From Storefronts To Storytelling: Reinventing Retail Experiences

Everything Experiential gets into a chat with brand experts who uncover the innovative strategies employed by retailers to captivate audiences, from interactive displays and pop-up installations to immersive environments and personalised services

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In the ever-evolving landscape of commerce, retailers are transcending traditional notions of brick-and-mortar stores, ushering in a new era of experiential marketing and immersive storytelling. This transformative trend is about exploring how businesses are harnessing the power of narrative and sensory engagement to redefine the customer journey.

Gone are the days when retail spaces merely served as transactional hubs; today, they are vibrant stages where brands craft narratives, foster emotional connections and curate unforgettable experiences. This shift reflects a fundamental understanding that consumers seek more than just products – they crave memorable encounters and meaningful interactions.

By embracing experiential marketing, brands not only differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace but also create lasting impressions that resonate with consumers long after they leave the store. It is about a journey through the dynamic intersection of commerce and storytelling, where the future of retail is being rewritten one experience at a time.

Everything Experiential gets into a chat with brand experts who uncover the innovative strategies employed by retailers to captivate audiences, from interactive displays and pop-up installations to immersive environments and personalised services.

Retail Reinvented: Storytelling Spaces

With consumers’ rising expectations, retailers are leveraging experiential marketing to transform traditional brick-and-mortar stores into immersive storytelling environments.

Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and Independent Director understands that the last five to seven years have put the owners on brick-and-mortar stores to reinvent themselves. And that has been driven by the massive spread of online e-commerce versions, with convenience becoming an obvious thing that e-commerce provides. “Also, with price checking or price comparisons becoming very obvious, people can quickly check to go and see stores. I think the only significant advantage that brick and mortar has is one, is to create a true experience and the second, to build on relationships.

If I look at a simple category like mobile phones or consumer durables, people are very comfortable buying them online because once you zero in on the model you want, you can go through the features and reviews, and then you can buy. The advantage of going to a store is that you can get a touch and feel - you can see and feel.”

He adds, “Additionally, you can have your questions answered. You can get things like data transfer done, buy little accessories, things like a screen guard or whatever. Even for consumer durables, you could actually see a demonstration of the washing machine, refrigerator or a colour television. Therefore, the pressure or importance for retailers to leverage experiential marketing. The question is - how can I make a customer's visit to my store richer, and more experiential so that he gets a full shopping experience? He's not there just for the price. He's come there to get a larger experience. And therefore the retailers have had to innovate.”

Tarun Singh Chauhan, Founder, TSC Consulting gives the instance of Croma which was launched by them. “Our competition was the white goods stores all over, and we wanted to get people to Croma. 

The line was critical: ‘We help you buy’ - this made a huge difference because at the core we don’t manufacture, we only trade. ‘Help’ was the core philosophy. We built the consumer experience around this.” 

Chauhan points out that the problem with most consumers is they think big stores are overpriced. “We had to deal with the issue at two levels - price and fear. The moment we shifted our focus from selling to helping, the game changed for us. Every salesperson on the floor wore T-shirts with ‘Help you buy’ on them. Language was local and store identity inside was colourful, which made all the difference.”

Innovations In Retail Experiences 

Innovative strategies are being utilised by retailers to create memorable experiences that engage customers on a deeper level within physical retail spaces, as well as remain authentic and resonate with their target audience.

Mathias states that the global standard at some level, at least for the mobile category, has been Apple. “Apple has the geniuses. They have cool shopping attendants who can pretty much crack any problem - whether you go with any of your Apple, whether it's a Mac, an iPad, an iPod, or an iPhone. They have created a magical experience - you can go to experience all that Apple has to offer.”

Even fashion and lifestyle brands can create a very different experience just because of the way they do up their stores. They give you a whole ambience of what the brand stands for. They create experiential zones.” I think that culture is slowly spreading. It started largely from the mobile handsets and Apple and consumer durables,” he says.

But today, various categories are innovating and ensuring that they can offer their consumers something different, something that makes it memorable so that people can go there. Even categories like bookstores and all. They have book reading sessions, they have authors present to sign copies, etc.

Mathias brings out, “Everyone is looking at doing something exciting and interesting so that they make it exciting for the consumer to come to their store and spend some time. So it becomes more than just a buying and selling transaction experience. It becomes an overall deeper experience. Brands or retailers are looking at in terms of engaging consumers, to remain authentic, and resonate with the target audience. So I think one is looking at inroad experience. They're also looking at giving the consumer an omnichannel effect.”

Not only can you get the full experience, but you also have things like QR codes. So if a consumer wants to get reviews quickly on a particular phone product- he/she could just click on the QR code. It gives him/her the fact sheet, all the product specs, etc. - all that at one time, he/she physically has to go through a brochure, so that's available.

One can even get a click and get reviews. Some of them even have the equivalent of demos. So if he/she presses a click, it tells him/her how to use it etc.

If there is a brand ambassador, very often a brand ambassador's pitch can be got on video. “Creating a lot of very innovative real-time experiences lets consumers enjoy the entire experience,” Mathias reveals.

As per Chauhan, it stems from the brand idea. If the brand idea is consumer-centric then the stories are consumer-centric. “Croma is what it is today because our launch idea was fabulous: now what is said about Croma: consumers still remember the original idea and keep going back. I think even Big Bazaar did this - they created a bazaar experience in a modern way. Retail is very complicated. You cannot replace the mom-and-pop stores. But you can take away the high-value business from them - they will co-exist.” 

Consumer Expectations In Experiential Retail

Consumer behaviours and expectations have evolved, and in response to that, with the rise of experiential marketing in retail, retailers are adapting to these changes.

Mathias understands that consumers have come to expect a completely special experience from brick-and-mortar retailers. “Shopping is no longer a hard task. People go to shop because it's also something they enjoy. So you mix it up with possibly dining out. You mix it out with going to a movie. You look at shopping as an overall outdoor experience.”

People leave their home, their OTTs and televisions behind. They go out. So, therefore, the experience and the expectations from consumers have certainly evolved.

Mathias goes on, “Specifically, they want the store experience to be real, very tangible. They want more personalised experiences.  This is not about just going and picking up the stuff that they want. This is really about getting a much better feel of things. Consumers are certainly expecting specifically, on certain categories like lifestyle and lifestyle, etc, where they really want to get a larger sense of things.”

On the other hand, Chauhan underlines that consumers finally want a good price. “In India, every purchase is a community purchase: we ask four people before we buy. You can give all the experience in the world, but pricing is key and location is critical. Most retail brands fail because of location and pricing.”

Future Trends In Experiential Retail 

Discussing the trends that can be foreseen shaping the future of experiential marketing in brick-and-mortar retail, Mathias thinks that experiential retail is going to evolve much further. According to him, it's now going to be well beyond just the buying experience. It is going to be about creating a magical moment. It’s going to be about what can a consumer step in to the shop and discover that he/she can't get in the online world. “That has to be more than just a relationship. It is also about the special something they can do.”

As per him, right now, it's poised for a lot of very interesting things. Secondly, it's also poised for other categories. Historically, a lot of experience was around lifestyle, retail, and maybe the ambience that restaurants or high-end dining created.

It's going to go into slightly more traditional retail, according to him. For example, if you go to a high-end food store, they might have online cooking classes, they might have a celebrity chef coming and doing a live cookout or a special cookout event. “So the idea is therefore to make retail a special experience, a memorable experience, which is not just about going and making a transaction.

I think retailers have to raise the innovation quotient, but I think we still have some distance to cover. The challenge is for brick-and-mortar retailers, because e-commerce has made shopping easy, really convenient, and has made it price transparent. But I think the test really for brick and mortar is how to raise the bar and raise it significantly,” he emphasises.

Chauhan underscores that brick-and-mortar stores are also evolving. “The younger generation of the family is taking over. They are using technology - maybe not of the highest calibre. But they are. So don’t write off any format. There are streets in cities that have these stores and they are all doing well. Retail in India is very unlike other countries. We will have multiple formats and all will prosper,” he wraps up.



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