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When you were young, I imagine you were entertained and enthralled by storytelling; it stirred your emotions and captured your imagination. It created an enticing mix of excitement and intrigue.

Well guess what? Into adulthood our love of stories largely remains undiminished as we continue to seek those same feelings – the magic of storytelling is perfect for delivering great customer experiences. But ask a dozen people what they believe represents great customer experience and chances are you’ll get a dozen different answers.

From easy to navigate websites, to same day delivery, to a helpful call centre, to a friendly store associate – we all have our thoughts on what it is that makes a great brand experience and keeps us coming back for more.

Now stop, and reflect on the last time you felt you had that great experience.

What did it feel like?

Chances are that it stirred emotions; whether they be ones of satisfaction, fulfilment (if you’ll pardon the pun), excitement, inspiration – even joy. And I’m sure there are many more besides. And whilst many of those experiences would undoubtedly have been whilst visiting a store, an increasing number would have been online – fundamentally a digital experience as opposed to a physical, human one.

Let’s take a moment to look at online.

The fact is that our love of online shopping shows no sign of abating, a look at the ONS figures for October 2017 reveal that the value of online sales increased year-on-year by 10.7%, accounting for approximately 16.9% of all retail spending.

And in a Cap Gemini report on the future of stores published earlier this year, the headline shouted:

Future of bricks and mortar stores in question as a third of consumers would rather wash the dishes than shop in-store

Strong stuff – and I wonder just how many retailers have thought that shuttering more stores, ramping up their online presence and continuing investment in ‘digitising the business’ would be the answer?

However, a look at the PwC Total Retail Survey 2017 shows something quite different; the worldwide trend is that in-store activity is actually on the increase; something mirrored in both the UK and US markets.

Source: PwC Total Retail Survey 2017

So, what’s going on here? Why the apparent contradiction? Much of this rests on what we’re purchasing.

And to complicate matters, it’s not one size fits all. For example – the last time you purchased a book; chances are that unless you were at an airport, desperate for some reading material on the long flight ahead, the purchase would have been made online.

However, for that new winter jacket; research may well have been conducted online, but the purchase more likely to have been made in-store. Nothing new here, but it’s the reasons behind this behaviour which are so crucial to understand in today’s hyper-competitive retail landscape.


Experience and Excitement

As online – particularly the use of mobile – continues to grow, what we are witnessing is a reimagination of the role of the store. Think of them as ‘experience hubs’, because we increasingly look to stores for experiences and excitement. From virtual reality waterslides to immersive backdrops, retailers across the globe are creating in-store experiences that consumers can engage with and share.

From the same PwC report:

Invest in showrooms…59% of consumers want an inviting ambience when they shop

And it is in the sports and lifestyle, electronics, automotive and luxury sectors where this is most prevalent.

The Pro:Direct flagship store in London is a good example. Previously exclusively online, this was a first foray into bricks and mortar. The challenge for us was to create an immersive, physical store. On entering, it’s as if you are being transported inside the Pro:Direct website, neither ostensibly a store nor a digital experience, instead it merges the digital world with the bricks and mortar creating a physical embodiment of the brand. And in doing so, it brings together the best of both worlds.


Pro:Direct digital retail experience, London
Pro:Direct digital retail experience, London

This is all about creating an immersive environment where digital enables rather than confuses. But there are many different ways to deliver great in-store experiences; take Jack Wills store in Reigate, Surrey for example. This is a store located in a Georgian house where Churchill once stayed and it avoids digital altogether.

Jack Wills
Is this where Winston might once have bathed? Intrigue around every corner

On entering, the grand hallway is all wood panelling and bare floorboards, lending a marvellous patina to the experience. It is as if you have been invited round to a warm, convivial house party.

So remember; in order to create the best in human experience – think emotional as well as the physical journey.

  • Experiential = intrigue and excitement – if your stores aren’t creating either of these it might be time to review them
  • Always remember: brand and customer first – the role of digital should be as an enabler, never a reason
  • Lead people on an emotionally charged journey and ensure that the experience is both immersive and memorable

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