.

As our lives get increasingly busier in the the cost-cutting era, when it comes to shopping, we tend to channel our limited time shopping online. The convenience it offers is incomparable with the ability to place an order with few button presses, 24/7. We do our own research online or we tend to ask our friends for recommendations, rather than depending on advertisements entirely. We also go to review sites. But, there is a shift where consumers increasingly want to know what the product actually feels like when used, how it fares and what are its strengths and weaknesses.

Even retailers benefit from putting their products online, they get to reach out to wider audience base and tap into the benefits of email marketing through discounts and sales.

Does that mean the retail stores will soon be dead?

Absolutely not, as long as we remain social animals, we would always want to interact, feel and experience products we use through experiential engagements. It is just that retail stores need to evolve with time and offer products through experiential channel. The craving for experiences such as touch, feel and smell will always influence our decision making. We would want to know the product better, how it relates to us and our needs, the story around the product etc. As online purchasing becomes more and more common, the retail stores need to get more creative in order to make customer interaction and purchasing, more experiential - than simply doing transactions.

The stores need to make their space more social where potential buyers can come and experience the brand come to life. To cite an example, some of the Apple stores do not have a fixed cash counters, instead sales representatives roam around helping out people and when they buy, they can do so with an interactive bar or self checkout, making them feel more empowered that they hold the power from experiencing the product till buying it, just the way a buyer feels while doing online purchase. This is just one creative way to make a store interactive and engaging.

The takeaway that experiential marketing brings is the surety that a consumer knows the value that the brand or a product will add, which brands are increasingly realizing. One such example to cite in India would be the Ford EcoSport Urban Discoveries campaign, where a brand directly got involved to make one of its products launch experiential. The people who took part in the campaign shared their likes, dislikes and everything else about the car while they actually traveled in it and experienced it. The users not only got a chance to participate in the campaign but to see, read and hear what common people like them thought of the product. This created a lot of excitement and buzz around the launch period.

Even though product information such as reviews, specs etc. could have been made available online, getting first hand experience and opinions of those involved in the campaign adds value and personal connect with the product and the brand.

As the phrase goes ‘survival of the fittest’, brands may not need to flex their muscular strength to keep up with the evolution in marketing, but their creative prowess.

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