Experiential Retail


Retail is changing – you are seeing smaller store footprints, the lure of discounters, the optimizing of the relationship between stores and digital, the rise of fitness and health as main-line retail, entertainment and, one of my favorite retail buzzwords, experiential retail. You can’t read an article about the future of retail without talking about this experiential revolution. It’s usually punctuated by cutting edge examples of high-tech screens that allow you so see your virtual self in different outfits, or stores that transform monthly to different layouts, or programmed activities in stores. And clearly these and other concepts do provide shoppers a unique shopping experience. But, is that really what experiential retail is all about? Trips to visit my daughters in New York & Boston recently gave me a different perspective.

First, it was off to New York to visit Ashton. First stop, the new Nordstrom woman’s store in Manhattan to shop for underwear (nothing Dad’s like more than underwear shopping with their 24-year old daughter!). As we are walking in, I’m telling Ashton stories of Nordstrom’s renowned customer service. Not sure she believes me, so I tell her to ask someone for help. For the next 30 minutes, Ashton gets dedicated help finding what she needs, advice on fit, trips to the back to check on availability, and we leave with exactly what she wanted and a believer in the Nordstrom way. Then it’s around the corner to Basso56 Italian restaurant.. .a smallish moderately priced restaurant with good yelp reviews. We get the last two seats at the bar. Why bring this up? The food was great, but the dinner was one we will always remember because of the service the bartender provided….attentive, personable, professional.

Two weeks later, it is off to Boston to visit Paige. Get off the plane and Uber straight to Boston Sail Loft for a bowl of chowder. And again, the chowder was great, but what made the visit was the proprietor who greeted me, checked on me twice, and made a point of saying goodbye when he was leaving. Lots of restaurant managers/owners check on you, but he did it in a way that was gracious and genuine. The next day, Paige and I are walking through the shops at the Prudential center and decide to stop at Lululemon. We are helped by a young woman who was former Army stationed at Ft Sill; she was engaging, informative, and made us feel welcome. She (and the fact that they were so darned comfortable) is the only reason that I now own a pair of $128 Lululemon pants.

I understand that these stories are not unique to me or new to the retail business – excellent customer service has always been a cornerstone of retail. But, it reminds you that while experiential retail may mean the sites, smells, and tastes of the world’s largest Starbucks Roastery in Chicago, it might just mean that the store is clean, the staff takes care of you, and you find what you want. For as much as retail is changing, the shopping experience can be pretty straightforward.