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6th Sep

Putting the experience back into retail

lady at till showing human interation in retail

How experiential marketing and ‘humanising’ shopping is the key to bringing customers back

After many long months of uncertainty and distancing, it’s more important than ever that brands build connections with their customers.

Though shoppers were served well by online retailers during lockdown, post-reopening footfall figures – though marginally down – demonstrate a clear appetite for in-person shopping and the human experience that only stores can provide.

It’s a great time to capitalise on this renewed enthusiasm for a multi-sensory experience and many brands are exploring exciting experiential ideas and other human touches to keep their customers engaged.

The key is keeping things fresh. What felt special about returning to stores will soon feel routine again, so any ‘experiences’ you create should be part of a wider mix of ideas that evolve over time to keep your customers coming back and sharing their enjoyment with others.

What is experiential in-store marketing?

Experiential marketing in retail immerses shoppers in a brand and the retail experience.

Common examples would include product sampling, in-store demonstrations and room sets, but with the advent of social media, many forward thinking brands have learned that Instagram and other channels offer a secondary, shareable shop window (and an audience willing to extend their reach without big advertising budgets) and are taking their experiences to an aesthetic extreme. Take a look at the Museum of Ice Cream in the US, which has a following of 445,000.

Experiential marketing also allows you to take your brand to your customers. Just as restaurants quickly switched to food boxes during lockdown to recreate their restaurant experience in the home, some retailers took their brands on the road with experiential tie-ins to maintain awareness. New York’s Babe Wine for example, hit the road with a truck offering free manicures – giving customers (and potential customers) a treat and building loyalty in advance of reopening.

It isn’t unusual now to see fashion shows, DJs and live music in-store, merging retail with entertainment (or ‘retailtainment’). The House of Vans in London is an incredible 30,000sq ft venue combining retail, a cinema, live music venue and a skate park in a singular brand experience.

But for those without skate park budgets, there’s still plenty you can do to create immersive experiences and human connections – and importantly, encourage your customers to stay and shop for longer.

Ideas to build experiences in your store

Importantly, experiential marketing, and the feeling that shoppers get when they’re in your store, is hugely intertwined with your brand identity, so any ideas for your own in-store experiences should start from this point. Think carefully about associations – free manicures are the perfect alignment for a wine brand targeted at fashion-conscious young women – so make sure any experiences you create will work for your customers.

The ‘human’ experience is the most important element in creating a connection with your shoppers. Much of our enthusiasm for returning to stores was driven by a desire to be amongst people, so placing your staff at the forefront of your experiential plans is a good idea. Just remember that some visitors are still nervous, so think ‘available’, not ‘pushy’ and give shoppers their space.

The ideal balance is to create an environment that’s practical, yet exciting. Give your customers an easy, relaxing shopping experience, with the opportunity to interact with your staff when they want it, but introduce elements to make their visit fresh, entertaining and joyful.


  • Creating an experience outside. Hold product demonstrations or mini ‘market’ stalls at your entrance to show off your new stock. Pull your exhibition banners out of storage to create a branded ‘zone’ and give shoppers coupons, thank yous, treats and gifts to persuade them to bear the queues and come in.
  • Getting your staff involved. Place a greeter with a branded totem near your entrance, who can welcome shoppers, provide directions and talk about your latest promotions. If you’re in fashion, get them to model your latest stock (and ‘Ask me about my outfit’). If not, make sure their uniforms and branded signage clearly mark them out.
  • Introducing flash promotions – so popular online – in store. Hype discounts on product ranges in advance on social media and on in-store LCD screens, free-standing display units or large scale 3D units. Introduce a countdown timer and post regular updates to maintain excitement levels, and think about timing – try scheduling them when your footfall is usually quiet.
  • Taking ideas from exhibitors. Use freestanding frames as a backdrop for information points and small in-store demos. Combine digital and large scale products to bring your products to life.

Where could you take your brand experience?  

For more ideas to create immersive experiences in your store, get in touch with our retail team on [email protected]

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