6 ways to engage consumers, from retail to marketing

Stores are bringing buzz back to retail with engaging customer experiences

A scene from The Paradise TV series

As shopping moves online, compelling experiences in brick-and-mortar spaces are making a comeback

There was a time when visiting a department store was an event, as depicted in the TV series Mr. Selfridge and The Paradise. Now, says Canadian consumer futurist Doug Stephens in his recent book Reengineering Retail, “most stores we visit are devoid of any theater, excitement or aesthetic delight, much less any sort of engaging physical experience.”

But the tide is turning again. With retailers closing their doors at an unprecedented rate—CNN Money estimates that more U.S. stores will shut down this year than in 2008, during the Great Recession—only those “that go above and beyond to provide customers with an unparalleled experience will succeed,” warns a 2017 report from Toronto-headquartered marketing agency Dac Group.

Since launching as an online custom menswear retailer in 2007, Vancouver-based Indochino has found that opening physical showrooms increases sales. Observes CEO Drew Green, “I think consumers are more and more focused on the experience they have, whether that’s prior to the purchase, at the purchase or post-purchase, than just solely focused on the product.”

Suits: Indochino, made-to-measure menswear retailer with 17 showrooms in North America

The Experience: The showrooms act as full-service representations of Indochino’s online experience—but instead of doing everything themselves, from taking measurements to choosing fabric, customers visit a store where a human “style guide” walks them through creating a custom garment that fits perfectly. “The ability to build your own garment is something that our consumers absolutely love,” CEO Green says. “Because you created it, you feel like it’s yours, and it’s one of a kind.”

Jeans: Dish & Duer, performance-denim clothing maker and retailer, 118 West Hastings Street, Vancouver

The Experience: When the company expanded its store in June, it added an indoor playground equipped with a treehouse, rooftop hammock, monkey bars and a swing set where shoppers can try Dish & Duer performance clothing in action. Besides providing a space where customers can run, jump, swing and play with a feel of the outdoors brought inside, the 1,000-square-foot store literally boosts brand transparency by removing the walls so that customers can see directly into the office and design studio.

Cosmetics: Lush Ltd., U.K.-based manufacturer of handmade cosmetics, with 900 stores worldwide; Vancouver is the head office for its more than 250 North American locations

The Experience: Since Lush North America opened in Vancouver in 1996, it has emphasized customer service and encouraged shoppers to sample its products. Now the company is shifting its retail growth strategy away from adding new stores and markets to creating better customer experiences in its existing shops by renovating the larger ones and relocating others. Like the recently expanded 2,340-square-foot Robson Street flagship, the upgraded spaces will include vintage furniture; shelves and cabinets made from reclaimed wood; consultation stations; and sinks for playing with bath products.

Short and Sweet

By testing the market for a potential storefront or promoting a brand, experiential pop-ups create consumer engagement

Tourism: Victoria Pop-up Flower Stop, Vancouver and Seattle, May 2017
The Experience: To give passersby a taste of the City of Gardens, Tourism Victoria erected temporary flower “shops” in Vancouver and Seattle. Visitors were invited to enter the Bouquet A Day contest and make their own take-home bouquet.

Wine: The Installation, CheckMate Artisanal Winery, Oliver, late July to mid-October 2017
The Experience: The winery is usually closed to the public. A pop-up tasting room designed by Seattle architect Tom Kundig allows visitors to taste wines normally only sold online.

Horticulture: Fleurs de Villes, five-day floral displays at shopping centres across Canada, spring 2017
The Experience: Launched in Victoria and Vancouver in 2016, Fleurs de Villes pairs local floral designers with leading brands to dress mannequins entirely in plants. This year, shoppers who took and shared photos could win prizes, including a trip to Paris.