Experience stores often still miss the mark
Online stores threaten the existence of shopping streets. The answer of the struggling shops seems to be 'experience'. But this doesn't always go as well as they hoped. Five obstacles.
Retailers hope that a unique experience will lure customers back to the shopping street. Therefore, one after the other experience stores are announced. But why isn’t this reflected in the actual shops?
Department store Hudson's Bay went under due to a lack of experience and the toy store Intertoys has to be saved by it. Since the physical stores are increasingly failing compared to the online competition, the retail branch is looking for a solution: how do we get our customers of the couch?
The proposed solution we hear more and more is 'experience': for customers to experience things, instead of buying them. In recent years, experience stores have popped up everywhere, from Samsung Experience Stores full of technical gadgets to an experience store concept for mobility scooters - with a race track.
Source: Samsung Experience Store in Londen. Picture: Toby Melville / Reuters
The customers, who believe all the PR-announcements, go to the shopping street expecting a sensational spectacle on every street corner. But according to experts the only shopping streets in the Benelux that are particularly suitable for Experience are Meir in Antwerp and Rokin in Amsterdam. Here, retail chains have enough space to set up large flagship stores, and tourists have enough time to be entertained.
Budget shoe store Van Haren opened an experience store on the Meir in Antwerp in mid-September of this year. According to their announcement the Experience store includes a coffee corner, inspirational islands and an interactive children's corner.
But further inspection provides a different image of the Experience store. The advertised ‘coffee corner’ turns out to be a coffee machine that you have to operate yourself, were it not for the fact that it had a ‘out of order’ note on it. Across from the coffee corner, there is a piano that is slightly out of tune and on it there are decorative letters that spell out ‘HOME’ and a cactus. “This creates a pleasant atmosphere” according to Van Haren's top executive on the Retail Detail website. “Mom can buy herself new shoes, and dad can have a cup of coffee or play some tunes on the piano.”
However, in reality the men in the store ignore the piano: they are too busy buying shoes. The leather sofas and chairs in the coffee corner are used, but only so customers can try on shoes comfortably. The inspirational islands appears to be furniture with shoe boxes on them. And, the interactive children's corner is a television that is playing cartoons. Still, the television is very popular with the little ones.
To conclude, Van Haren’s Experience store has some useful additions that work, but it also misses the mark on many aspects. Just like many other shops on the Antwerp Meir. For example, at the Hema entrance, you'll find a lonely-looking saleswoman at the smoothie bar, but the drawing table for children, on the other hand, seems to be a success. The floor is littered with pencil shavings.
Source: Silver Pete’s in warehouse Bijenkorf. Picture: Sabine Joosten / Hollandse Hoogte
Even stranger than the stores that try to add experience, is the many stores and retail chains that don't even make an effort: most stores on the Antwerp Meir are all about products. This is no different in the Netherlands, eventhough many CEO’s are saying that simply moving boxes and selling products is a thing of the past. And, experts keep mentioning the same successful Experience stores, like warehouse Bijenkorf (with beautiful decors, restaurants and events) and garden centre Intratuin in Duiven (with a huge climbing wall and an exuberant Christmas show).
According to Joe Pine, author of The Experience Economy, the cigar house P.G.C. Hajenius on the Rokin in Amsterdam has the best grasp on this modern way of thinking. Here the customers can smell, taste and marvel at cigars, but they can also go to the café or take part in workshops.
Hajenius exists since 1826, and we live in 2019. How is it possible that while everyone is talking about adding experience, so many shops seem unchanged?
When the former Portuguese owner of toy store Intertoys said all toy stores will receive a karaoke studio, escape room and a toy rental option, many franchisees wondered the same thing. How? Because the average Intertoys store has little extra room for entertainment, let alone for the storage of rental equipment.
“Basically, you simply have to sell products in the old and familiar stores”, says retail expert Rupert Parker Brady. “But in a few central places you have to go all out. For example, the ground floor of warehouse Hudson's Bay were great locations to add Experience. The fact that they didn't choose to do so was a missed opportunity. Parker Brady also has high expectations of 'Leidsenhage', where the largest shopping centre in the Netherlands will open next year. “This shopping centre will have room for a cinema, restaurants, promotions and entertainment.”
Source: Playing with Lego in a Lego store in Peking, China. Picture: Jason Lee / Reuters
Sometimes the immediate advantages of Experiene ars not really clear. Entrepreneurs have trouble with adding entertainment, when it comes at the expense of products or retail space - especially when sales are not going through the roof to begin with. Only inspiring customers is not enough, according Kitty Koelemeijer, Professor of Marketing & Retail at Nyenrode. You have to ensure that customers also take action. Otherwise, they'll just go and buy the product somewhere else.
According to Pine of The Experience Economy, companies should start charging entrance fees for activities or parts of the store to ensure that people feel the need to take action. Only then will the stores have the means to create experiences that are worth experiencing. For example, the paid cigar tastings at Hajenius.
Yet, Parker Brady believes that entrance fees do not seem to be a requirement. For instance, the hundreds of free events in bookstores like Donner in Rotterdam and Scheltema in Amsterdam attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. “And at Scheltema, half of these visitors spend an average of €25 on books. You do the math!"
3. Missing synergy
At Meir in Antwerp, the connection between the products and experiences is sometimes difficult to find. In the shoe store Bristol, the popcorn machine looks more lost than cheerful, as does the DJ without a dance floor in the shoe store Van Haren.
“I don't believe in retailtainment’', says Parker Brady. "It's not like you can just hire a clown and think that you’ve added experience." The experience has to match your product, says Harry Bijl, a retail expert.
Pine: “Far too many shops talk about 'experience' and call themselves Experience stores, without making the effort to provide actual experience.”
Source: Yoga studio with yoga material in a store with sports clothing in Chicago. Picture: Taylor Glascock / Bloomberg
4. Forgetting the little things
Sometimes a bad experience is: being able to get a drink in any store, but finding no store with restrooms. In a side street of Meir, a father is holding his son under his armpits, so that he can pee without falling. Sometimes a bad experience is: an high tech 3D mirror that scans your body in the fitting room, but hundreds of fitting room-curtains that don't close properly.
Store owners need to understand that resolving small annoyances, putting people at ease and offering great service are much more important than exuberant entertainment, says Bijl. Sending customers, that spend hundreds of Euros in your store, to public restroom 2theloo doesn’t leave the best impression.
5. Uniformity once again
Sometimes stores end up all doing exactly the same thing in their attempt to be unique. If every shop offers a glass of prosecco to customers, this becomes expected rather than a unique experience, warns Professor Cooling Mill. ‘I always said: a café in your shop is the easiest way to add experience’, Pine admits. ‘But now that everyone is doing this, it's no longer distinctive.’
In the Rituals store on the Meir, they do their very best to unique experiences, despite the modest retail space. There is a wash basin to try out their fragrant products, a fake blossom tree that fits their company style and the store smells good. But, they also have a somewhat complicated construction where they try to make members of the people waiting in line for the register, in exchange for free products. One of the customers rejects this offer. And when her friend ask her what the Rituals-lady wanted? She answers ‘I really have no idea, but I'm just trying to buy something here. And then, to the saleswoman who now offers cups of green tea: 'I’ll have a coffee instead'.
Source in Dutch:
Velden, L. v. (2019, 09 30). Belevingswinkel slaat nog vaak de plank mis. Opgehaald van Het Financieele Dagblad: https://fd.nl/achtergrond/1317042/belevingswinkel-slaat-nog-vaak-de-plank-mis
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