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Editor's Comment: Experience is key to the survival of stores

When your customers walk into your store, what do they expect? Great product, efficient service and well-lit changing rooms, of course – but, increasingly, they are also expecting an experience.

What that means can differ depending on the store and its customer base, but it is something new shopping centre Westgate Oxford has embraced.

The development has taken a part of the city that was slightly run-down and given it a new lease of life. It has upped the emphasis on customer experience by integrating leisure, open public spaces and a roof terrace overlooking the city’s famous spires.

Westgate has also given retailers the opportunity to open new and better stores in Oxford. With a floor focused on high street brands – Uniqlo, H&M, Superdry – and another showcasing more aspirational labels such as Gant, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, the centre offers something for everyone.

Anchoring Westgate Oxford is John Lewis. CEO Paula Nickolds’ strategy is to move the department store in an experiential direction, and its Westgate store underlines this. It offers features such as yoga classes, and even suggests itineraries to ensure customers make the most of their time in store.

Retailers must create an experience, whether it is through digital interactivity, offering the opportunity to join a community of fellow fans of the brand or simply providing a nice lunch and glass of wine. Offering fun and sociable experiences, alongside great product and fantastic service, could turn customers into life-long brand advocates.

A rising number of multichannel retailers are following in John Lewis’s footsteps. And the term “multichannel” is key here – retailers need to remember that, while technological innovation and digital channels can be used for ease and convenience, they do not take away from the pleasure, for many people, of shopping in stores. Our recent Multichannel Customer Insight report found stores are still the most popular shopping channel, even among 18-to-24-year-olds. 

Bricks-and-mortar stores are not coming to an end – they are an integral part of the multichannel experience. But retailers must evolve and consider new ways to tempt people in through their doors. 

Click here for a look inside the new John Lewis at Westgate.

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