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What works in experiential retail


Drapers samples what the innovative experiential retailers have to offer.

Experiential stores are one of the hottest trends in retail. In a bid to lure ever-more online-centric customers into stores, and once there, offer them a differentiated and personalised experience, retailers are offering a wide range of value-add activities. From RFID (radio frequency identification) tags on clothing to cafes and in-store beauty services, smart retailers from across the industry are getting in on the experiential act.

Drapers sampled the experiential elements at Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Pepe Jeans on Regent Street, Sweaty Betty on Carnaby Street, Oasis at Tottenham Court Road, and Browns East in Shoreditch, east London.

Many of the services offered a compelling temptation to spend longer in store. Particularly striking were the retailers that captured their brand identity in their services – Burberry’s luxury cafe, for example, and Sweaty Betty’s “fitness paradise”. 

However, retailers must take care to ensure their experiences meet expectations, as those that fail to deliver on their promise can reflect badly on the brand.


Sweaty Betty: a class act


The Sweaty Betty store on Carnaby Street is so packed with experiential features it is barely a shop any more – the cafe, studio and beauty area take up well over half of the shop space.

The relaxing cafe is upstairs – a pop-up of the trendy “Farm Girl” health-food cafe. The area is pleasant and busy, fitting well to the Sweaty Betty “lifestyle”. 

However, it is the downstairs studio space that shines. A small exercise studio is fitted out with lockers and showers, and offers different workout classes every day of the week, starting at 6.30am, before the store opens, at 9am. The latest is at 7.15pm.

As a newcomer I can book for a class the next week for £10 (usual price £15, or you can buy packages). The service enables fitness fans to try out some of the most talked-about classes – including Frame Boxfit, Paola’s Bodybarre burn and Yogarise – and are a clever way to lure new customers and satisfy regulars, all clad in Sweaty Betty gear.


Oasis: fit for a preen

Oasis Tottenham Court Road

Oasis Tottenham Court Road

Oasis Tottenham Court Road

Sitting like an oversized Wendy house at the back of the Oasis Tottenham Court Road store, the Pin and Polish salon feels like a luxurious addition. It offers manicures and pedicures, and I am able to walk in and book a manicure immediately for £15, which compares well with salons in London. The range of colours and quality of the manicure are as good as I would expect from a dedicated salon.

While the experience is relaxing, it is very quiet, and there are no other customers when I enter, which means there is very little atmosphere. 

The salon almost feels like it has been packed away – tables are pushed to the side and equipment is covered over. Still, Oasis has created a relaxing one-stop pamper shop, and I enjoy spending my time in the store.


Pepe Jeans: purposeful identification

Pepe jeans regent street london flagship 3

RFID tagging is a useful addition to Pepe’s flagship Regent Street store. When I hang items up in the changing room, a large screen on the opposite wall instantly detects the sizes, colours and styles of items that I have and displays them. 

When I try on each item, it is highlighted on the screen with the option of calling over other sizes, or ordering alternatives to home. Not only is the tool easy to use, but it is also functional and engaging – a fun gadget and a clever way of making shopping in store easier.

Nevertheless, there is no obvious styling function on the display – it would have been useful and could prompt further purchases. While the items I have in the changing rooms are displayed in fully styled outfits, there is no option to view or order the other items in the outfit if, for example, I liked the T-shirt styled with a pair of jeans I had picked up.


Ralph Lauren: classy customisation

Polo ralph lauren (3)

Tucked away in the old-school decadence of the Regent Street Ralph Lauren store, the customisation station allows for shirts, blazers, and polo shirts to be personalised.

Staff are very helpful and the customisation options with patches, monogramming and embroidery are near endless. Prices start at £85 for a polo shirt – a comparatively accessible entry point. 

When I visit, the store is quiet and I am told the customisation would take around two hours, but I can wait in the upstairs cafe.

However, the customisation station itself is not perfect. I design on a tablet, but the screen and application are quite clunky to navigate, and it is hard to view all the options that I want. It is also unclear how much each extra element would cost on top of the original price.


Burberry: cafe society on Regent Street

Upstairs bar dining area   wide shot 3

The Burberry store on Regent Street feels very much like an art gallery in its own right, and Thomas’s Cafe is a natural extension of this.

Exquisitely decorated, it has handsome fittings and warm, art deco lighting. The whole cafe feels appropriately luxurious – it provides a break from browsing, but could be an attraction in itself, thanks to its impressive manifestation of “brand Burberry”. 

The food on offer is traditional British: lobster and oysters are available, alongside a shepherd’s pie for £18 and afternoon tea for £32. The room has a sense of old-world 1930s glamour: elegantly dressed patrons discuss business over pastries when I visit in the morning, and a tempting aroma of fresh coffee pervades. However, the beautiful cafe is a little hidden away and so is hard to find.


Tommy Hilfiger: as seen on screens

8994 th rs hr

The large screens in the Tommy Hilfiger Regent Street store act as digital catalogues, enabling customers to browse the entire range of products with ease from anywhere in store. 

The in-store and online availability of sizes is shown, and there is the option to buy from the screen for home delivery using a nifty text code that is sent to your smartphone and enables you to pay on your own device.

The graphics are impeccable, and represent an exciting addition to the shopping experience.

By contrast, the RFID function, which displays the product details and options of items placed in a box scanner beneath the screen, does not work on the first attempt. Compared with the efficient RFID usage at Pepe Jeans, this functionality appears flashy rather than useful.


Browns: state of the art

Brownseast 2 embargo october 20th

The new Browns East store on Club Row in Shoreditch opened in October, and is an experience in itself. It has an art gallery wall and installations throughout – some of which are available to buy – making it enjoyable to wander around. Nevertheless, on a Thursday afternoon, I am the only customer in store.

To enter, I walk through the exhibition by London-based artist Andy Leek’s #notestostrangers – a cascade of colourful papers at the entrance featuring 300 motivational messages – and spend a lot longer than I otherwise might have done. 

Upstairs, there is a dedicated relaxation space where a sign encourages customers to notice the sky outside the window, but from my angle it is blocked by a large building. 

There is also a small, dark, cushion-filled “meditation” room to let shoppers relax in peace. Sadly, the room is a little ramshackle, I can see the fire exit sign glowing in the wall, and the space does not feel inviting. 

Readers' comments (1)

  • Biggest assumption by all these retailers is that people want to spend more time in store.

    A great experience for most is about ease and efficiency with a nice surprise or two. Which is also more productive for the retailer and their margins.

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