From virtual try-ons to in-store classes and nap centers, leading brands are offering customers meaningful experiences and more personalized services. In an Amazon vs. everyone else world (where Amazon is the undisputed king of low prices and free shipping), retailers are investing in resources and technology that create memorable moments. The most innovative are adding these moments to every touchpoint along the customer journey.
Here are a few of our favorite examples where retailers have turned the customer engagement dial up to 11.
Casper Mattress Puts Shoppers to Sleep
The retailer got its start in 2014 as a direct-to-consumer, online destination for matresses. The startup turned what was once a complicated process of shopping in outdated showrooms with less-than-expert salespeople, into a process that took just a few clicks. Initially, the brand leaned heavily on quick and free delivery as a differentiator.
Last year they decided to double down on experiential retail and opened a flagship Dream Center in NYC which lets consumers take a 45-minute nap in a Casper-outfitted sleep pod. They continue to build their brick-and-mortar empire and plan to open 200 locations by 2021. But pledge to keep the focus on consumers sleep habits, as opposed to simply selling mattresses. Their sleep-inducing strategy reportedly led to a huge jump in revenue, according to Fast Company.
REI Takes Consumers Out of the Store
The outdoor gear and clothing giant organizes and leads nature adventures among its enthusiastic buyers, as opposed to holding more traditional in-store functions. Their classes and group activities, which range from rock climbing, kayaking and camping excursions, foster a tight-knit community of like-minded, outdoor enthusiasts, and provide meaningful ways to use the gear they sell.
The brand bucks typical retail marketing moves in other ways, too. In 2015 they closed their stores on Black Friday as part of their #OptOutside campaign. Since then, they’ve turned the day into an annual paid time off day for all employees, encouraging consumers to go outside instead of going shopping. It’s been reported that the move made their devoted consumers even more loyal. Since Millennials, who account for more than 30 percent of consumers, and Gen Z-ers, who will make up 40 percent of all consumers by 2020, both prefer brands that provide experiences and drive social change, the strategy is likely to provide long-term benefit.
NYX Brings Virtual Beauty Advisors Home
L’Oreal’s NYX brand brings the personalized makeup try-on experience of the beauty counter to consumers in their own homes. An augmented reality (AR) app lets consumers virtually test a variety of makeup looks (from foundation and lipsticks to brow fillers) and they can also choose to connect with beauty consultants for live video chats. The trained consultants recommend products based on a mix of customer preferences and personal info, like skin type and makeup routine.
“What we are doing with those technologies is to really mimic and recreate this really personal relationship you have with a beauty assistant at the counter,” explained Lubomira Rochet, chief digital officer of L’Oreal told Adweek. You get into a really personal conversation so you can have a really personalized recommendation.”
Modcloth Opens Brick-and-Mortar Boutiques
The online clothing retailer, known for vintage-style dresses and feminine silhouettes, opened its first ‘stores’ in New York City, Washington, DC, Austin and San Francisco in 2018. The locations, which Modcloth refers to as FitShops, aim to deliver tailored, in-person experiences from the brand that opened in 2002 as an online-only retailer.
The twist is that the store is only stocked with samples to try-on—consumers won’t be able to walk away with their goods. But, in-store stylists are trained to help shoppers select flattering clothing that makes them feel and look good, and help them order the items which are delivered for free within a few days of purchase.
Monica Scholes, director of retail for Modcloth, told Glossy, “customers who engage with the brand’s styling services tend to spend twice as much as those who do not. What’s even more valuable is that these customers consistently purchase; those using the styling services have conversion rates of over 90%, while the rates of those who do not are 20-25%.”
H-E-B Grocery Creates a Communal Food and Music Space
Texas’ largest grocer, servicing more than half the state, has what it considers to be a loyal shopping base. As other retailers move in, and Amazon’s Whole Foods takeover makes delivery even easier, the grocer, in business for more than 100 years, is set to add more experiential space to their new locations.
They are currently building a massive center in Austin that will function as a super grocery store, live music space, food hall, and community gathering area featuring murals created by local artists. The grocer is betting big that this community model is the best bet to compete with Amazon, and the new store is set to open in 2022. That’s amid modest growth in the grocery industry—annualized revenue is projected to grow at a rate just over 1 percent, according to IbisWorld research.
Sephora Makes Taking Classes Cool
The beauty brand’s strategy is to build an in-person community that’s more than skin deep. Sephora hosts dozens of classes and events that range from 45-minute primers on how to choose and apply foundation to classes catering to cancer survivors and others designed to empower the trans community through thoughtful beauty tips. The in-store interactions add value to consumers and open up opportunities for personalized experiences in-person and online —one of the biggest challenges in an omnichannel strategy.
“The focus of these workshops is on customer interaction and experience—essentially, a place where customers are playing with beauty products and celebrating their learning and successes,” Deborah Yeh told Retail Dive.
Read more about our experience taking Sephora classes.