January 12, 2023
While the pandemic may have ended, COVID hasn’t gone away. In its wake, there are several other viruses affecting children, teens, and adults. RSV made headlines this fall when young children were going to hospitals with severe symptoms from the respiratory illness. Even the seasonal flu started strong, though it’s declined in the past couple of weeks.
All of this has shaped people’s attitudes toward in-person shopping. As the pandemic heightened, many business owners wondered if in-person shopping was going to be a thing of the past. How has retail experiential marketing changed as the pandemic ends?
What Are Consumers Saying?
First things first, if the pandemic taught marketing experts anything, it’s that consumers want to connect. A Lion’esque Group survey found that 65% of shoppers want to shop locally or in physical stores. Only 35% wanted to stick with online shopping. That’s less than two out of five shoppers wanting to continue shopping online.
This is where it gets tricky. While most shoppers have made it clear they want to be in stores and socializing, you can’t forget those who prefer the online experience. Savvy marketing teams are going to find ways to please both sides.
Consumers Still Seek In-Person Experiences
What store or business has really connected with you and left a lasting impression? As much as you may have found it overpowering, when walking through a mall, it was hard to avoid Abercrombie’s marketing technique of adding their signature scent to their ventilation system. You could smell that store before it was in sight.
Have you ever been to a Westin? That’s another place where the experience is memorable. The hotel’s signature White Tea scent relaxes and soothes you the moment you walk in. It’s that experience that people crave. They want to feel special and come away with something unforgettable.
A Shopify study suggested something else that’s an important takeaway. Three out of five shoppers expect retail spaces to have more space devoted to experiences than they do products and sales racks. How can you do this? It depends on your space and what you sell. Here are a few examples of what some of the nation’s biggest retailers do to create experiences that leave memories and are easily shared.
How about a Cabela’s store? If you haven’t been, these stores are packed with experiences like floor-to-ceiling aquariums and replicas of animals found around the world, on-site archery ranges, and shooting galleries all woven within the store’s different sections.
- Dick’s Sporting Goods
Dick’s Sporting Goods House of Sports may want to sell apparel, sporting goods, and footwear, but their House of Sports locations add activities to draw you in, such as batting cages and climbing walls.
- Toys R Us
We know. Toys R Us is gone now, but the Times Square location in NYC was amazing. It was a vibrant mix of toys, games, and more for sale, but there was also a life-size T-Rex roaring at you as you walked by. There was a multi-floor Ferris wheel and Barbie Townhouse to explore. You could even head to the LEGO section and play with the bricks. It was an experience for children and parents alike. All of those photo opportunities could be shared on social media and draw even more attention.
Keys to Creating Experiences That Make an Impression
You’re considering your options and have a few ideas. How do you make sure they’re going to be impactful? Start by brainstorming the answers to these questions.
- What is the story behind your store or service?
What brought you to the point you are now? Come up with ways to tell your story that show what inspired your vision. Consumers want to connect with you and your brand’s message and origins.
Have you ever watched “Shark Tank?” TIME Magazine honored one of the teen entrepreneurs for her creation. After being bullied for her eyebrows before she was old enough to go to a salon for eyebrow waxing, she came up with an organic skincare line that helped her. Her skincare line has been featured in several major magazines and led to more than $2.4 million in sales.
- How can you bring your e-commerce site to the people?
If you own an online store, how can you turn that into a physical experience? A pop-up is ideal for this. Create a pop-up with a demo item that shoppers can look at. Get into the mind of your consumers. What do you hate the most about shopping in a store? Take those dislikes and change them to create the ideal experience.
ThirdLove, an online-only undergarment retailer, developed a pop-up that let consumers get a professional fitting. The company benefited from face-to-face connections with consumers, but it also gave the team a chance to verify that the algorithm on their online Fit Stylist is accurate. With the professional fitting completed, consumers knew that the size they ordered would definitely fit once it arrived.
Another example includes the pet company BarkBox. Several years ago, the marketing team set up a pop-up store where pet owners could bring their dogs to. Dogs wore vests that had technology that interacted with the RFID chips placed inside different toys. Pet owners and BarkBox workers could track what toys the dogs interacted with the most. Once pet owners knew what their dogs loved, they could order those toys at the pop-up for delivery to their homes.
- How do you collect and analyze data and track your marketing funnel?
You have to be able to gather data, but you also have to do so legally. You can’t just secretly collect information through cookies. You have to put up policies on what information you collect and how you use it. You also need to give consumers the chance to opt out. That’s just online though. How do you collect data from an in-person event?
You can go old school and have a sign-up sheet for people to fill out their name, address, email, etc. Use QR codes for people to purchase items from a pop-up. If an item is of interest, shoppers can scan that item’s QR code, go to the site, and purchase it there.
You now have additional information on how effective your product is doing in terms of the marketing funnel. See how many people scan the QR code and click the link. How many successfully add items to the cart or fill out payment information and complete the sale?
Be Creative and Turn Your Vision Into a Reality
The important takeaway here is that people still crave those experiences when they’re shopping. Whether you own a virtual store or have a brick-and-mortar location, you need to create experiences. They don’t even have to be that costly or grand.
You have shoppers coming in to explore your kitchen items. Why not offer cooking demonstrations from time to time? You could bring in a guest chef and sell all-in-one packages with the specialty ingredients needed to recreate that dish at home. Attendees can share their attempted dishes and tag your store in them.
While some people are comfortable getting back out into crowds, others aren’t. An Italian restaurant in Vermont converted a private room in their restaurant into a weekend-only Italian shop with homemade pasta, sauces, olives, cheeses, bread, and take-and-bake versions of their most popular menu items. Online ordering appeals to those who don’t want to dine out and want a hot meal, not one that’s lukewarm by the time they get home. This pop-up shop became such a hit that they’ve kept it going. It’s simple ideas that can often be your most successful.
Your marketing team may struggle to get back into in-person events and strategies. We’re here to help. Talk to Factory 360’s experts in experiential marketing plans to discuss your goals and work with us to come up with a winning strategy.