Building Brand Experiences: Learning To Shop, The New Social Experience

  • Physical retail is increasingly the arena where the desire for ‘Betterment’ can be fulfilled
  • Customers are seeking social, learning experiences with like-minded people 
  • The key opportunity is providing product-related skills and activities that elevate experience and build brand love
  • Brands that recognise the value of brand-building experiences are turning retail on its head
  • What could you teach your customer?

Last month creative agency Household introduced the ‘Betterment’ trend; the desire to do better, be better and feel better, in all areas of life. With physical retail increasingly becoming the space where these desires are fulfilled, in this column, they’ll unpack why shops have created new ways to engage with customers in person, to meet their deeper needs. 

Customers ready to learn
Knowledge seeking is alive and well in all areas of people’s lives. Seeking self-improvement beyond school, university or the office has become the new normal. It is accessible to everyone, on their terms, whatever their interest. Today, you don’t have to be a life-long learner to ‘learn’ throughout your life.

In our connected world, education is more accessible than ever. The worldwide e-learning market is booming, projected to be worth $325 Billion by 2025.

It is increasingly important for people to focus their journey of self-development and define what Betterment means to them personally. Whether that means online professional development courses or learning how to tie an artillery loop knot on Pinterest, knowledge is just a click away and there is something to suit every taste.

People are busier than ever, and without the time for long term course commitments, they are embracing micro-learning experiences, from a daily language building skill on Duolingo, to an 18-minute Ted Talk. 

Look to the wider influencer landscape and you’ll find a plethora of bitesize edutainment. On Instagram you have Buzzfeed Tasty, reaching 32.9 million followers with new cooking tutorials every day. On YouTube you have a hoard of pseudo-professors, teaching everything from how to pose for the best Instagram selfie to how to upcycle IKEA furniture.

Building Brand Experiences: Learning To Shop, The New Social Experience
Image: IKEA

There is increasingly less stigma around seeking help. Whether that is for mental health problems or something as mundane as how to change a bike tyre. Whatever the skill, there is one common thread: accessible expertise from trusted online sources.

Online communities have been built up around these learning experiences and increasingly, people are seeking this social connection offline too, building a community around shared interests beyond the screen. People want to connect with other people and the social aspect of tangible, offline experiences is key to extending the virtual classroom.  

Demand for experiences is central to the Betterment trend, with 47 percent of people seeking experiences outside of the home that will help them grow as a person, according to research by Ikea Life At Home. Customer expectations have changed, with people wanting to shop, enjoy and learn from the brands and like-minded people around them. Research shared at the recent Retail EXPO revealed that 68 percent of customers said they wanted stores to offer a blended in-store experience, where they could enjoy leisure time as well as browsing and buying products. 

Introducing the brand as mentor
At the same time that people are seeking personal improvement and learning new skills, retail is also evolving, and traditional measures of retail success are being re-appraised. Brands are using success metrics that give more weight to experiences, complementing sales per square foot with new measures that recognise the value of brand-building experiences.  

The opportunity for brands is to provide customers with product related skills and activities that elevate the physical retail experience and build brand love. Using bricks and mortar as a space that goes beyond transaction will drive loyalty and footfall, establishing a relationship with the customer and giving the brand an emotional benefit. If done right, brands can become a trusted voice for advice and more.

Image: Argos Home

Betterment focused brand experiences work best when online and offline work in tandem. Take Charlotte Tilbury – we worked with the makeup mogul to create the brand’s first physical experience. We knew that customers often feel intimidated when choosing make-up, so we designed a retail experience where digital tutorials work hand in hand with in-store demos. Customers are immersed in the fun of make-up while being inspired and guided at every step.

Consumers don’t just want to shop in a shop anymore, they want to play, socialise, experiment, learn and more. 

Understanding what customers want enabled us to think differently about the Argos Home experience we created, which was the first of a kind for the business. We combined home decor themed craft workshops with local creators, from macramé to terrarium making classes, with curated, shoppable room sets that showcased the Argos Home collection. The goal was to change brand perception through retail engagement. We designed spaces where customers, media and business partners could meet, learn, test and play while celebrating the tangible quality of the products. A shareable experience to enjoy together.

Some brands are completely turning retail on its head, like Leisurée (that’s lingerie meets athleisurewear) brand, Lively. Founded as a direct-to-consumer brand, its brick-and-mortar store is all about experiences tailored to the target customer. Products take up 30 percent of the shop floor while 70 percent is dedicated to event space. From hip-hop classes to calligraphy to the ultimate financial planning session, the brand goes straight to its customers to find out what they want to learn. 

At the end of the day, the bottom line is still the bottom line. And in-store Betterment experiences still need to be commercially viable. The key is providing an experience that can’t be replicated online, in conjunction with a holistic customer journey to link up experience, product and purchase. 

Outdoor pursuits haven MEC gets this strategy right on the mark. The brand’s latest Toronto flagship is a two-storey extravaganza, featuring a community centre that hosts workshops and tutorials. For a single payment of $5, customers gain lifetime membership and access to a range of classes and clinics including ‘Bike Maintenance 101’ and ‘How to Become a knot nerd’. The brand gets it right by investing in the customer and becoming not only the provider of the goods that support an outdoor lifestyle but providing the knowhow to use them. This emboldens the customer to make the purchase and branch out to products they might not have previously considered a need for. 

Creating Betterment experiences in-store allows brands to act as both a mentor and partner with customers on their Betterment journey. What could you teach your customer?

Household is an award-winning brand experience design agency in the business of understanding what matters most to people and acting on it. The company works globally from London and Los Angeles. 

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