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The "experiential" retail store is merging in-store and e-commerce shopping

When e-commerce first exploded onto the shopping scene, and Amazon seemed a veritable vortex engulfing customers, the query "Why should anyone go to a retail store?" might have been asked as a real question. Today, the question is little more than a header for the next "Wow!" report on an imaginative "in-store experience."

As stores have accepted the reality of commerce and undertaken the inevitable self-examination, an accelerating transformation is taking place as the transactional store becomes the true "shopping experience."

The first pioneers of the experiential retail store long ago proved their point. Retail stores are re-inventing themselves to engage shoppers with their brand. To excite them about visiting the store. Give them an experience to photograph and post for their friends on Instagram. Get them together into new "communities." And sell a lot of products along the way.

Experiencing the brand

 Such experiences are sometimes labeled "immersive" and there is no better way to immerse than through the rudimentary and deeply intuitive olfactory sense. Selfridges Fragrance Lab, well aware that today's buyers can be obsessively selective about brands, provides them with a journey of discovery. A sector of the store is dedicated to an audio-guided experience, with a set of headphones, that explores the senses. The goal of the journey is to find a scent that matches the customer's personality.

 The staff? Men in white lab coats who are fragrance technicians. Visitors interact with items along their path and, by their reactions, assemble an olfactory picture of their personality. At the end, each visitor is presented with a scent in a personalized bottle by perfumer Givaudan to match his or her character. "Your engagement with space is intuitive," Campaign Creative Director Philip Handford says. "You're making choices as you go around and what you interact with impacts the fragrance that you're given.

"First of all, there's anticipation, then disorientation in the dark space and then comfort, with cleansing moments in between, before the revelation at the end," he says.

Over the top? Well, not every store has fashioned so "immersive" an experience, but store after store has created the experience that it believes helps to tell the story of its brand. One of the premises, inspired in part by research on attitudes and preferences of Millennial and Gen Z customers, is that a brand must have a "point of view."

These customers want to connect with a brand because its distinct personality is what they want to express--by wearing it, using it, giving it. If that connection can be made, it is the beginning of brand loyalty. And everything about the brand, definitely including in-store design and experience, must tell the brand's story consistently.

For TJX Companies, the brand of their store definitely seems to be "come on in and find a treasure at an amazing price." The in-store experience is a treasure hunt, which customers reportedly find powerful and even addictive. The idea is that the offers and products are going at unbeatable prices—but with the distinct understanding that the items won't be around long, so grab one.

Bricks-and-mortar and online converge

            The bricks-and-mortar retail experience is certainly not defined by jettisoning all connection with an online experience. Macy's has an app it encourages customers to use in browsing the store. As they browse, they can scan items and have them waiting for them in the dressing room. Other New York City retailers like Kohl's and Bloomingdale's, with Macy's, use Bluetooth beacons and trackable tags on their merchandise so shoppers can enjoy location-based discounts and rewards.

The digital element at the startup Oak Labs means creating products that marry the online and physical retail realms. Their first such item: an interactive dressing room Oak Mirror that can recognize the item you are trying on, make recommendations, and, if you wish, connect you with a store associate.

A more traditional approach, but one retail stores are emphasizing in new ways, is the relationship between the sales associate and shopper. The retail store always has had the human element going for it, and it still does. Only now, it is seen as the true differentiating factor that it is. There is a multitude of new ways to emphasize the role of the sales associate, but one objective is to get customers into a relationship where they share more information about themselves—including that essential information that drives e-commerce.

Sephora asks customers in the store to take a quiz related to choosing a perfume. Based on the answers, the staff gives the customer recommendations to guide choice among the sometimes overwhelming options. With customers providing their makeup and fragrance preferences, Sephora can respond with samples that fit their profile. At the same time, the store is collecting valuable information—making future interactions potentially even more personalized.

In-store ecommerce

Target is fusing in-store and e-commerce experience by calling up the customer's shopping history in the store and online to send recommendations via their mobile app, Cartwheel. Interestingly, the app works only in the store, helping customers find what they are seeking at bargain prices. The claim is that Cartwheel users spend about one-third more than the average customer on a shopping trip to Target and visit more often, too.

Today, the ideal experiential store operation is moving toward a new level of success that spans the worlds of in-store and online commerce. For businesses of all sizes that require multi-channel logistics and supply chain management, CTL Global Solutions delivers complete fulfillment, transportation, technology, and marketing solutions. Call us to help execute your strategy that keeps sales growing in store and online,

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