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Matt McCoy, Client Partner

Our Client Partner, Matt McCoy attended the recent POPAI Retail Experience Conference in Covent Garden, where some inspirational speakers shared their unique examples of how they have evolved their brand’s retail experience. From reinventing mobile retailing with O2, rolling out a relevant store concept for an Arabian fragrance house, or understanding the neuroscientific interpretation of multi-sensorial experiences, the event proved to be both informative for the unique activations by brand/retailer and reassuring for the constant of forming a relationship as the basis for the retail experience. While very different projects regarding the industry, category, target consumer, and desired response, all delivered a relevant and authentic (for brand and audience) emotional platform for each brand’s retailing opportunity.

Cutting through the noise

As the high street becomes increasingly sophisticated, the noise-level that accompanies every shopper journey makes the need for cut-through increasingly important. But rather than shouting louder, an outdated mode of expression, the examples played upon the need to challenge expectations and draw customers into the retail experience in a matter of seconds while still delivering on the brand promise and positioning that made these brands so successful. No generic, me too experiences here!

Personality is increasingly coming to the fore as a tool for differentiation. Setting the tone for the retail experience and challenging the old transactional model of consumer engagement – personality makes it possible for a retail space to become more of a destination for brand/product engagement. Such an evolution in thinking and approach is changing the dynamic between brand and customer as retailers appreciate that more value can be derived by delivering “soft” brand building initiatives and unexpected experiences rather than “hard sell” tactics.

Deliver the unexpected

Each of the case studies/brands showcased at the POPAI conference were successful because they delivered the unexpected. Sky being a great example. A content-driven brand, the pop-up strategy leveraged in mid-mall locations not only disrupted the customer journey without reverting to subscription sales, instead immersing consumers in content and channel access.

A similar mall approach can be seen in the retail activation for Volvo featured in Glasgow and Reading. The pop-ups reflected Volvo’s personality and delivered an unexpected Volvo experience that encouraged consumers to reevaluate the Volvo brand. Leveraging a Scandinavian theme and speaking to the brand’s Swedish heritage, the pop-ups included unique and relevant experience elements such as “Fika”, which is the Swedish tradition where friends and family take a break, relax and refuel over coffee and treats. Replicating this within the space gave consumers the opportunity to spend time with the brand without the trepidation of “being sold to” that accompanies a visit to an out-of-town showroom. Remove this fear and consumers become increasingly responsive and open to starting a conversation with the representative and subsequently with the brand.

Telecoms retailer O2 shared their retail evolution by focusing on staff performance where each store now features “gurus” able to bring to life the various product features of a handset or device based upon the lifestyle motivations of a consumer, such as music, photography or gaming. The retail space is designed to support this dialogue, with O2 brand perceptions further enhanced by the fact that “gurus” can respond to customer queries regardless of service provider, making the O2 store a destination for customer-centric brand engagement, which increases the likelihood of O2 being considered when the current contract expires. To make this initiative successful, O2 has brought the employees on their journey to customer-centric experiences by implementing new KPIs and metrics for staff performance measuring customer satisfaction and their store’s performance alongside sales.

Multi-sensory experiences

Colour and shape are fundamental in design and deliver conscious recognition, but alongside the visual experience, a brand’s multi-sensorial landscape has far more influence on the subconscious journey to purchase, which was explored by behavioural psychologist Dr Kate Nightingale in her presentation on the role of senses in building human-centered customer experiences. We all know that brands are more than a logo or advertising campaign but include the entirety of the human response. Developing a platform that considers the subconscious not only elevates and enhances the conscious brand experience but drives a deeper subconscious connection with consumers.

The final case study to mention is the Omani perfumery brand Amouage. The brand’s retail experiences have evolved by the delivery of a suite of brand assets that speak to the brand’s luxury positioning and Arabian heritage, which can be modified and leveraged appropriately to the selected retail location. Beyond the brand’s retail experiences, Amouage created a new factory and visitor centre in Oman where consumers can experience the journey of each fragrance, which further reinforces the relationship between the brand and its customers.


In conclusion, it’s exciting to see how many brands are embracing the role of experiences to drive value. Sales income is, of course, fundamental to making brands profitable (without it, the brand ecosystem simply cannot survive), but when operating in an increasingly sophisticated and crowded marketplace, emotionally rich and thoroughly considered experiences drive differentiation that leads to a more valuable, and valued, relationship between brand and consumer.