Event marketers have long looked to their brands for inspiration—extracting their best attributes unearthing their hidden benefits and transforming their emotional touchpoints into hands-on product experiences that are fun relevant and bigger than life. But now brick and mortar brands are taking a cue from the event world by shaking up their retail stores and turning them into interactive and immersive brand experiences.
White Glove Treatment
In an effort to better match the auto-buying experience with the expectations of its luxury-loving demographic auto dealerships are going upscale. AutoNation last November started giving its high-end dealerships makeovers that turned showrooms into pampered experiences reminiscent of a visit to a five-star hotel. In its new Miami Lexus dealership customers or “guests ” kick off their day at the showroom by leaving their car with a valet and following a concierge across gleaming porcelain tile floors to a fully-stocked espresso bar. At a Newport Beach CA Lexus dealership customers can putt on a seven-hole green while they wait for their vehicles. Mercedes-Benz customers in the same wealthy Southern California enclave can get free manicures and shoe shines.
Apple last Christmas rolled out a concierge program that transformed its retail stores into one-on-one guided product trial experiences. Shoppers are greeted at the door and are encouraged to try out products by helpful staffers that stay with them throughout the duration of their visit. Browsers can hang out surf the net or visit the extended Genius Bar for more one-on-one interaction and education from the tech support crew. Customers can make appointments with personal shoppers or for $99 per year they can spend an hour a week with a personal trainer learning how to make movies or create custom publishing projects. Buyers can even approach any store employee and buy their gadgets and computers on the spot. (That’s right Sparky. No more checkout lines.) Employees are all equipped with mobile scanners that can process credit card transactions in a jiffy sending receipts by email. The changes are part of a retail overhaul that took place in 201 of Apple’s stores last year.
AT&T followed Apple’s lead last year when it opened eight new retail locations called Experience Stores. At the stores consumers are invited to try out more than 40 different handsets plus plug and play with more than two dozen laptops TVs and video cameras to see how they all work together before they buy. Internet kiosks in each store allow customers to check out rate plans online before signing up. The hands-on strategy is helping the brand reinforce its position as a one-stop service provider.
“After the close of the AT&T-BellSouth merger in late 2006 AT&T wanted to take advantage of its new ability to provide customers with a complete array of wireless and wired services ” says Jenny Parker a spokesperson for the company. “The AT&T Experience Store format allows it to showcase its extensive portfolio of products and services in a fun and innovative way—for the first time customers can touch see feel and experience AT&T’s extensive portfolio of wireless broadband video and voice services before the point of purchase and under one roof.”
Borders last month opened the first of 14 planned Borders concept stores in Ann Arbor Michigan. In addition to perusing books and sipping coffee at the Seattle’s Best Coffee cafés shoppers at the new store will be able to publish their own books make custom CDs from a library of over 2.4 million songs and when they buy digital cameras learn how to turn photos into books all before leaving the store. Like Apple and AT&T trained staffers are on site and ready to show customers how to make it happen. New partnerships with family heritage website ancestry.com and photo sharing website shutterfly.com help bridge the gap between in-store and at-home hobbies providing what the brand calls a complete cross-channel experience. The strategy is designed to better connect the store to the online world and ultimately to the borders.com website which was reclaimed from amazon.com and will re-launch this quarter.
“If you look at how the book movie and music business has changed over the years particularly since Amazon came on the scene brick and mortar retailers have needed a way to make their experience unique ” says Steve Davis senior vp Borders Group Operations. “One thing no online competitor can offer is the tactile experience you can get from being in a bookstore. That was our starting point. We wanted a transformational model that was something different and special.”
The store is reconfiguring its merchandise by lifestyle grouping yoga mats for example with diet and fitness books and magazines. The new layout also includes dedicated community rooms where the brand will host more than 3 000 events across the country this year including kids’ story hours every Saturday.
“We’re committed to making ourselves important to peoples lives through some of the events they may not typically do in a retail store but that we can offer them now in our concept store ” Davis says. “To the degree that we engage them better they’ll come back they’ll tell their friends and they’ll shop more frequently.”