From Store to Destination: How to Attract and Retain Customers Through Amazing In-Store Experiences

Earlier this year, the daily deal site Groupon released Haves vs. Have-Dones, a video which compared the “Haves” (i.e. people who spend on stuff) and the “Have-Dones” (i.e. people who spend on experiences). Groupon applauded the latter, saying, “If you’re going to own something, own the experience.”

The Haves vs. Have-Dones campaign resonated with a lot of people, partly because consumers are increasingly seeking experiences instead of just stuff. Now as a retailer, this probably isn’t what you want to hear. After all, you’re supposedly in the business of selling stuff.

But whether you like it or not, it’s happening.

Gone are days where you can entice shoppers with merchandise. Since people can pretty much buy anything online, brick-and-mortar merchants must offer experiences that will lure modern customers into the shop. To accomplish you need to think of your location as a destination instead of just a store.

In this post, we’ll discuss how traditional merchants are revamping their locations to provide compelling shopping experiences that people can’t find anywhere else.

Let’s begin.

1. Enable people to experience — not just buy — your products

Want people to see just how amazing your products are? Take some of them off the shelves and allow customers to test and play around with the merchandise. Dedicate spaces in your store for shoppers to interact with your items.

Good Games AU, a game store franchise in Australia, puts this into action by providing gaming areas for shoppers. In doing so, Good Game AU not only brings in more people to their stores, but they’re also helping enrich their local communities.

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“Our local community play a fundamental part in sustaining our business,” says retail manager Grady Chiu. “So naturally, we want to give them the best experience possible! That’s why our Good Games franchises focus on providing a free-to-use gaming space for anyone who comes into the store.”

Another great example comes from Samsung. The technology company has a space in Los Angeles called “Samsung Studio,” where they allow people not just to try Samsung products but to experience them.

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Samsung Studio has a virtual reality room where you can try on the brand’s VR gear and get transported to a whole new world. It also has a “Design Station” where you can design your own tank top, tote bag, or cap. It even features a “home” area where you can see how different appliances work, and it has a juice bar where you can get free pressed juices based on your answers to their juice quiz.

2. Hold in-store classes and services

Consider holding classes or events in-store. These initiatives offer up opportunities to connect with your customers, plus they give people reasons to visit — and stay — in your store. And in many cases, you can use these in-store programs to (subtly) mention your merchandise.

Have a look at what Babie “R” Us is doing. They occasionally hold classes and events in-store to educate moms about breastfeeding. These programs include classes, giveaways, and deals, and they enable attendees to learn about breastfeeding and, while they’re at it, to buy the things they need.

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3. Team up with artists

Elevate your store’s look, feel, and overall experience by showcasing works of art in your location. Bonus points if you display works from local artists. In doing so, you’re not just giving people something to look at while they browse your shop, but you’re also differentiating your store and making it more memorable.

That’s one of the reasons why Adrienne Wiley, owner of Covet Boutique, showcases the works and products of local artists in her stores. “I carry local artists at all locations and it has been wonderful for my business,” says Adrianne.

“Not only do I really love being able to support local artists, but it makes my stores shopping destinations, where customers know they will always find something unique.”

4. Build a store where people can hang out

The thing about destination stores is that people want to spend time in them. They don’t just go there to shop (though most certainly end up buying something); they visit the store because they simply want to be there.

Apple is one company that understands this well, which is why their new stores now feature a new look and amenities that put more emphasis in hanging out over shopping. One of the most significant additions to their new store format is the public Plaza, a space that will be open 24/7 and will offer free WiFi as well as room for concerts and performances.

“This is not just a store,” said Angela Ahrendts, SVP of Apple Retail in an interview with the Associated Press.

“We want people to say ‘Hey, meet me at Apple’ [or] ‘Did you see what’s going on at Apple?’”

Of course, creating a large plaza for concerts and whatnot isn’t feasible for all retailers, but the key lesson here is that you need to build a store that shoppers would want to spend time in.

You know your customers. Ask yourself, or better yet, ask them where they would want to hang out. What are the qualities of their favorite places and destinations? Find the answer to that and incorporate it into your store’s design.

5. Make sure customers enjoy themselves

Last but not least, see to it that your customers have a good time when they’re shopping with you. Great products and customer service are a given, so go beyond these factors and do something your customers will love and come back for.

You can figure this out by having a deep understanding of your customers. Why do they shop at your stores? What are their pain points? What do they love to do? Use the insights from these questions to create their desired experience.

Check out the strategy of Alton Lane, an apparel retailer that sells custom suits for men. Alton Lane streamlines the suit buying experience by allowing customers to make appointments so they can get immediate service. The retailer also stores each customer’s information digitally so whether he’s shopping in their Chicago branch or their Boston location, his information will always be available.

But what’s truly praiseworthy about Alton Lane’s approach is they took the extra mile to make shopping enjoyable for their target customers — men. In addition to the smooth suit-buying experience, Alton Lane’s locations have big leather sofas, a stocked bar, and even a flat screen TV where shoppers can watch the game.

Alton Lane understands that their customers don’t necessarily enjoy buying clothes, so they created a space that makes shopping convenient and delightful for their clientele.

Final words

You don’t have to decide between selling stuff and delivering experiences. As a retailer, you’re in a great position to do both. Keep stocking up on products your customers love, but at the same time, incorporate more experiential elements into your locations.

You could do this by providing classes, setting up testing stations, or adding hangout places in-store. Whatever you decide, make sure you’re creating a destination that your customers would love to visit again and again. 

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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