Now that restrictions in some areas of the world have lifted, bricks-and-mortar is back on the agenda for many retailers, some of whom have created immersive experiences to lure customers into their stores. Growth and recovery of some quarters of retail during the pandemic in India and China are riding on new formats and services. But are they actually ‘experience stores’? Here are some of the latest examples. Melorra Jewellery, India Jewellery in India has seen an increase since
ase since the pandemic and Melorra has seen an increase in the number of orders and average transaction size since lockdown ended, as consumers began returning to physical stores and going out socially. Melorra specialises in ‘lightweight gold jewellery’, targeting millennial women and first began as an online store in 2016. Then in December last year, it opened its first physical store in Bangalore and in late January, it opened three stores on the same day in Delhi, the nation’s capital and a ‘prominent jewellery hub’. Melorra plans to open another 350 stores – yes, you read that right – in the next several months including a number in Mumbai. The stores will be located mostly in malls and high streets and range from 500-1,500 square ft in size and showcase 500 -1,000 jewellery designs. Melorra claims to provide a ‘seamless, customer-in-control experience’ with an emphasis on ‘touch, feel and trial’. There are also in-store Bliss Bars, where customers are invited to try on product with their friends. Electric vehicle brand experiences, China Electric vehicles are gaining momentum, nowhere more than in China, due in part to a government push toward sustainability supported by free licence plates and other incentives and subsidies. ‘Green’ vehicles are expected to comprise one in five cars on China’s roads by 2025. Aside from Tesla, local Chinese EV manufacturers Nio, Xpeng and WM are expanding into shopping mall-based ‘experience’ stores. As of January 2021, according to Cushman and Wakefield, there were 189 EV experience stores in China. Out of 93 shopping malls in Shanghai, 47 contain EV stores. Stores range in size from 200 to 1,000 sqm. The shopping mall placement, rather than traditional street showrooms requiring a destination trip, is an exercise in building brand and category awareness in locations with high footfall. Aside from the opportunity to test drive cars, the branded stores offer visitors food and refreshments and add-on experiences such as libraries. In September 2020, Nio opened a two-storey 1,490-sqm experience showroom called Nio House in Raffles City mall Chongqing. It contains a café, library, and extensive views of the river and city. Nio has opened 12 other similar stores. International marques such as Polestar, Genesis and Mercedes have also been opening ‘experience showrooms’, with Polestar announcing in mid-2020 that it planned to open 20 mall showrooms in cities across China. It’s a use of mall retail space that we may see increase in Australia as mall operators look to repurpose space left by vacating department stores. Two weeks ago, AMP Capital announced that it will be opening an AutoMall at Indooroopilly Shopping Centre in Brisbane by the end of the year. It will be the first of its kind in Australia. LivSpace, India Home interior design and renovation platform launched in 2014 and was founded by former Google and Myntra employees. It later opened four offline stores with virtual reality capabilities. On January 25 this year, it launched three ‘experience centres’ in three different cities. The 23,000 square foot store in Bengaluru is the largest store of its kind in India, with more than 8,000 products on display. In collaboration with design agency Fitch, the stores are intended to provide a home design experience that brings together inspiration, information, and expert design consultation’. The intention is to provide everything in one place so consumers don’t need to use contractors, use multiple sources of advice or shop from a variety of stores. Livspace has opened eight small format stores in the past six months for modular solutions for high-density urban areas/high density living. In 2021, the company plans to add experience centres in another 15 cities in India and launch in Singapore. Ikea Planning Studio, Singapore The aforementioned Livspace has recently entered a partnership with Ikea to provide consulting services as part of Ikea’s new Singapore Planning Studio store concept. Aimed at customers who live in apartments and other small spaces, the Planning Studio offers renovation and interior design services and enables space planning with 3D simulations. It includes plumbing, electrical and flooring, not just furnishings. Multiple retailers have long offered interior design services, including West Elm, Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel. Bunnings offer kitchen consulting and design services, smart home consultants and paint/colour consultants. They’re all going to be busy, with cocooning and home renovations increasing since the pandemic. According to Illuminera’s recent Project Chef study, 40 per cent of consumers who had bought/or will buy at least one kitchen appliance in the past or next 12 months are planning a kitchen renovation. Three quarters of these renovations have or will involve cabinetry, layout and design, plumbing ad so on. You would have noticed the reference in a number of instances above the stores are being dubbed ‘experience stores’. But does just taking the product out from behind the glass to make it touchable make it an experience, or isn’t that just the cost of entry to drive conversion? We all know that touching the product increases shopper likelihood of buying it, so that’s just common sense. Does providing food and coffee in vehicle test drive outlets make them experiences, or isn’t that just standard now? And are providing consulting services in homeware stores an experience, or merely end-to-end service provision and upselling? Perhaps it’s time we defined more closely what is meant by experiential retail. Wikipedia describes experiential retail as “a type of retail marketing whereby customers coming into a physical retail space are offered experiences beyond the traditional ones. Amenities provided may include art, live music, virtual reality, cafés and lounges, and large video display walls”. Anything can be experienced, good or bad, and there are different types of experiences, but not everything is truly immersive. Otherwise, we’re looking at a relentless march toward any physical retail store being called experiential, whether or not it is.