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How Stores are Becoming Gateways to Experiences

Ipsos | May 14, 2024

MBH Architects’ Helen Herrick thinks tomorrow’s shopping experiences will be not just transactional, but impactful, too. Here’s how brands can build more immersive experiences.

Despite the advances in online shopping, physical retail still rules for most consumers. Retail spaces today are evolving from transactional environments to engaging experiential ones, as the lines between physical and digital are blurring. Helen Herrick, a principal at MBH Architects, is an expert in creating customer-centric retail environments. She says retailers and brands are reimagining the future of shopping where the store is part of a whole system to lead customers across the threshold to discover brands and merchandise.

Kate MacArthur: What makes a retail environment truly experiential?

Helen Herrick: It's more of an engagement and an excitement around the brand rather than a place where you're truly going to test the product. I can go to REI and put on a pair of boots and go up and down the aisle to see how they feel. But really the lure is the fun of being there and using that as a billboard for the brand.

A long time ago, I worked on REI, and we put in the climbing wall and a place where you could take the mountain bike outside. Honestly, these features were very rarely used as a true product testing ground. It was more a way to get customers to cross the threshold, more of an attraction than a solution for making a buying decision.

MacArthur: So is that the future of retail?

Herrick: Driving traffic and eliciting customer excitement will always be an objective of retail design. That’s the front end. But to continue to have that engagement with the customer, you need to then provide the good merchandise, the good customer service, the seamless omnichannel experience. It's all one picture that leads the customer to make a purchase with your brand. The store is part of the whole system that leads customers to want your brand and your merchandise.

MacArthur: If experiential is just a part of the process, what is the retail experience of the future?

Herrick: Physical retail is the old print edition of the Sunday paper where you find things you didn't even know you were looking for, whereas online you find the things you're looking for or that an algorithm thinks you want.

MacArthur: So that sense of discovery?

Herrick: Yes. Serendipity. That's the joy of physical retail.

MacArthur: Our survey showed that people prefer to shop in stores, but they don’t want to be approached by salespeople. What’s behind that dynamic?

Herrick: Obviously, the pandemic exacerbated this issue,  but when you're used to shopping online, and you're used to maneuvering, making all the decisions, when people go into a store, they want the same freedom. However, when they want assistance, they want to engage with someone who's well-informed, who helps them get to what they want, but they want it to be on their terms in the same way that they deal with it online.

MacArthur: What should brands understand about consumers’ shopping preferences?

Herrick: I have a teenage daughter, and she has been watching videos on how to put makeup on. When she goes into a store, she just picks up the product, because she already knows what she wants. That has evolved with YouTube videos, TikToks, all that technology, where retailers and influencers educate their consumers well before they enter the physical retail space. What a retailer needs to do is engage in those social platforms that matter most to their customers as a prep for them to visit the store.

“The store is part of the whole system that leads customers to want your brand and your merchandise.”

MacArthur: What’s on the horizon that will really enhance people’s shopping experiences?

Herrick: It's real experiences. So much data is pointing toward spending money on experiences and being with other people. That translates into retail as well. I was walking up Madison Avenue, looking in all the stores thinking, “Which ones pull you in?” And they really are the ones that have a point of view, that have created this vignette in their store that makes you say, “I want that to be part of my life,” rather than just a big store with lots of racks. Because everything is so two-dimensional now on the screen, if you're physically going out and experiencing retail, you want to know that the experience is real. That's where the robot, the VR, all those things only help if they help you have the real experience.

Published: Ipsos


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