Forget Retail Therapy. Welcome to Retail Escapism

Forget Retail Therapy. Welcome to Retail Escapism

Retail escapism — immersive experiences that blend the best elements of shopping, entertainment, education and socialization — is giving retail therapy a major upgrade. With inflation on the rise, consumers are likely to spend less this season and discounters may command a greater share of sales than usual. However, retailers that elevate the shopping experience may also come away with a strong share of consumers’ spending.

A new generation of experience-centered purchasing is emerging. Understandably popular with millennials — who report valuing experiences over things — the trend resonates broadly. In fact, 43 percent of shoppers across generations say they’re likely to spend more money with retailers that offer meaningful in-store experiences.

Let’s look at how some brands are incorporating escapism into their retail environments — both online and in-store — and how it contributes to brand loyalty.

Make it Fun

Gamification — bringing elements of fun, competition and play into the shopping experience — appeals to consumers looking for more than a transactional relationship with a brand. The gamification market is expected to top an impressive valuation of $30.7 billion by 2026. Brands from TJ Maxx to Hermès have incorporated gaming into their apps and promotions.

The future of gamification is more than physical. The expansion of the metaverse opens up opportunities for brands to connect with customers in virtual worlds, including those in multiplayer games like Fortnite and Roblox. Gen Z consumers are especially open to digital retail experiences. In fact, one-third of Gen Zers would like to see brands build virtual stores, and 30 percent support brands selling skins and apparel for digital avatars like Forever 21’s Roblox store. How might your brand capitalize on selling in this space?

Create an Immersive Experience

As pandemic restrictions have eased, some consumers have excitedly returned to in-store shopping. Others, accustomed to the convenience and ease of online shopping, needed more incentive to return to physical storefronts. Technology allows retailers to create immersive, multi-sensory in-store experiences to draw customers back in person. Canada Goose’s Toronto store takes visitors on a virtual trip to Antarctica complete with a cold room that reaches -12°C (about 10°F), a virtual snowstorm, and an interactive floor that simulates ice cracking underfoot. While there’s no traditional display of products for browsing, visitors can purchase select items recommended for them and have them shipped to their homes.

Skateboard-centered shoe and apparel company Vans’ experiential stores in London and Chicago offer an in-store skatepark, a variety of dining and event spaces, art installations, and experiences, including free concerts. Visitors can take skateboarding lessons or just socialize; shopping is an option but not the primary focus.

Personalize and Pamper

Brands that recognize loyal customers at every touchpoint, and offer personalized service, perks and experiences, provide the ultimate escape. Nike’s flagship store in New York offers an array of unique, personalized services and experiences. Shoppers can customize a pair of Air Force 1 shoes at the shoe bar, receive feedback on their performance from the cameras and sensors surrounding the in-store basketball court and treadmills, access advice from professional trainers, and receive personalized product recommendations.

Sephora provides a personalized omnichannel experience for members of its Beauty Insider program. Members receive invitations to exclusive events, early access to new products, and free services like in-store consultations and makeovers. Product preferences and recommendations are stored in customers’ personal profiles and synced across all brand platforms.

While economic uncertainty remains, retailers that provide a combination of value and experience are likely to win customer loyalty. Whether in-store or online, brands have a limitless opportunity to provide unique experiences that recognize, reward, surprise and delight their customers at every encounter. How will you create an escape for your customers?

Barb Olson is vice president, strategic services for The Lacek Group, a Minneapolis-based data-driven loyalty, experience, and customer engagement agency. The Lacek Group is an Ogilvy Experience company.

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