Retailers up Their Experiential Cred With Events, Beauty & Selfies

By Caletha Crawford

Much has been made of consumers’ changing shopping habits and the effect its having on American malls. As doors close across the country, retailers are looking for new ways to draw consumers in—and often these efforts go far beyond the products on the shelves.

For William Wilson, head of leveraged finance in the Investment Banking Group at Imperial Capital, the reason why retail is struggling is clear: mall-based stores are no longer relevant. We don’t need stores to curate and dictate anymore, he said. Now, we’re looking for them to excite.

“It’s going to be such interesting time for the next 12-to-18 months because for every loser, there will be winners,” Wilson said, referring to the recent slew of bankruptcies. “There are companies, like Zara, that are much more adroit at maintaining the consumer relevance.”

As an example of how stores are rethinking retail, Wilson cites an upscale hardware chain that’s bringing in restaurants to make visits an experience. That natural connection between home furnishings and meal times will allow shoppers to be surrounded in and interact with the store’s product, creating a connection that ideally leads to sales.

This race to relevancy has retailers looking for ways to augment their products with a buying process that delights. And when the Apple Store—the mother of experiential retailers—finds it necessary to refresh its store concept, you know consumers are becoming hard to please.

The tech giant is doubling down on its commitment to hands-on shopping locations with a new launch, even as malls continue to lean on the company’s ability to draw.

“Before, you had stores like J.C. Penney as anchors and you could count on them to bring to people in who would walk through the mall,” said Corali Lopez-Castro, a bankruptcy and commercial litigation attorney for KozyakTropin Throckmorton. She says today’s draw is different. “One non-traditional anchor is the Apple Store. People go in with questions for their phones and they walk through the mall and see the other stores.”

Apple gets with the (in-store) program

The Apple Store, with its open layouts and gadgets invitingly displayed on every surface, has long been considered the a leader in experiential retail, but even the tech giant is looking for new ways to engage consumers.

The company’s new “Today at Apple” program takes the company’s hands-on approach a step further. Now individuals and families can participate in activities like photography, coding and art and design classes. The events will be headed by team members or experts in their fields for those with skill levels from beginner to professional.

“’Today at Apple’ is one of the ways we’re evolving our experience to better serve local customers and entrepreneurs,” said Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s SVP, retail, in a statement on the company’s site. “We’re creating a modern-day town square, where everyone is welcome in a space where the best of Apple comes together to connect with one another, discover a new passion, or take their skill to the next level. We think it will be a fun and enlightening experience for everyone who joins.”

And the best part for Apple fans is the programs are free.

Forever 21 capitalizes on beauty’s boom

Beauty is having a moment, and Forever 21 wants its time in the spotlight.

The fast fashion retailer has partnered with retail property manager GGP to launch 13 Riley Rose beauty boutiques.

“Forever 21 is always ready to expand into new concepts, and has partnered with GGP to open stores in 13 of their top tier locations,” said Do Won Chang, CEO of Forever 21. “These new, experiential spaces will be focused on accessories, cosmetics and home goods for the millennial consumer. We will open 10 stores in 2017, and follow up with three more in 2018.”

With Forever 21’s built in fan base and the natural experiential promise that beauty provides, the companies hope the new concept will create an emotional connection that will draw young shoppers in.

The upcoming launch is the latest move by Forever 21 into a hot category. Last month, the retailer announced it would open 40 new F21 Red locations, which target shoppers on a budget.

Stores get social with selfies

In the quest to keep consumers engaged, retailers, restaurants and even gyms are turning to a social media staple.

The New York Times reports on businesses offering their patrons the chance to snap selfies on site. The move fulfills a few functions, the first of which is fun. Whether they’re sporting a post-workout glow at Tracy Anderson Method studios or pre-wedding glam at the Paintbox nail salon, it seems customers love sharing with their friends.

At Warby Parker shops, the photo booths are also functional. It’s often hard for people shopping for eyeglasses to see what they look like in their potential new frames but the selfie setup allows them to make an informed choice—and get opinions from friends and family too.

Marketing is another bonus these booths provide. With backdrops bearing the business name, each social share gives a bit of free advertising via friends, family and fans.

“When we were planning the restaurant, we wanted clever ways to promote it and differentiate it, and the younger demographic always wants something Instagram-able,” Hellenic Vincent De Paul, owner of Doomie’s restaurant in Toronto, told the paper.

While guests are hungry for the fun selfies provide, businesses are eating up the exposure they bring.

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