The pandemic has driven much of retail online and Primark is now one of the only bricks-and-mortar retailers without an ecommerce operation, defiantly standing by the traditional retail model.
The trouble is, the experience of shopping on the high street has now been almost entirely replaced by the convenience of shopping online.
Experiential retail is one of the high-street’s most promising solutions to consumer’s growing disinterest in simply buying items in stores. The clue’s in the name; to offer an experience that is unachievable when shopping virtually.
This idea isn’t strictly new, the gaming industry has been doing it for years for example, pop into the shop and try out a demo console before hopefully purchasing it.
However these early experiential retail models were confined to small corners of the high street, now, the idea is becoming more mainstream.
So why is experiential retail believed to be necessary? The high street is in need of an injection of inspiration. Stagnant retail models and falling footfall have forced pioneering entrepreneurs to develop new ideas of how and where people should be buying their products.
This is the thinking behind Situ Live, a multi-brand destination where consumers are able to fully immerse themselves into the products on display.
Situ Live customers are not able to simply purchase items and take them home. Instead its store will provide customers with the chance to experience products before deciding to purchase them online from a retailer’s space inside the Situ Live venue.
“The trend was emerging that consumers didn’t want to buy on the day, they wanted to look, they wanted to showroom, and then they wanted to buy elsewhere,” Situ Live’s chief executive Warren Richmond told Charged.
“I think at the end of the day, you’ve seen a lot of retail initiatives that try and almost fight against tech, you know, people purchasing online.
“But I think it’s a trend that’s not going away, it’s gonna get bigger, you’ve got to work with it, you got to find a solution that works with that trend that’s going to get bigger and bigger.”
And the figures back up Richmond’s theory, a recent report published by Epson found that 75 per cent of its respondents would change their shopping behaviour if more shops on the high street had an experiential element.
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Richmond believes that retail must keep evolving, not just for the good of the high street and its shoppers, but for social reasons too.
“The jobs that it can create the things it does for young guys and girls coming out to uni, single parents, etcetera, but also just other employment,” he continued.
“The things that retail can do, I think is really, really powerful for the economy for those jobs, but also for society at large. It creates communities, it creates discussion, and fundamentally it creates inspiration and education.”
Richmond believes that that experiential retail model is one can recapture the imagination of the public after the pandemic.
He explained: “We’ve been testing what brands want, and how brands want to be brought to life, and the viability of a new commercial model with brands that will get them sales will help them to grow, but done in a very different way.”
Situ Live is opening its first ‘venue’ in London’s Westfield shopping centre and Richmond explained the difference: “It’s not a store, it’s a venue. It’s not a retailer, it’s in a retail landscape, and I think that’s an important distinction,” he said.
“And it’s more of a retail type entertainment venue where we have a stage and we have some wow-factors. We have some things that inspire you and educate you and we have real food in a live kitchen that you can taste.”
Richmond’s idea of engaging the customer is at the very centre of his plans for Situ Live and the experiential retail space, something which he believes currently isn’t the case on the high street with the “sell on the day” model.
“Fundamentally, our objective is completely different. Because the consumer doesn’t want to buy on the day, they want to experience, they want to be engaged, they want to be inspired, they want to be educated. So our objective is inspire and educate.”
Richmond explained this distinction by saying: “There’s few retailers that really bring complex products to life.”
“If you’ve got a coffee machine, you want to taste the coffee, if you’ve got an oven, you want to witness a poached egg being poached, very simple, and then maybe taste it.
“And I think even when the people in the venue, consumers and the people that work there are involved in that, you start to learn a lot more because seeing is believing.
“We are physical creatures that want to touch, feel, enjoy the world. I mean, that is a fact. We do not live in a digital world.”
Situ Live reportedly has a lot of tech ready to “bring to life” however they are planning on releasing it systematically in order to stay ahead of potential competitors who are also cottoning onto the idea.
One of the fundamental differences between high street shopping and ecommerce is the joy of being able to bring home your item as soon as you’ve purchased it.
This is an idea that even the biggest ecommerce giants are starting to understand, with services such as Amazon Prime bridging the last gap between physical and virtual retail by giving consumers the convenience of online shopping combined with the efficiency of physical retail.
Whether experiential retail is what the high street needs and whether it will be a success remains to be seen and only time will tell, but thanks to companies like Situ Live it is set to become the next evolution in retail.
Situ Live’s Westfield shopping space will launch late summer and will include experiences from Maserati, Lutron and Facebook amongst others.