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The sensory shopping experience

Posted by Stephanie Gilchrist - Marketing Manager at PHMG on

From fashion to technology and travel, online shopping has become the first choice for the modern consumer. Buying online offers unrivalled levels of speed and convenience, so it’s no surprise that millions of us click to pay instantly every single day. In reaction to this shift in shopping habits, many retailers have invested heavily in creating a powerful instore experience to ensure customers don’t turn their back on physical shops – and we’re taking a closer look at some of the most inventive examples.

Experiential marketing is by no means a new trend, but it’s never been a more important time for those in the retail sector. While e-commerce is almost entirely transactional, visiting a store is more about the complete buying experience – from receiving tailored advice, to trying on, touching and even smelling the products. And it’s not just the traditionally physical brands that are presenting innovative instore experiences – many purely e-commerce brands are now choosing to invest in real stores to complement and enhance their online presence. Research by Omni-channel platform creators Hero found that 67% of e-commerce brands that’ve received funding of over $6 million have opened a physical store within the last 36 months – highlighting the importance of having both a physical and online presence. These findings are supported by Accenture’s research, who discovered that 60% of Generation Z prefer to purchase in-store, despite being continually defined as an age group by their affinity towards all things digital.

Some of the world’s biggest retailers have devoted huge resource in recent years to create memorable, unique experiences in their flagship stores. In October, fashion giant Topshop teamed up with Netflix to give the Oxford Circus store a Stranger Things-inspired makeover in time for Halloween. Shoppers were invited to step inside iconic scenes from the series, and were able to watch the first two episodes of the long-anticipated second season the night before the launch. All these interactive elements were supported by the launch of an exclusive new collection – allowing shoppers to become even more immersed in the world of the hit series. British brand Hunter also got creative with their installations this year, sending the rainy sounds of the nation to its flagship store in Japan – reinforcing the brand’s British routes while shoppers browsed for the perfect pair of wellies. And perhaps the fastest-growing in-store trend is the use of VR to allow shoppers to try out various products. Audi recently introduced a new VR showroom experience to put users inside their choice of car – eliminating any possibility of a buyer’s dream Audi not being physically available at the showroom. The VR cars are available in all specifications, colours and models, and offer a seated or free roaming experience so customers can get to grips with every angle of the virtual vehicles.

People still like to visit stores because they can see, feel and smell the products in real life – giving brands the chance to maintain a human touch that can’t be emulated online. Hunter’s sounds of Britain and Audi’s use of VR appeal directly to shoppers’ senses – supporting findings by Mindshare who discovered that a huge 83% of respondents think it’s important for stores to stimulate our senses when buying products. Ben Cook, Brand Marketing Manager at clothing brand Uniqlo is quoted as saying that stores are still “the heart” of the business – “they’re a place where customers can pick up and touch products and try them on to make sure they get the best fit.” His view is the reason why brands are still driving customers into stores in an increasingly online world – because it’s the only way to target so many of the senses that influence a shopper’s decision to make a purchase.

Not all companies have the budget to create such technology-driven in-store experiences for their customers, but appealing to the senses doesn’t have to come at such a cost. Seemingly smaller details like the music played in the store, the smells shoppers encounter and the way products are displayed can have a major impact on consumer behaviour – as they’re all physical elements that shoppers expect to find in real stores. Clearly, the future of retail lies in the shopping experience, and the key to brand longevity is the creation of an experience that targets several – or all – of our senses.

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