As the retail landscape continues to evolve, businesses are increasingly moving away from the conventional transactional approach towards a more experiential one, which focuses on providing unforgettable experiences that go beyond traditional shopping, enable deeper connections, and leave a lasting impression. Think digital assistants that provide personalised guidance and support; mixed reality experiences that blur the lines between the digital and the physical; interactive test-and-play areas for customers to engage with products in new and exciting ways; and innovative retailtainment concepts that transform stores into places of entertainment or leisure. Let’s take a deep dive into the exciting world of experiential retail and explore new trends that promise to revolutionise the way we shop.
To respond adequately to evolving demands of their customers, who want shopping to be about more than just buying products, retailers are increasingly embracing an experiential approach to shopping.
Immersive technologies take customer engagement to the next level
Retailers are always searching for ways to provide their customers with a more engaging and immersive shopping experience. This is where augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) come into play. These immersive technologies enable retailers to create highly realistic virtual environments that redefine how customers interact with brands, significantly increasing engagement levels. While online shopping offers numerous advantages, it has its drawbacks, too. This is particularly true when shopping for clothes. Without being able to try things on first, customers often end up purchasing an item that doesn’t really fit their body type, or they simply pick the wrong size. This means they’ll then have to exchange the item or get a refund — a frustrating experience for all involved.
"One of the most effective solutions is the introduction of virtual fitting rooms, which enable customers to see how an outfit would look by overlaying digital images of the clothes using AR technology."
For example, Farfetch recently partnered with Snapchat to launch a new virtual tool for customers to ‘try on’ a limited selection of items from the luxury fashion retailer’s collection. Standing in front of his or her smartphone camera, the customer issues a simple voice command. Using sophisticated 3D Body Mesh technology, the tool then maps the body and joints, which enables it to track movements in real time and simulate how clothes would respond to those movements in the real world.
A company called MySize uses AI and smartphone sensors to map the contours of the customer’s body and create a unique MySizeID, which is then used to provide personalised sizing recommendations. The company also recently unveiled its new FirstLook Smart Mirror, an interactive, mirror-like touchscreen display that allows customers to instantly see what an item would look like on them without having to go into the fitting room. It does this by previewing the item on a 3D avatar that faithfully replicates the body measurements from the customer’s MySizeID. The customer can also receive an accurate size recommendation, check product availability, and have it brought to them by a salesperson.
From AR wayfinding apps to holographic displays
Of course, virtual fitting rooms are not the only application of AR technology in retail. For example, the UK-based grocery retailer Nisa recently rolled out Jisp’s AR vouchering system called Scan & Save, which helps customers save up to 60 per cent on various products. Scanning their barcodes brings up exclusive promotions, which customers can redeem through Jisp’s app. Another UK retailer, Marks & Spencer, introduced an AR wayfinding app called List&Go, which helps customers find what they’re looking for. After adding the desired products to their shopping list, customers are guided to the section where the products are stored. The app does this by drawing a path on their screen that shows them where to go, after which a marker indicates the product’s exact location.
Another technology that has proven rather effective at boosting customer engagement is holographic technology. As part of the promotional campaign for its new athletic clothing line named Move, H&M recently installed a holographic display in its Williamsburg store in Brooklyn, New York. The display shows life-sized holograms of fitness and dance instructors wearing clothes from the new line and invites passersby to sign up for fitness and dance classes by scanning a QR code.
Robots to the rescue
To improve the in-store shopping experience, a growing number of retailers are also implementing robotic store assistants. The Dutch retailer Ahold Delhaize deployed a robot named Marty to hundreds of its stores across Europe and the United States. Standing 1.8 metres tall and weighing more than 60 kilograms, Marty uses an array of sensors to autonomously navigate around the store, while eight high-resolution cameras and image capture technology enable it to detect hazards like spills or debris and instantly notify store employees. The robot can also scan the shelves and compare the prices to the store’s inventory to identify potential discrepancies.
The Chinese retail giant Alibaba is looking to revolutionise grocery shopping with its new Hema concept. On the surface, it looks like an ordinary grocery store that offers a wide selection of fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables. These items can all be bought and prepared at home, but customers can also have the food cooked right there and then and even have it brought to their table. The most interesting part? The food is served by a robot using a conveyor belt system.
Hyper-personalisation is a game-changerDownload nu.
The rise of experiential retail
According to a recent Salesforce report, as many as 90 per cent of shoppers now consider the customer experience to be just as important as the company’s products or services. This has forced retailers to rethink what a physical store should offer. The DICK’S House of Sport is a prime example of a physical store that priorities experience over products. Described by the retailer as “an experiential playground”, the store features an outdoor turf field and running track, a rock-climbing wall, a batting cage, a golf simulator, and even a health and wellness destination. In Manchester in the UK, Sports Direct opened a new flagship store designed to offer “the ultimate experiential shopping destination”. Spreading over five floors, the store features more than 100 digital displays, providing visitors with an unparalleled visual experience. Customers can also take part in two interactive experiences: a jump booth that uses body recognition technology to measure how high they can jump, and a bespoke unit that measures how long they can hang.
Another new retail concept gaining popularity lately is retailtainment, which merges retail and entertainment to provide customers with an unforgettable shopping experience. The New York-based toy company CAMP recently opened its first Disney-themed experiential toy store. Among other things, the store offers arts and crafts workshops and interactive areas where children can embark on immersive, narrative-driven adventures. Similarly, Warner Bros recently opened a new Harry Potter-themed retailtainment store in New York, which houses the world’s largest collection of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts merchandise. The store also includes 15 different themed areas, including the Ministry of Magic phone box where visitors can take photos, and immersive VR experiences like exploring the Hogwarts Castle, riding on a broom, or engaging in a wand battle.
The retail industry is undergoing a major transformation as businesses adopt a more immersive and experiential approach to shopping. Gone are the days of shopping just to buy something — consumers now want personalised, engaging experiences and forge deeper connections with their favourite brands. That's where immersive technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) come in. From jaw-dropping holographic displays to virtual fitting rooms, the possibilities are endless. By leveraging these cutting-edge tools, retailers are revolutionising the way customers interact with their products, resulting in unparalleled levels of engagement.