The Shift from the Retail Store to the Retail Experience

January 9, 2018 | by Carlie Miller

When I first moved to Chicago 8 years ago, I would take trips to the grocery store weekly where I would browse the aisles until I checked off everything on my list. Today, my trips to the grocery store involve the same aisle browsing, but now to get to the same groceries that I was buying before, I walk past people sipping on wine at the wine bar, people eating sushi at the sushi bar, and even people enjoying Nutella crepes from the Nutella bar. A trip to the grocery store is no longer just a chore; it has become a whole new retail experience.



With the continued growth of e-commerce shopping and the decline in profits of brick-and-mortar stores, it’s no longer enough for retailers to just exist as a place to buy goods. A retail store must now find a way to convince customers to leave their home. No one really NEEDS to leave their home anymore since pretty much anything can be bought online and delivered to your door. As such, many retailers are rethinking their business models to put more emphasis on creating an experience around their brand, rather than simply existing as a place to come, shop and go home.



This past fall, Apple moved their flagship Chicago store to just north of the Chicago River, and with it came not just a new location, but a new brand concept as well. Coined as a “Town Hall”, the new store aims to focus heavily on educational programs, offering an average of 10-15 classes per day(!) with what is known as their Chicago Series. Apple may have been a bit ahead of the curve with the experiential shopping model, as even when their first two stores opened in 2001, much of the store was dedicated to allowing customers to interact with their products. Apple’s new Town Halls still incorporate this tactic as a way for customers to immerse themselves with their products, only now the focus is more on community and how to get the most out of Apple products.



Additionally this past fall, Nordstrom opened their first “Nordstrom Local” store in Los Angeles, which has the look of a small boutique store rather than a large department store. The main difference between Nordstrom Local and their standard department store is that the new boutique doesn’t actually sell any clothes. It is a place to come to pick up and try on clothes that were purchased online, return clothes, enjoy spa services, meet with a tailor or personal stylist and spend time at a bar that serves beer, wine, coffee and juice.

Other new retail experience concepts include the Starbucks Roastery, where coffee lovers can watch beans being roasted while sipping on lattes; Nike Soho, where athletes can test gym shoes while shooting hoops or running on a treadmill and Samsung 837 where tech-savvy shoppers can take 360 photos in front of digital backgrounds and take classes on phone photography.

It’s hard to imagine the trend of the new retail experiences slowing down anytime soon. With the extreme popularity of social media in today’s society, people are searching for experiences that will give them the most “likeable” content online. It’s more likely for someone to post a photo of themselves sipping on a mimosa at Nordstrom Local than it would be for them to post themselves browsing the aisles at a Nordstrom department store. It’ll be interesting to see what new tactics retailers take to lure shoppers into their stores over the next several years. Retail isn’t dead, it’s just evolving.

Does the promise of unique experiences such as classes, hands-on demonstrations and free drinks while you shop entice you into a store? Let us know what you think of the this trend in the comments below!

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