With customers eager to visit and experience physical retail locations to connect with brands and products, we’re seeing more of a focus on experiential retail than ever before. In fact, our research of marketing agencies and retail brands found that 39% believe that innovation in the sector is being driven by these experiential and immersive experiences. We’ve seen a rise in ‘phygital’ experiences, which bring physical and digital channels together to deliver a consistent retail experience, giving customers the opportunity to order or trial a product online before going into a store to physically experience or collect it, for example.
Now, we’re seeing another evolution of this. According to Ella SY, strategy director at GDR, we’re now seeing a movement from omnichannel to omniexperience. Discussing the concept at the POPAI Summer Seminar, Ella said that omniexperience is especially meaningful for Gen Z consumers, who enjoy the opportunity to shop and socialise in a physical retail environment. But, one that seamlessly incorporates the ease and some elements of the online shopping experience and supports virtual worlds.
Retail technology’s ‘maturing phase’
We’re seeing omniexperience being delivered in different forms, and contrary to what you might think, it’s not all led by futuristic or unattainable technology. Ella believes we’re now at the ‘maturing phase’ for technology in physical retail, with many applications used to combine e-commerce logistics and physical retail to deliver ease and personalisation. The Amazon Style store in LA is just one example; its concept centred around accessing products immediately and removing the hassle of trying on clothing. Each item in the store features a QR code that customers can scan to send it to the fitting rooms to try on or use to pick up for purchase. Customers can also pick clothes on Amazon.com to be delivered to the store.
We’re also seeing technology used as a way to connect physical and virtual worlds – what Ella calls the ‘bricks to portal’ paradigm. Luxury fashion brand, Philipp Plein, now accepts cryptocurrencies at its London boutique and also displays physical versions of its Decentraland NFT gallery.
Creating sensorial concepts and theatricality
Yet, these omnichannel experiences aren’t all technology centred. In fact, some are quite the opposite! Some stores are offering physical, immersive, sensorial experiences as a form of escapism from the hyperconnected digital world. Aesop’s in Sydney is one store using this ‘disconnect to reconnect’ approach with consumers, providing a calming and other-worldy sensorium for visitors to explore and immerse themselves in its scents.
Ella also showed how some brands are embracing theatricality in physical retail locations to create a hypermersive experience. Retail and leisure space, Wow Madrid, certainly delivers on the wow factor, combining products from DTC brands with a number of experiences visitors can enjoy, from cooking demos and e-gaming to a fitness centre and a music events space. Designed to compete with the immersive capabilities of the metaverse, Wow Madrid weaves technology seamlessly throughout each of the spaces while letting the dramatic and impressive designs and experiences take centre stage.
The resilience of the physical store is testament to its constant evolution and innovation, as well as the innate human need for connection and experience. It’s certainly no longer the case that super-efficient and sophisticated e-commerce experiences will eventually make physical stores redundant. On the contrary, physical retail’s ability to adapt and incorporate e-commerce and virtual worlds in such seamless, creative, and innovative ways, shows that it will always have a role to play in the quickly evolving landscape – and, offer just that little bit more.