Smart retailers have discovered that consumers have higher purchasing success if they have actually experienced items before they make a purchase commitment. Repeat sales for smaller ticket items, such as wine, groceries, and cosmetics can become trusted brands when you are given the opportunity to Try Before You Buy.
High ticket home items, such as steam showers, chromatherapy and aromatherapy soaking tubs and high-end ranges and stoves, are just a few products that require informed decision making, or a leap of faith before an actual purchase. Oftentimes, consumers make these purchases and after spending thousands of dollars, end up disappointed with the overall result.
Physical stores have the advantage over online digital retail sites by having the ability to offer In-Person Experiential Shopping Experiences for items at all price points. Test that Viking range or Mr. Steam shower, before you invest thousands of dollars and hundreds of man hours in the purchase and installation, to prevent discovering later that it’s not what you had hoped it would be. “Try on” the lifestyle and experience, before you buy!
Here is a current roundup of the best offerings in Experiential Retail to help you make well-informed decisions on critical purchases for your home.
Table of Contents
- What is Experiential Retail?
- Culinary Experiences
- Consumer Electronics
- Bath Spa Experiences
- Kitchen Appliances
- Outdoor Appliances & Furniture
- Alternatives to Experiential Retail
- Experiential Retail Resources
What is Experiential Retail?
Experiential Retail is a marketing strategy where a physical retail store offers additional interactions and services beyond browsing and purchasing, which can be accomplished online.
Also referred to as Experiential Shopping, Experiential Retail has different meanings for different industries, brands and retailers. A good portion of “experiential retail” refers to enhanced experiences within physical stores that make shopping a more enjoyable process, such as: seating areas; conducive music & lighting; interactive media & devices; in-store events; augmented reality apps; complementary refreshments; and various in-store loyalty perks.
These features give brick-and-mortar retailers the opportunity to cultivate customer loyalty and brand awareness that cannot be matched by digital-only experiences.
Greeting customers with freshly baked goods, a cup of coffee or glass of lemonade, is a personalized approach to retailing that can only be accomplished when an in-market consumer walks into a physical store. While there, consumers can apply tactile experiences to products by turning knobs and dials on appliances or experience sounds or smells not available online.
Experiential retail stores typically offer advanced technology, exclusive in-store events, customer care services, and deeply knowledgeable staff to improve the retail experience beyond what can be obtained online. The goal is to improve the physical store experience by offering more amenities than what online-shopping can offer, while building brand loyalty and helping consumers to express a lifestyle.
In the context of purchasing high-end products and appliances for the home, we interpret “experiential retail” with extra emphasis on “experiencing the products” under consideration. By “experiencing” we mean seeing, touching, using and learning. We also tie this concept to having convenient access to “experienced” sales personnel, who can credibly guide customers through complex and costly purchase decisions.
We are especially intriqued with Try Before You Buy (TBYB) programs for home products, which allow in-store customers to experience mattresses, spa bathtubs and other non-returnable items. These types of programs are advantageous to in-store retailers, as they can offer a wider array of TBYB options than can digital competitors.
Enormous competition from digital channels has caused brick-and-mortar store owners to rethink, reinvent, retool and reinvest to offer experiences that are exclusively available to their in-store clientele. Despite the growth in the number of online channels available to consumers, brick-and-mortar retail will continue to remain relevant, but it must elevate offerings and connections beyond the capabilities of their digital-only channels.
Regardless of the how the percentage of shopping traffic and purchases may change over time between brick-and-mortar retail and online channels, the best brands and retailers will continue to merge helpful tools and services within both channels. Anticipate more augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies being used both in-store and online. For example, online shoppers can remotely watch and interact with live streamed events, while in-store shoppers can use technology to augment information for in-store products, such as color selection and personalized virtual staging.
The best retailers and brands will continue to innovate, not only their in-store experiences, but ALL of their shopping channels, with a passionate focus on what is most convenient and valuable to their customers. When encountering nonsensical inconvenience (e.g. not being able to return online purchases to a nearby store), this is a sign that a company has not upgraded their logistics for modern shoppers.
Conversely, if omnichannel retailers appear to dissuade shoppers from using another shopping channel, this could be an indicator of internal channel conflict. This situation can arise when different entities of a given company (e.g. retail employees, online workers, call center reps, etc.) are competiting against each other to receive credit for a sale.
In a quest to drive consumers back to the mall and other physical establishments, many retailers are offering in-store demonstrations and classes with the intent of providing the tactile and sensory experiences that digital retail lacks. Chef-led cooking classes, product demonstrations that allow customer participation and private events, that include giveaways and food sampling, are largely exclusive to physical retail spaces. We commend retailers that also offer live streams of events to reach a larger audience unable to attend in person.
A perfect example of an invaluable TBYB retail experience is testing out an advanced espresso machine in-person to understand how it works and determine if it is a good fit for your ease-of-use expectations and taste palette to justify the expense.
Sur La Table
Besides in-store demos and cooking classes, Sur La Table also offers a unique “Return to Learn” program where you can book a 1-on-1 session with a product expert to explore a newly purchased product to become more effective with its use. Though this is a “post-purchase” service, this type of program can definitely improve overall customer satisfaction regarding product purchases. Not surprising, Sur La Table also has an in-store prep station to help customers find the perfect knife for their needs.
Here are several leading retailers that over a wide-range of product and cooking demonstrations:
- Sur La Table In-Store Cooking Classes
- Sur La Table Perks Loyalty Program
- Williams Sonoma Cooking Classes & Events
- Publix Aprons Cooking School
- Macy’s Culinary Events
Whether purchasing small tech gear or attachments for existing purchases, consumers expect a luxury, hospitality experience from brick-and-mortar stores. With so many choices for smart phones, computers and other electronics, in-store advisors must prove to be competent, knowledgeable and patient, in order to help a customer make the right purchase decision.
Think of consumer electronics retail locations as evolving into satellite versions of leading industry conventions, like CES. Similar to the role of industry conferences, physical stores can serve as hubs of innovation through education, product demonstrations, one-on-one consulting, and events – all fueling increased customer loyalty.
Samsung Experience Stores, currently with six locations across the US, are positioned to help customers discover the latest in Samsung consumer technology. These specialty stores offer device activation, free in-store pick-up, workshops, VR adventures, and more. Each store is staffed with certified Samsung Care Experts and Galaxy Consultants.
In the past, consumers sought out the retail store to “shop” the sales expert only to make their purchases online. Today, consumer in-store loyalty programs are turning the table on this approach to insure customer retention and subsequent purchases.
Leaders in Experiential Retail within the Consumer Electronics category include:
Bath Spa & Fixtures Experience
To experience water that actually fills a bathtub, and showers that emit warm inviting steam, be sure to visit a high-end showroom like Pirch, for some of the best brands in Kitchen, Bath and Outdoor appliances, equipment and fixtures. Customers are invited to “test drive” products to insure a level of comfort and fit that will help build the vision of your home.
Kohler is another brand that has invested heavily in experiential showrooms that allows customers to have tactile interaction with products to gain a sense of how the product will look, feel and operate in actual conditions.
At Hansgrohe’s newly remodeled Aquademie, consumers and industry professionals can explore the world of Hansgrohe and Axor bathroom and kitchen products firsthand in their Alpharetta, Georgia facility, just north of Atlanta. A visit to Showerworld, in the same building, allows guests to experience over 30 Hansgrohe and Axor luxury shower products! All visits require an appointment. Hansgrohe also has an Aquademie in Schiltach, Germany, located in the eastern part of the Black Forest.
Hansgrohe Virtual Tour of Aquademie in Alpharetta, Georgia
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Knowing what your body needs from a good night’s sleep is one thing, but discerning that a mattress can meet all of these needs is another. It is difficult to assess “how hard” or “how soft” a mattress during a brief visit in a showroom.
To insure a perfect fit for your back, spine, legs and overall comfort, a mattress should only be tested at home in the same environment in which you intend to use it for the next ten or so years.
Companies that have experiential sleep centers or that allow 30+ day no-risk guarantees are so confident that they can solve your mattress issues that they are willing to offer at-home experiential trial periods. At-Home trials vary from 30 night minimums to 365 night maximums.
Casper prospective customers can try mattresses for a minimum of 30 nights with a maximum of 100 nights. The rationale is that it takes at least 30 nights for the body to adjust to a new mattress. If it’s not a fit, simply call for a pick-up, and as long as it is not damaged, you can receive a full refund.
The company also offers 30-night trials for other products and accessories (AKA “Snooze Supplies”), including: pillows, bedding, glow lights, dog beds and furniture.
Other leading mattress manufactures that offer generous TBYB trials include:
Appliances always look shiny and new in a showroom, but how do they perform from a lifestyle perspective and for the way you will interact with them? This is the question that experiential showrooms, such as Pirch, Miele, LG Signature and SubZero seek to answer, with full functional working appliances and interactive cooking demonstrations.
- Dacor Kitchen Theaters
- Miele Experience Centers
- Miele Events
- Sub-Zero Wolf Experience Locations
- Sub-Zero Wolf Dinner & Cooking Demonstrations
- Sub-Zero Use and Care Demonstrations
- Sub-Zero Work Schedule a Showroom Appointment
- Howard’s Experience Centers
- Fisher & Paykel Experience Centers
Outdoor Appliances & Furniture
Outdoor kitchens and living rooms have become an extension of the modern home, much like Frank Lloyd Wright would have expected. Indoor-Outdoor living should be seamless, comfortable and continuous, a bridge between the home and natural world. Furniture should be equally functional and comfortable, and appliances should be independent of their indoor counterparts, yet unified in overall aesthetics.
Outdoor cooking solutions are another popular example for brands and retailers to demonstrate their products in person. Though their current public event calendar is a bit sparse, Lynx Grills is well known for providing on-site outdoor cooking demonstrations at their retailer partner locations. If truly in the market for a top-of-the-line outdoor kitchen, it also doesn’t hurt to inquire if there are any upcoming VIP events in your area.
The Ultimate Outdoor Kitchen Event with Iron Chef Winner Kent Rathbun and Lynx Grills
For outdoor furniture, we admire Outer’s creative IRL (In-Real-Life) showrooms program that is a partnership with existing customers who allow their outdoor spaces to serve as Outer furniture showrooms. In return, customer partners receive various perks and benefits. The truly unique value of this type of showroom is that prospective buyers can see how well the furniture has weathered, as well as ask actual customers about maintenance and overall satisfaction with the product. On a side note, Outer’s directory of customer showrooms is a great source of outdoor design inspiration, not just for furniture but hardscaping, as well.
Outer Showroom Number 22 – The Sowden House, Hollywood
Alternatives to Experiential Retail
Though we encourage all consumers to take full advantage of all marketing and sales channels available for making well-informed purchase decisions, we understand that retail experience centers may not be available in your local market.
In parallel to trying products firsthand, we also strongly recommend reaching out to local reputable retailers who are well-versed in a wide range of brands and products. Ferguson does an exceptional job helping homeowners understand their many options for major purchases and remodeling projects, with their 1-on-1 consulations.
If you are unable to visit an experience center for a prospective brand or product line, be sure to take advantage of virtual offerings, such as live streamed product demonstrations, such as cooking events, so that you can ask questions. Many experience centers also offer virtual appointments, so that products can be demonstrated remotely through a Facetime-like app.
Other forms of “substitute experiential retail” are local cooking events that may use similar products of interest, via cooking schools, social cooking events, continuing education programs, or culinary travel itineraries.
On the topic of travel, we also recommended asking if any local luxury hotels incorporate any bath and spa brands of interest. Victoria + Albert, for example, has a showcase gallery of luxury hotels that use their products throughout the globe. In general, well-appointed luxury hotels serve as terrific design inspiration for outdoor spaces, luxury spa bathrooms, bedding and lighting.
Also, be sure to call vendors, retailers, designers and contractors to ask if they know of any upcoming demonstrations or events, in-person or virtual, for your product category of interest. Many events may not be widely promoted.
Lastly, don’t hesitate to go old-school and order samples, when applicable – perhaps this was the original TBYB method!
Experiential Retail Resources
- Book a Personalized Showroom Appointment with Ferguson (In-Person or Virtual)
- Casper Mattress Quiz
- Casper Store Locations
- Sub-Zero Virtual Showroom
- LG Signature Virtual Showroom
- Dacor Inspiration Gallery
- Hunker House IRL Space in Venice, California
- Herman Miller LA Experiential Retail Location
- Expressions Home Gallery
- Homeowners Solutions from Expressions Home Gallery
- John Lewis & Partners Department Store Experiences
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