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Going Against the Grain


At a time when many retailers are cutting back on brick-and-mortar investments to focus on e-commerce, a few notable ones are taking the opposite approach. They are launching large-format experiential stores to immerse customers in the full brand experience and offer items in each product category, from couches to dresses.

Such stores are engaging shoppers by making the customer experience the focus. Anthropologie, for example, is working to provide a unique experience that includes full-service shops and access to online-only merchandise in its new Anthropologie & Co. stores.

For retailers considering expanding their store layouts — or even retailers with no current plans to do so — understanding what makes large-format experiential stores successful can provide valuable insights to improve brick-and-mortar operations. With an effective strategy in place, such stores have the potential to offer several key benefits and keep custom ers coming back. Here are some tips:

Create a unique experience

Large-format experiential stores can lead to an unparalleled shopping experience. With a wider range of inventory and plenty of room to shop, each section of the store is meticulously designed and curated for the shopper.

Anthropologie’s experiential format includes a full beauty section, petites selection, shoe and accessories salon and jewelry store. It also includes a home section, with fully decorated “rooms,” including bedrooms, living rooms and dining rooms.

This wide variety of options gives customers the opportunity to customize their experience to fit their personal needs, ultimately building customer loyalty. It also enables customers to imagine what certain pieces that usually only appear online — such as furniture — might look like in their own homes.

Offer more than merchandise

In addition to including a wider variety of merchandise than a typical store, some experiential stores go beyond merchandise when it comes to pleasing their customers. For example, Restoration Hardware included an upscale restaurant and café at its RH in Chicago. The location has become so successful that the retailer has added eateries to additional gallery locations.

These stores provide value to the customer throughout their entire in-store experience, whether through a seamless shopping or dining experience. Other retailers can learn that offering customers a full brand experience — and encouraging customers to return time and time again — can go beyond expanded inventory and layout. It is about creating a unique experience that customers can’t get through online shopping.

Focus on check-out convenience

While many consumers have been receptive to large-format stores, it’s important that retailers set themselves up for success by avoiding making the stores feel too big. Though convenient, large stores with endless merchandise can be overwhelming for both employees and customers.

Large-format experiential stores give shoppers the opportunity to find and check out items that they might want to order online, but are concerned about size, fit and function. While these stores — which can be 25,000 sq. ft. or more in size — are meant to hold maximum inventory, successful retailers have made the space feel personal with their design layout and customer service.

Brick-and-mortar stores both small and large can make their shopping spaces feel more personal by having plenty of staff roaming the store to assist customers via the use of mobile POS devices, such as tablets, to help find or purchase items.

Customer service and simple payment options are key to large experiential formats and online retail success because shoppers tend to place the highest value on flexibility and convenience. In Worldpay’s recent Pay That Way study, shoppers revealed that they make purchasing and payment decisions based on availability (18%), speed (13%) and convenience (15%). If the customer experience is inconvenient, there’s a chance customers might not complete transactions or return to a given store in the future.

Mark Bergneris the director of product strategy at Worldpay U.S.

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