Experiential Commerce: the new norm for retail, and how to adapt even in a crisis

Bricks-and-mortar is far from dead – at least, good retail isn’t. Give shoppers an amazing experience that you can’t replicate online – something that will capture their attention and wallet share, something they’ll want to tell their friends and family about and share on social media – and they will come back time and again.

This has been the direction that all retail started gravitating towards in the past few years. But as the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated, the world can change quickly.

Widespread store closures and social distancing measures have put physical experiences on hold. Some believe shopping may never be the same again.

“While some customer habits will return to normal, others have changed forever,” said Marks and Spencer’s boss Steve Rowe to the BBC.

Indeed, while trends such as experiential retail, sustainability and shared services have been some of the most dynamic and fast-growing aspects of the industry, this positive momentum has temporarily stalled. Consumers – locked down in their homes around the world – have reverted to buying goods over experiences, choosing new products over second hand, and prioritizing health and safety (including heavily plastic-packaged goods) over environmental concerns. It is pushing retailers to rethink their long-term strategies, not only to overcome the pressures of temporary bricks-and-mortar store closures but adapt to new consumer buying habits – limiting social gatherings, avoiding fitting rooms and touching fewer products, for example.