Tech Bytes: A tale of three ‘experiential’ retailers

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

It doesn’t matter whether shoppers are buying a carton of milk or couture — a memorable in-store shopping experience is what drives loyalty. With a keen eye on personalization and in-store digital solutions, mere store visits can be transformed into sought-after “experiences.”

At a minimum, consumers expect to be engaged the minute they enter their favorite store. The best case scenario is to be recognized throughout their visit. In fact, 62% of retailers reported that customer identification and a personalized store experiences are among their top three engagement priorities, according to “The 17th Annual POS/Engagement Survey 2016,” from Boston Retail Partners.

Yet, the hard truth is that in-store experiences continue to fall short when it comes to engaging shoppers. Consumers are used to receiving personalized offers and service when interacting with their favorite brands through digital touch points, and now demand the same service in-store.

Rather than shy away from their shoppers’ demands, it is time to embrace digital technologies in-house to drive a more personalized experience in-store. Here are three examples of retailers that are leading the charge:

American Girl. There is no doubt that American Girl is synonymous with unique customer experiences, regardless of the location you visit. From life-sized tableaus designed for photo-ops and dining at the flagship stores’ cafes to navigating the store and making purchases through complementary personal shoppers, American Girl pulls out all of the stops when it comes to engagement. Driving personalization one step further, the specialty retailer recently launched its Truly Me Signature Studio service in its New York City store — a service that enables guests to “design” outfits for their dolls or themselves.(That's my daughter, Cristiana, on a recent visit to the Truly Me studio.)

Appealing to their young shoppers’ love affair with the collectable dolls and their sense of creativity and personal style, American Girl invites shoppers to use a tablet-supported app to design T-shirts, dresses, swim suits or backpacks, created with their choice of colors, patterns, silhouettes, prints, adornments and accessories. Once complete, the design is electronically sent to the “design department,” where a high-tech printer creates the ensemble within 30 minutes.

J.C. Penney. The department store is known for featuring a variety of departments, from photo studios and hair salons to Sephora makeup centers. As it reinvents itself in a competitive landscape, the department store retailer is merging its omnichannel experience with these store-level services as a means of appealing to its increasingly digitally-savvy shoppers, especially its Gen Z’s — the young customer base succeeding already influential, tech-driven millennials.

Its newest concept is the “prom experience,” an effort extends beyond the dress, according to Penny’s executive VP, omnichannel Mike Amend. The chain invites prom-goers to explore dress options online, and an algorithm shows recommendations for accessories available in-store. Once they enter the store to try on or pick up their gown, shoppers are greeted by signage highlighting its in-store hair salons and Sephora makeup studios. They can also take pre-prom photos at in-store portrait studios, and find ideas to save these memories at the chain’s Pinterest page.

Kate Spade. When the retailer wanted to bring its signature colors, graphic prints and playful style to life at its Kate Spade New York store, it used interactive multimedia displays to encourage shoppers to engage with the brand. The brand uses imagery and merchandise collections throughout store windows that invite shoppers inside.

Here, customers navigate among fluid walls that feature interactive solutions, including touch-screens that provide custom product recommendations, local sights to see, trending books and music, as well as the opportunity to take style quizzes. Shoppers receive quiz results on their mobile devices, along with a personalized statement about their individual style. Kate Spade then uses this information to create customized collections unique to individual shoppers’ tastes, and delivers them to her mobile device, along with complimentary, one-day shipping to further drive sales.

Personalization is critical to retaining today’s fickle shopper, however one-off programs are not enough to drive repeat visits. By merging digital solutions, retailers can step up personalization efforts, and create unique experiences needed to drive long-term loyalty.


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