Is Experiential Marketing the Key to Revitalizing Retail?

Now things are starting to heat up. As of late May, COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are down. Vaccination rates are up, and masks are beginning to come off. As we head into summer, we’re taking a look at experiential marketing, and how it has the potential to revitalize the retail sector, giving brands a way to reach customers in new and interesting ways, with the goal of ultimately bringing them back into physical stores.

Pop-Up Stores Were Having a Moment. Will They Rebound?

Whether you call it experiential marketing, engagement marketing, loyalty events, pop-up stores or even participation marketing, the concept of drawing consumers by giving them new ways to engage with a brand is an old idea that is particularly relevant to the social media age.

Before the pandemic, experiential retail sites were definitely having a creative renaissance. 2018 was declared the Year of the Pop-Up Shop. Largely fueled by social media, Instagramable retail exhibitions such as the Museum of Ice Cream, Candytopia, and dozens of others were reaching a whole new generation of consumers, inviting them to interact with brands in fresh, and fun ways. The sky was the limit.

Then 2020 happened.

Experiential Retail and Experiential Marketing is Experiencing a Comeback

Now, as retailers begin to get back to the way things were, experiential retail is primed for another moment, this time perhaps even bigger than before. Popular and glamorous brands Gucci and North Face recently collaborated on a several thousand square-foot experiential retail location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The space was lined with artificial grass, racks filled with everything from hiking boots to ready-to-wear accessories. Kylie Jenner recently opened a limited-time pop-up store modeled on her pink bathroom.

While these examples may not be the magic bullet to help retail recover, they are most certainly steps in the right direction. The key is to make the shopping experience memorable and exciting, like an event as opposed to yet another trip to the mall.

As Matt Clark, managing director of AlixPartners told CNBC, “Undoubtedly there will be less physical stores as we move forward. But the stores that remain will need to offer an even greater experience and an additional set of services, as well as just the ability to buy products.”

This is tailor-made for experiential retail. They allow retailers to experiment, and create fresh, bold, and exciting retail spaces without going through all the costs of remodeling and redesigning large existing retail stores. The brands don’t have to commit to a long-term lease contract, which also incentivizes innovation. They can build these stores quickly, creating fun and exciting spaces that ideally will remind customers that it’s a lot more fun to be out, instead of cooped up in their living room ordering everything online.

Give Shoppers a Reason to Choose You

The fact remains, today’s consumers have all the control. With unlimited shopping options available from their phone, traditional brick-and-mortar retail is going to need to up its game. Experiential retail offers a way to make that happen. Why? Lots of reasons.

  • They’re outdoors. Experiential retail can often be held outside in tents, which may be more likely to feel safe to shoppers.
  • Surprise and delight. Similar to outdoor flea markets, the quirky, unpredictable nature of the most successful pop-up stores offer consumers something new, which is what they’re looking for.
  • Shareable. While not many people will be snapping glamorous selfies at their local department store, experiential retail offers a glamorous backdrop for customers to share online. Take a look at all the great shots with the hashtag #popupstore.

Have you visited any experiential retail stores lately? Got any cool stories and/or pics? Let us know what you think is working. We want to hear from you!