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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Why stores are becoming experience hubs

By redesigning their spaces with extreme experience in mind, companies can draw people in.

Why stores are becoming experience hubs
[Photo credits: Jacob Lund / Adobe Stock]

Customers already enjoyed having experiential encounters with brands before the pandemic. In 2022, though, the “industry of the workshop” trend, where stores provide testing and exploration opportunities for customers, has even more power. Consumers are eager to be back out in physical spaces, and they are looking for positive moments that can lift their spirits. Following this trend and designing your store around the customer experience can strengthen the voice of your brand and encourage more sales.

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TRADITIONAL HANDS-ON INTERACTION, BUT WITH AN EDGE

The concept of providing in-store experiences is not entirely new. For example, for years, The Home Depot has offered both child and adult workshops where customers can come in and learn how to tackle a range of home improvement jobs. And back in 2019, Toys ‘R’ Us based its plan for a post-bankruptcy comeback on interactive, play-based stores.

Now, stores are taking the level of experience they offer up a notch. More companies are thinking about how to put the customer experience at the forefront of how the stores are designed using an omnichannel customer experience tool.

Two sectors where you see this happening at a high level are clothing and cosmetics. For instance, take outdoor equipment company Arc’teryx. One of its specialty areas is climbing, so it put a climbing wall in the store. Arc’teryx also has a cold room where you can try on jackets and simulate being out in harsher weather. On the cosmetics side, Beautycounter has spaces where people can test products and take photos of themselves with their new glammed-up looks.

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WHY STORES ARE GOING EXTREME

One reason stores are hopping on the extreme experience bandwagon is that they understand a good experience is extremely memorable to the customer. They want people to leave the store with a strong impression, and doing something physical with the products and talking to representatives face-to-face has a big influence on achieving that goal.

On top of that, though, is the awareness of social media and the power and financial economy of word-of-mouth advertising. Store leaders know that social media users, including influencers with big followings, are looking for content to share. They understand that more extreme content often gets noticed and goes viral more easily.

By redesigning their spaces with extreme experience in mind, companies can draw people in and get them to use their stores as a backdrop for their videos or other posts. The visitors become ambassadors for the brand with that exclusive content, whether they have that as a direct goal or not. They enable their viewers to be “inside” the store from anywhere in the world.

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BRINGING EXTREME EXPERIENCE INTO YOUR OWN BUSINESS

Even though many companies are pushing the envelope with how they use design to encourage a better experience, creating a good experience within your own store doesn’t have to be build-a-cold-room extreme. That’s especially important for smaller businesses that might not have the budget for larger investments, or that are designed to move to different locations and come to the customer based on demand. You simply have to get people to interact with the representatives or products in a way that’s novel to them.

For instance, if you have a grocery store, then hosting a cooking session would be a natural experience to try. But a how-to session on how to use scraps from the foods you sell to compost, clean your house, or make crafts will likely be a stronger challenge for customers to think about and use your products differently. And simply changing the layout of your space to draw customers toward the activities can improve participation—no climbing wall required.

No matter what type of extreme experience you go for, it’s still important to monitor the effectiveness of your efforts. Evaluating your sales numbers or traffic and using customer exit interviews via an omnichannel survey software are traditional ways to get the feedback you need, but considering that sharing the experiences on social media is part of the larger strategy, pay attention to threads and reviews on those platforms, too.

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A final consideration is that, although customers will probably always be drawn in by something that pushes the envelope, trends and preferences can change very rapidly. So ask yourself if the experience is something, like Arc’teryx’s cold room, that can be wrapped up in or help define the brand over time. If you don’t have something like that, perhaps because of the greater range of products you offer, then there’s a bigger risk involved in putting a lot of money into what you’re doing, because you can’t guarantee how long people will stay interested. Try to find a situation that you can adapt to present new options in a way that stays true to who you are.

IT’S TIME TO MAKE EXTREME YOUR NORMAL

Brands are moving toward providing more extreme, hands-on experiences for customers and committing to those experiences in how they design their stores. They understand that these are more attractive and memorable, and they want to take advantage of the desire people have to share content on social media. With a little creativity, you can bring this trend into your own business in a way that makes sense for your company’s model, growth stage, and products. As long as you build the experience based on a keen, current awareness of your own customer base, you’ll be on the right track.


Sumit Aneja is CEO of Voxco, an omnichannel software survey platform and a global market leader in the multi-modal survey software sector.

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