Re-evaluating the Brand Experience

Louisa O’Connor, Client Services Director Seen Displays

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The acceleration of Online to Offline retail strategies has shown brands how they now more than ever need to create a seamless journey for consumers from shopping online through to visiting the physical store.

The recent growth of ecommerce, and the increased focus on digital brand experiences and activations through social media and web platforms, has led us as a retail design company to further question the purpose of traditional retail. How can we re-evaluate the purpose and concept of “experiences” to take shape beyond the physical world? And what role should retail brands play in this constantly evolving experiential “consumer journey”?

As the Covid restrictions continue, the need for human interaction, entertainment, stimulation and engagement are only increasing. This need translates across both physical and digital retail. Overall, the desire for retail experiences is on the rise with millennials saying that 52% of their spending goes on experience-related purchases (The Washington Post).

This quest for a more authentic and memorable retail journey can be considered through four key lenses:

Multi Sensorial Identity – exploring the dual experience that immerses your audience in entertainment and unique brand interactions.

Innovative CX (customer experience) – developing supportive and empathetic methods for customer’s growing needs for personalised services.

Spatial Elasticity – creating retail environments with flexibility which seamlessly compliment online experiences.

Experiential Value – develop opportunities which are shareworthy, rewarding and unique.

In this article we look at how the retail world can re-frame how they approach the brand experience, online, but especially in store, to ensure longevity and increased sales both online and offline.

Multi Sensorial Identity 

Marketing Week states: “15 years ago, the average consumer typically used two touch-points when buying an item and only 7% regularly used more than four. Today consumers use an average of almost six touch points, with 50% regularly using more than four.”

The process of purchasing is now a more considered activity for consumers. Their research, collation of inspiration and knowledge of trends and products, and in turn building their connection to a brand, is often done through a variety of channels:

  1. Social media
  2. Traditional online websites
  3. Permanent stores
  4. Pop-ups
  5. Brand events
  6. Shop-in-shops

For example, the UK’s pop-up industry was worth over £2.3 billion a year before Covid hit. As brands gain confidence in the marketplace, we see shop-in-shops and pop-ups playing an important role in the shopping experience. They create a space for retail entertainment and allow brands the platform to create truly unique and experiential connections which may not be possible in the restrictions of a permanent store.

We have seen successful examples of this with our own clients, for example with the Levi’s and Queer Britain pop-up event we did in London. This project allowed consumers to look beyond the physical purchase part of their relationship with the Levi’s brand and connect their brand loyalty on a more personal level exploring topics and issues close to their heart and their values. The pop-up created a meaningful and unique experience for consumers beyond the act of purchasing or “entertainment”.

Instagram also explored a shop-in-shop with us creating their first physical shopping experience with an interactive activation in Selfridges. The pop-up execution allowed consumers to interact with the display and see Instagram purchasable items in the flesh before buying online – something they hadn’t been able to do before and a good example of an Online to Offline experience staged in store.

High Snobiety recently wrote in their BCG Whitepaper: “Our research found that Gen Zers spend half of their purchase journey seeking inspiration and inspiring others (31% and 19% respectively). Moreover, more than 70% of Gen Zers globally (82% in the US) make their decision to purchase while seeking inspiration.”

Creating experiences which inspire, excite, engage and educate create that brand love and consumer loyalty which in turn drives sales. During the complications and uncertainty of Covid, consumers are shopping, they are just shopping differently. They may take longer to make a decision or need a more considered and personal retail experience that connects to them as a person before deciding on a final purchase.

Innovative CX 

High Snobiety said in their Immunized Shopper Whitepaper “What we see now is desire for fashion to engage with its audience beyond the level of appearance and necessity: something that strives toward knowledge, education, and appreciation.”

As we look at experiential retail, we need to remember to go back to how we started this thread – through Online to Offline retail strategies. There is no avoiding that e-commerce is only going to grow as the complications of Covid continue. Ensuring instore retail strategies include an element of digital installations ensures all that research and inspiration seeking we know consumers do through online channels, translates and resonates with the consumer as they enter your store.

Let’s take Farfetch’s self-titled Store of the Future as an example - they no doubt knew that 93% of luxury purchases happen in store so a physical and personal shopping experience is important to the luxury shopper. They have therefore created an augmented retail solution that “links the online and offline worlds, using data to enhance the retail experience for the consumer.” For example in its bricks and mortar store in London, as soon as you enter you are encouraged to sign in so that your online purchase history can be pulled into the store system to help in store staff see what your previous preferences, saved items, sizing and colour trends are. Additionally, fitting rooms feature smart mirrors so that you can request different sizes, alternative products or pay without even having to leave the dressing room. Clothing rails are also fitted with RFID tags to recognise what you are browsing and then suggest other products you may also be interested in.

Jose Neves, founder of Farfetch, told Business of Fashion “Although digital is already influencing most consumption behaviour — and that’s where the eyeballs are; it’s the new TV, it’s the new print, it’s the new everything — when it comes to actually purchasing fashion, there will be a plateau in online sales. The physical store is going to survive and is going to remain the centre-stage of shopping, but it’s not going to be a physical store as it exists today. The disconnected store — as opposed to the connected store — won’t be around. Period.”

Our client Nike is no stranger to creating unique customer service points for its consumers. With the Nike Store of Innovation in Paris as a recent pinnacle point, the women’s space at NTL in London is also re-focusing its customer service offering. The flexible space helps visitors connect with the brand’s local communities and also drives home the brands health-focused values through installations and informative touch points.

The strategies here are not just for art’s sake, they enhance the consumer journey and create an experience past the aesthetic and conquer transient visit.

Spatial Elasticity 

So, we know the physical store is not dead – it’s just evolving. However, with figures stating that online retail sales grew by 50% during lockdown and the summer saw a 47% drop in footfall to physical stores, brands need to work harder than ever to give consumers a reason to visit their stores in order to access that more personal and human experience.

We have previously looked at the Burberry Social Media store as an example of a true end to end Online to Offline experience and a store design flipping traditional bricks and mortar use on its head. Their new concept stores provides multiple touch points for consumers to create social currency, learn more about the products and engage with the brand past the physical item in the store. The Burberry stores completely question the purpose of bricks and mortar spaces and turn them into experiential hubs in which to play and explore as well as shop.

When working with Nicce recently to design and open their first standalone store, spatial elasticity was high on the agenda. As a brand born on the internet a physical space was more than just a place to shop to them. In homage to N Studio at their head office their ambition is that their physical stores will be community hubs where consumers can come and celebrate the brand but also engage with others, their mutual interests and values in a safe and creative space.

The physical space is a reflection of the values, identity and culture the brand has built up online making the transition from virtual to physical more seamless for their consumer.

Experiential Value 

From thinking about how to create bricks and mortar spaces that are more than just a place to shop, we move to examining how experiential for retail brands is about adding something to somebody’s day that enhances their memory of that moment. It’s about truly standing out and connecting in a way that an online experience often cannot.

We talk about human connection a lot, and a physical experiential moment helps drive that through various forms. It might be through the aesthetic – Acne consumers know when they have entered an Acne store and their brand aesthetic is solid and aims to create a seamless consumer journey. It might be through our values – for example Selfridges recent all-encompassing Earth campaign which spreads from its windows through-out its store and in turn its retail displays and brand products. It might even be through our beliefs – look at the Patagonia “Vote the Assholes Out” campaign for example. Or it might even simply be through our need to share our experiences - for example Burberry have taken this to the extreme level through the recent launch of its Social Media store.

When we think of experiential retail we maybe traditionally think of photo-booths, ping-pong tables and maybe even cocktails. These more vacuous experiential moments are being replaced by more authentic and brand specific activities whether that be in store, at a retail event, a pop-up activation or community event.

Flexible retail displays, monthly instore activations and even one-off pop-up events can create that experiential value but ensure the brand stays unique, relevant and authentic rather than obvious and generic. Experiential retail is also not just about entertainment – it still needs to focus on service but in a unique and personalised way.

We recently worked with Tommee Tippee to create SleepFest on World Sleep Day. The interactive out-of-store day festival offered parents a chance to learn more about Tommee Tippee products to help aid sleep, speak to and hear from industry experts on baby products and care, have a safe place to relax with their babies and share in a panel of sleep experts. This experiential event helped bring new Tommee Tippee products to consumers but also it worked hard to build brand love outside of the traditional purchase. Interactive workshops such as relaxing essential oil making helped add that engaging activation led element whilst still speaking to the task at hand – educating on and aiding sleep in babies.

As retail evolves the aim of the game is authentic engagement. A store, pop-up or retail event is the window to your brand, it’s your showroom. That experience should speak to your target consumer and customer and be tailored to ensure you provide a truly unique experience – not just a cut and paste typical “experiential” activity.

 In Summary

Re-evaluating the retail experience is key for the survival of our high street and the much-needed bricks and mortar retail environment. Experience is the key word, but through an authentic lens. Consumers are looking for better service and service which intrinsically links to their online experience with the brand. They are looking for engagement instore which offers them something online cannot, an experience which speaks to their values and in turn the values of the brand they love.

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