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GUEST COMMENT How can retailers use ‘retailtainment’ to drive growth online?

Simply stocking the right product doesn’t cut it anymore, as the fall of established high street retailers ToysRUs, Maplin and BHS demonstrated. Customers are spoilt by the variety of choice and convenience of online shopping. Today, loyalty is won by the brands that constantly delight and exceed the expectations of their customers by delivering an exceptional experience throughout the customer journey – online and in store.

Online may boast unlimited choice and low prices, but in-store remains powerful in allowing shoppers to get a better feel for products, chat with sales staff and experience the brand with all their senses. Therefore, we’re seeing more retailers capitalise on this in-store opportunity through retailtainment; experiential strategies intended to create more entertaining and memorable experiences in physical stores.

Put simply, retailers are finding ways to put the fun back into the shopping experience, which helps them build a deeper connection with the customer, encouraging them to repurchase again in the future.

Whilst multichannel marketers may recognise the value of retailtainment in boosting in-store sales and customer engagement, fewer understand how it can also work to drive growth online. The following tips provide some inspiration on how to do this effectively:

Pop up experiences that don’t stop in-store

Pop up experiences and themed promotions within bricks-and-mortar locations are an effective way to create buzz and increase interest in a brand, giving them differentiation alongside competitors. Consumers want to be surprised, delighted and feel like they’ve been treated to something unique. From in-store yoga classes and hidden rooftop bars for summer, to personal styling events or pop up cinemas in store, there are a variety of lifestyle and entertainment experiences available for retailers to engage customers for longer.

This was done successfully by Swedish homeware retailer IKEA, who opened up The Dining Club in London, a temporary pop-up store in which guests were given a chance to run their own restaurant and cater to their friends. Alongside this, the venue featured an Ikea shop selling the brand’s kitchen products and kitchen showrooms displaying kitchens of various sizes and styles.

Inviting customers along to special events where they can preview products, but not allow them to purchase them then and there is one way to create interest. Whether offering a preview of the upcoming season’s stock long before others are able to, or launching a limited-edition range, events are not only effective in making customers feel like a VIP, enriching the consumer-brand relationship, but also gets them in front of the products. In arming them with all the relevant information, or doing demonstrations, but only enabling purchases to take place online, retailers are able to heighten the feeling of exclusivity. A code for free shipping or a discount on the items presented at the experiential store will help leverage the engagement generated by the pop-up store online.

Ignite the senses

Finding ways to create experiences that appeal to the five basic human senses will help elevate the interaction with the customer. The traditional in-store shopping experience can be transformed through experimenting with different colours, scents and sounds – all of which can have a significant influence over a customer’s decision to buy. Customers are likely to stay in store longer, presenting more opportunities for a retailer to engage with them. US fashion retailer Hollister perfected this concept years ago with their nightclub-inspired, dimly lit, perfumed and music-blasting stores which generated just as much excitement among teenagers as bewilderment among parents.

Technology innovation can also be used to help deliver something more interactive. AR and VR can bring a brand and the in-store experience to life, whilst immersing customers in the action. From placing customers at the centre of a major sports match as they try out some new kit to putting them at the front row of London Fashion Week, tech can help drive further excitement around a brand.

This also offers valuable shareable content, to further enhance the buzz and awareness of the brand amongst audiences online. Encouraging customers to create user-generated content, such as photos and videos, and share it on social media using the brand’s hashtag will help spread the word, create a sense of community and encourage purchases both online and in-store.

Utilise in-store customer data online

The major benefit of in-store versus online is the opportunity to touch and feel the merchandise, and from this feel more confident in making the purchase. 43% of shoppers say they prefer to try items in store before purchasing them online.

One effective tactic to use physical spaces as an ally to increased customer loyalty is collecting email addresses in-store, e.g. through smart mirrors, and use them to join up the shopper’s offline and online profiles to provide a more personal experience. Zara recently unveiled a new high-tech store designed to do just this, with interactive mirrors that used RFID chips to detect the garments customers are holding and make recommendations on outfits based on this. Staff on the shop floor have also been equipped with iPads, to help advise customers and offer a more seamless and immediate payment process.

The data gleaned from shopping in-store, and captured through the smart mirror technology and on iPads, can then be used to personalise a customer’s online experiences and provide recommendations based on products they tried out, or tried on, in the physical store. This speaks directly to online-first shoppers – imagine having your own personal shopper who knows exactly what you like.

The highly competitive retail environment demands that retailers do more to stand out. Retailtainment is a powerful way to deliver the consumer expectation for an experience that provides excitement, engages them more emotionally and feels personalised to them. In understanding how this can be leveraged not only in store but as a viable extension to ecommerce strategies, marketers will be successful in winning the battle for loyal customers that return again and again.

Author: Mike Austin, co-founder and chief executive officer, Fresh Relevance

Image credit: Fotolia

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