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Continuing the theme from last week’s blog on Storytelling, this week I am eulogising on the physical retail store and retailers who are delivering experiential retail by the bucket load.

Please trust me when I say I love every channel and every touchpoint on the path to purchase and now please forgive my broad sweeping (yet true) statement; the physical store remains the epicentre of the shopping experience.

Pull out research from anyone in this sector; Frost & Sullivan or WPP or whoever, and you’ll see that up to 75% of all purchase decisions are now made in the physical store. And these decisions are being made by well informed customers who arrive in store armed with knowledge and information garnered from the internet and the expectation they can shop when and how they like.

As such our physical store environment’s ability to engage has been never more critical. It’s the ultimate moment of truth; the last frontier. Experiential retail is proven to increase recency, frequency and dwell time in store which in turn increases average sale, profitability, strike rate and ultimately loyalty and affinity with the retail brand.

Two retailers where customers are coming face-to-face with profound retail experiences are REI (Seattle) and Hackett (London).  Encountering both during my recent international shopping expedition I saw first-hand the power of a great retail experience coming to life in these stores

REI

REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated) provides outdoor enthusiasts with everything they need for camping, climbing, cycling, fitness, hiking, paddling, skiing, snowboarding and a multitude of other outdoor activities. 

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REI Seattle

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The wilderness awaits and a cycle track to test your bike before you buy

As you enter this store you trek, like you really are in the wilderness, to the front door. On the way you pass waterfalls and the bike track where you test ride bikes “before you buy”. The theatre of crossing the lease line is outstanding; pick axes for door handles as you pass clocks telling the time at iconic outdoor destinations around the world.

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Store entry

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Shoppers making the most of a visual display

On entering the store there is a real sense of enthusiasm for whatever your outdoor activity is. From the camping installation near the massive fireplace (there was a family having a wee kip while other members of the family shopped – or so I presumed). The visual delivery of products that in reality  can be bought from a number of other outlets, gives you a sense that these guys have curated the best of what you need to select from (so why go anywhere else). They provide advice, education and information at every appropriate point, giving you confidence that you are making a great decision.

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Visual merchandising feast

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Try before you buy

There is something for everyone here with a playground to entertain the kids, while you refuel with a bite to eat before you get back out into the store to get your fill of outdoor product pleasure. Whilst there are products and categories spread across many levels what makes REI different is the hands-on services and experiences. From rental services, such as ski and snowboard and outdoor rental equipment to the bike shop bike trail to facilities to help prepare you for your ‘outdoor adventures’ it is one great experience. Specialist classes and information sessions are yet more reasons for you to stay engaged as a customer and revisit the store over and over and over again.  

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Classes galore – something for everybody

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View across REI store Seattle

Hackett London has long been the home of quintessential British style. However with increased pressure on the high street both from the luxury end and the push for posh, it has had to discover new and innovative ways to enhance the authenticity of its storytelling while continuing to dress and accessories shoppers “appropriately for any occasion as well as to suit their personal style.”

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Hackett Regent Street, London

A large part of the brand story is delivered through the unique and innovative visual merchandising, or visual storytelling, as it should be renamed. This is not interior decorating and there are no dump bins piled high with stock here.

Much as I would love to, chances are I will never be the person who conjures up the idea that a sheep’s skeleton would make a brilliant VM display. But it’s an execution which enhances the objective of delivering sales whilst creatively positioning the brand, and so it makes you want to explore more. You are continuously sucked into the store exploring products and solutions which may be (or not) right for you. Every nook and cranny of this store captures your attention and delivers an experience that is consistent with the brand.

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Hackett, Regent Street

 Hackett have introduced a number of experiential services as further proof of the story, such as a barber and male grooming service and the flagship Regent Street store sports a refined gin bar. Well, who doesn’t want to stop for a relaxed tipple whilst out shopping? 

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Hackett, Covent Garden, Barber & Male Grooming

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Hackett Regent Street – Refined Gin Bar

A strong story painted in vivid brand pictures that engage shoppers to be a part of the brand and persuade them to buy is a winning formula. More than ever the physical retail environment needs to be given the focus and attention it deserves as the epicentre of decision making.

Photo credits: Echochamber, Blog Stylesight, ftape, Dazzlingplan, Lin Pernille Photography (flickr)

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