//No more Experiential – it’s time for Retail Entertainment

Have we moved past Experiential Retail and come full circle to one of the oldest industries in the world?

It’s old news: Retail is changing and everyone is now trying to make their store more experiential. Some really pulled it off and are truly worth a visit such as Showfields, also described as the “Sleep No More” of stores. Shoppers are being engaged and can dive deep into the store and individually explore it while being fed stories by the in-store staff that seems to be more like actors in character than salespeople.

On the other hand, you can easily find stores that tried to create additional value by setting up an incoherent string of Instagram backdrops completely irrelevant to the product they are selling, all the while hoping that the photos will go viral.

Whichever end of the spectrum we are looking at, whether successful or not, the question we are asking ourselves in 2020 is: Is “experiential” a thing of the past decade? Is it perhaps time to find a better and more appropriate word to describe what retail should be all about now?

The word “experience” can describe any kind of event that has happened – be it positive, negative or even completely neutral without an actual effect on a person. So considering that an experience might not be all that impactful or valuable, should retail strive to offer more than that?

Customers enjoying the slide at House of Showfields (Photo by Jeenah Moon for The New York Times)

Looking at successful examples of the latest retail pop-ups, at how they are described and which elements their success is mostly attributed to, we have found a clue as to what might serve as a better word to describe the next big thing in retail. In fact, it seems as though we have come full circle to one of the oldest industries in the world: Entertainment.

Entertainment in reverse

If you break it down, the concept of entertainment is quite simple: First, you make a purchase (which would be the ticket), then you go see a show or movie, and hopefully, you will enjoy it or learn something new. Applying this proposition to innovative and successful retail concepts, you could describe them somewhat as entertainment in reverse: First, you go to a retail space (intentionally not calling them “stores” – continue to read to find out why), then you learn something or get entertained by the engaging displays and the stories that are told, and in the end, if what was offered convinced you, you might end up making a purchase which, in this case, would be a product.

Entertainment in reverse

The goal of entertainment has always been to show people something they haven’t seen before and to bring a sense of awe and wonder – like gladiator showdowns did in ancient Rome or breathtaking acrobatic acts do at Cirque Du Soleil. This notion of surprise and delight would be at the heart of Retail Entertainment and can help lure potential customers in by offering them something unexpected and inspiring.

Considering the digitized world we are living in, Retail Entertainment seems even more likely to be a perfectly fitting term. Nowadays, the majority of everyday stimuli comes from the same single screen we look at, be it our phone or our laptop at work. This monotony in digital stimuli makes people crave real sensory stimulation which Retail Entertainment could provide.

Naturally, like with other entertainment formats such as movies or shows, Retail Entertainment can yield different levels of emotional stimulation. Some retail spaces might want to entertain on a superficial level and simply make you laugh. Others might want to go deeper, make people think and inspire their audiences to explore complex ideas. Yet, in either case, the goal is to create an emotional response that adds value beyond the transactional process. Physically going to a retail space then becomes worth the trip because the reward is not only the purchase made there, but moments of true multi-sensory stimulation.

The act of going to retail spaces transcends being an errand and has the potential to become a social activity.

Let’s take this one step further and into the context of Omni Retail: As customers can also make the purchase online most of the time, the actual sale on site is no longer required. This has three consequences.

First, the word “store” might be too limiting to describe this new kind of retail space. An alternative term could be “show room” as it speaks to the exhibiting and art-mimicking character of Retail Entertainment.

Second, with the actual sale taken out of the equation, money is no longer the prevailing currency. If entertainment becomes the goal, social currency is what counts. And that can come in the form of a good review, photos that are shared, or simply word of mouth.

Last but not least, shopping or the act of going to retail spaces transcends being an errand and has the potential to become a social activity. This point is especially interesting considering today’s general lack of time. Everybody’s calendar is busy with work, household errands and mandatory appointments and people are very conscious about how they spend their time off. So if customers can go to a retail space and be entertained by a multidimensional offering that can be explored and experienced in a way an online shop could never be – that is when it is worth for them to go… and to come back again.

Context and plot twists

The obvious question left to answer is: How can a retail space become entertaining? Here again, we can reference the actual entertainment industry. Stories make movies. Stories can also make retail spaces. Multi-faceted and relevant stories make products more than just products. They give them context and a whole other dimension, thereby turning them into meaningful cultural artifacts the same way they turn movies into a part of culture. Mix that with an unexpected plot twist that no one saw coming and you have yourself a potential box office winner.

Bringing this back to our example from the beginning, Showfields successfully implemented the idea of Retail Entertainment in their space by telling engaging stories in a surprising and multi-sensory way. The result: Some brands have reported sales increases of over 50 percent and access to new audiences.

We definitely see potential for Retail Entertainment to become the latest buzz word in the discussions about the industry. Stores will become stages and show rooms in the truest sense where a product is not only displayed, but where its story is portrayed in visually appealing and engaging ways. And if the viewers like what they see, they will tell their friends about it – just like they would do with a great show they just saw.

//Wine, perfume, and a good time – our first Creative Talk

On December 4th, 2019, we hosted the first event of our new event series Creative Talks which deep-dives into one topic pertaining to one of our key expertise areas: Design, Communications and Events.

Our inaugural Creative Talk revolved about the transformation of retail spaces from point of sales to storytelling platforms. We invited industry leaders and opinion makers to participate and share their insights and perspectives on the topic of the day.

Our guest speakers were Nick Arauz, CEO of Caswell-Massey – the oldest personal care product brand in America that more or less used George Washington for its first “influencer” campaign – and Tyler Balliet, CEO and Founder of Rosé Mansion – one of New York’s most popular pop-up experiences that combines wine tasting with relevant stories and instagrammable moments.

Check out the highlights here:

//VIDEO: The Future of Retail

The apocalypse, robot people and brandscapes: Our Creative Director Scott Faucheux answers questions about the changing retail landscape and what he thinks the future of retail will look like.

Watch the highlight video below that includes impressions of our tour of the latest experiential stores in New York City and read the full interview here.

PS: What is continuity? 😉

//The apocalypse, robot people and brandscapes: OSK’s Creative Director Scott Faucheux on the Future of Retail

Scott Faucheux, Creative Director at OSK New York

Do you remember the last time you went a day without going online? Nowadays, everyone is perpetually connected to the internet through smaller and more personalized devices. This new way of life has also largely changed the way people consume and purchase things. Bloomberg recently reported that online stores have gained the second biggest share of the U.S. retail market, surpassing grocery stores and restaurants. With the rise of E-Commerce, many feared that physical retail stores would disappear. Yet, in an increasingly digital world, brands have the chance to make use of people’s craving for physical experiences to prevent the so-called retail apocalypse.

OSK’s Creative Director Scott Faucheux has almost two decades’ worth of retail design experience for clients such as Samsung, Urban Outfitters and Kiehls. Alum of Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture and Urban Studies, he calls himself a designer and brand thinker who creates innovative combinations of brands, people and places to turn them into compelling experiences. Over the course of his career, he gradually evolved into the world of experience design and has been refining and redefining the role of experiences in the built environment.

At the Timberland store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.

Scott, you have been working on retail design projects for the last twenty years. Recently, an increasing number of retail stores are closing, which many attribute to the rising dominance of online shopping. Looking back, how would you say retail has changed over time and how is it adapting to the digitalization of life?

One of the biggest conversations right now is around the retail apocalypse. Why are all these brands failing? I like to think of the main factors as the four horsemen: Bad product, bad service, bad spaces and most importantly bad stories. There is an evolved sophistication that is happening and technology really has enabled it. More and more retailers are using data to understand what people are doing, which is kind of a paradox. Twenty years ago, if you said data is going to run the stores, people would freak out and say “Oh my god we’re all going to turn into robot people!” But the reality is that technology is enhancing personalization and understanding of how people shop, and also how a particular person shops. We can actually track and personalize experiences and build around an individual, which is a pretty fantastic change from just putting a commodity on a shelf and promoting it. Instead, we can build a story and create emotions around a product.

You have to reconsider what the purpose of the store is. In the past, the store has always been the transaction point and that is not true anymore.

“Experiential” has been one of the key words for a while now. How does that specifically affect retail design?

You have to reconsider what the purpose of the store is. In the past, the store has always been the transaction point and that is not true anymore. If we think about a store as a mere commodities point, it represents a very a different value than if we consider it as a communications point or as a brandscape to tell a story. Brands now are telling their stories in stores through sensory experiences that are multi-dimensional. Some incredibly rich and layered things are happening in new stores right now because the focus is not around the product anymore. Stores are taking consumers on journeys and telling them focused and curated messages that they can take on and add meaning to. People are no longer shopping for mere objects, but are finding cultural artifacts. Stores now have much more power as a story-telling platform than they do as a transactional platform.

What other societal trends are affecting consumer behaviors? How do you translate those into store design?

I think there are a couple societal shifts that have radically altered the way we think about communities in general as well as brand communities. One is the level of social sharing and the level of reach that each individual has into their network. The other is their ability to share their own ideas. It is really amazing to see brands which embrace that and invite their audiences to actually co-author an experience with them. What in the past may have been a brand just saying “Here is what we are, you take that message,” now, is a conversation around “Here is what we have to offer, what do you think?” This way, you can change opinions and create a much broader, more meaningful and relevant idea about what a brand is and what it means to a larger audience.

Are shareable experiences and moments the key to retail success?

There are definitely brands that are simply manufacturing moments that are meant for sharing, and I would say with a wide variety of success.  The authenticity with which you create an experience should be natural and not forced. You see a lot of cool pop-ups with things like Instagram walls – that is manufacturing a moment to be shared in a very specific way. Instead, you should rather create environments where people can explore and find their own moment that they share because they want to and not because the brand says “Here is the format, go share it.”

Now, retail design is only one small portion of the design work that you do. Can you apply your experience from the retail world to other areas of your work?

The approach I use for my design work is one of really looking empathetically at what the visitor journey should be:  What happens along the way? Where are the actions and where are the emotions that need to happen? All of those little cues and moments that make up a journey can be scripted not just in a retail environment but in hospitality and events as well. If we remove the words retail, event or pop-up from the discussion and completely do away with the labels that set boundaries around our work, and begin to think about it just in terms of the visitor’s journey, we can improve all experiences because we are no longer constrained by what we think needs to be. If we eliminate the automatic programing, there is a lot more opportunity to create more impactful and compelling experiences. We can actually innovate by looking at other formats and creating the right impact, the right sensory cues, the right drama.

How does the future of retail look like? And are there examples of brands that are already offering those experiences today?

I think there are three main divergent paths for what the future retail experience will look like. The easy answer is of course big technology with seamless interactions and all kinds of user-generated elements. Those immersive theaters of amazing technology are easily predictable. At the opposite end of that spectrum are brands like Urban Outfitters and Anthropology that are art-driven, completely unique and that are very tactile and sensual. You explore and discover that no two stores are alike and it is up to you to come and find what is cool and what works for you. I think it is that level of personal discovery that is really going to drive the future of retail – whether it is technology-aided or anti-tech. Those possibilities exist anywhere along that spectrum.

The third one that is also really fascinating is demonstrated by Intersect by Lexus here in New York: a brand world that is not necessarily about your product. It is about attention to detail, the appreciation of craft, and what you and your brand really stand for – all coming to life through a whole series of experiences that touch different parts of what we are interested in as people. I think those brandscapes coming to life have huge potential for the future and are something that we are going to see a lot more of.

What do you think will be the next big thing in retail?

I think the next big thing in retail is going to be human-centered design. We have to keep in mind that because the POS can be anywhere, the store itself becomes a story-telling environment and the level of service that you get along the journey is way more important – that really is becoming the transaction rather than the actual exchange of money for goods and services. Retailers who are not investing in understanding how to speak more meaningfully to customers are limiting themselves and no one is going to come to their stores because there is no value. Looking at how our understanding of a person, the data we collect around that person, and how that data creates tailored experiences is really going to be transformative in shaping the future retail experience.