Experiential Shopping – 100 Years of Secrets Exposed

What is Experiential Shopping? Has shopping changed in the past 100 years, duh!? But it can be argued that there are some very relevant ideas from over 100 years of retail that could still apply and be adapted to todays eco system. A wonderful topic both Andrew Busby, Forbes contributor & author of the Harry Was Right All Along and I discussed at great length, and want to offer these insights to you.

So before we explore age old practices emphasized by Harry Selfridge over 100 years ago and meld them with modern day technologies, its important to give a little background on things.

Whilst Andrew is not a fan of the terms Experiential Shopping or Omnichannel in any sense of the words, they are terms that are often used and referred to by those in the industry so prior to discussing them in further detail, in some cases dismissing their relevance entirely I think it’s important to define each in accordance to common understanding and relevance.

In my opinion we must also cover the topic of a personalized online shopping experience in order to truly delve into experiential shopping at its core, because we as customers are now experiencing shopping in a variety of ways outside of the traditional retail store.

So what is Experiential Shopping, Personalized online shopping experience and Omnichannel shopping experience from my perspective, then we will enlighten you as to Mr. Busby’s personal interpretation of these.

Experiential Shopping

To me this is the overall experience regardless of the medium of delivery. What I mean is when you are shopping, you are undergoing an experience, good bad or otherwise. What I like to focus on here is a little more than this, it goes deeper than that. You should feel something, you should be engaged in the shopping experience, you should be in the moment, and the seller needs to be relevant in order to make this experience more than just one of taking an item off the shelf, or adding it to the cart. It needs to be experiential. The seller needs to make you feel like you are the only person on the planet, make you excited about the purchase, or engage you in such a way that you are having the best time of your life without thinking of it as buying something. Because shopping is different than buying, when you shop you may not buy, more on this later… much much more… That all being said, the overall goal is to create an experience no matter the medium that will create feelings, emotions and relevancy that makes people come back time and time again.

Personalized online shopping experience

When we talk about personalized online shopping experience you are stepping away from the customer feeling like a number. You are attempting to move away from the cold and mundane computerized approach that eCommerce has had for years. You are providing product selections based on the customers favorite colors, current weather patterns in the region, you are providing them with personal choices that extend well beyond the catalog approach and in my opinion beyond even that of which I have mentioned and providing them with a very personal experience. Perhaps one that may not end in a sale today, but will bring them back tomorrow or in the future, because they where either entertained, educated, or outright blown away with the personalized experience you provided for them. The limits of personalized online shopping expereinces are just barerly being uncovered and as you will hear more about through the uses of AI, and big data we will be able to provide customers with a personalized online shopping experience that will exceed that of having a personal consierge at your side guiding you and helping you through your shopping experience.

Omnichannel shopping experience

Omnichannel and multichannel are often misused, so first let me separate the two. Omni is the inclusion of several channels together or even at once working together whereas multi-channel is separate and often duplicated experiences. So when you speak it in terms of shopping, Omni-channel experiences would be things like buy online, pickup in store. Or a deal you saw on the facebook page that you then proceeded to purchase online, and when you went to the store to pick it up you were also presented with a product that “goes well with” or may have been overlooked as required add on for what your looking to do with it. All of these channels working in conjunction to create an omnichannel shopping experience is where today’s retail should be or at the very least striving to be. Some of course do it better than others, but there really is no reason big and small retailers alike cannot be providing this experience with the assistance of technology. In many cases this technology allows smaller retailers the profound opportunity to disrupt the industry creating amazing experiential shopping and overall cohesive shopping experience second to none.

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Now that I have outlined the common understanding of these three lets dive deeper into the conversation I had with Andrew Busby where we rip the covers off of these topics and in some cases completely redefine them.

Let’s start with the name of the book which inspired this post and interview with the author, Andrew Busby. “Harry Was Right All Along”, first of all who is Harry and what was he right about? The Harry of who we speak is Harry Selfridge and what has he done for modern day commerce? How could his methodologies and theories towards retail some 100+ years ago change the way we approach customer experience, or experiential shopping today?

A quick history lesson Harry Selfridge opens his store in London’s Oxford Street in 1909 and the reason why Andrew took inspiration from him was because the philosophy that he had towards retail, then is one that is being adopted today. “Obviously we’re going back over a hundred years and the really interesting thing to me is actually what he was talking about all those years ago is what a lot of people today would have you believe is something new.” – Andrew.

The concept of the store not just being a shop but a meeting place, its a place to socialize is nothing new and something that Harry was saying all along.

If Harry was alive he would probably be saying: “If people come to Selfridges and they spend time but they don’t buy anything well that’s okay because hopefully they’ve had such a great time that they’ll want to come back and the next time they’ll spend money on something.”

What a great philosophy, let’s face it there are so many retailers today that simply don’t follow that model. They think that as long as they stock the shelves full of product and open the doors people will come and people will buy, in some cases this is true, but are they creating any sort of brand loyalty? Something that Andrew argues often is that brand loyalty does not exist anymore.

Harry Selfridges philosophy is one that worked over 100 years ago and one that still works today. If you could bring him to life today, he would be the perfect consultant to many of the retail businesses. He would keep you focused on the right sort of philosophy and culture, about how you should engage with the customers and he didn’t call customers, customers, he called them guests, and it was a sincere belief and mindset. When you treat people this way how could you fail?

It’s an interesting concept in retail both offline and online. Online vendors tend to focus heavily on the conversions. Do anything in your power possible to increase that industry accepted 2% conversion rate and close the sale while they are there. It makes sense, especially if you think of traffic to your online store as car sales men do people in thier dealership. Let me explain, dealerships train there sales staff on a key metric that ‘that as soon as someone has testdove a vehicle and they leave without buying they will not return.’ If they leave not only do the chances of them returning drop significantly, but obviously with that goes the chance of closing a sale. The trick however, is to be that standout. To me there are dealerships just like there are online stores that I my have purchased from in the past, or even visited and not purchased from that I would never return to, but there is also the oposite situation. The situation where I may have went to a dealership, and had an amazing experience one without pressure, it had amazing coffee and they treated me really good. I never bought from them because the product I needed was not one that they offered or offered in my pricerange, BUT I will go back and do so next time I make a purchase. I have walked into clothing shops where they treated me like a rockstar, and I have bought online because I was treated like a rockstar there as well. I have actually even paid far more for a product because the experience online or off was something that made me feel, it was relevant and I related to it. This is experiencial shopping at its finest.

Its expensive to get people to your site and the average website that does not give a unique or personalized experience of any sort is certainly going to find it tricky to bring them back without further investments in retargetting ads. Truth is you can use re-targetting ads as experiential as well but thats an entirly different topic.

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In any event, one thing I have always emphasisized is that of custom eCommerce development and to me that means building something custom, something that sets your online store apart from the rest. Something that creates a type of experience that even if they don’t buy from you now they will come back. Lets squash that 98% of website visitors will leave your site without purchasing and never return and treat our website ‘sessions’ as guests that you want to come back and come back often. Especially in the online space its bandwidth, not staff that is being kept busy by your store visitors, and bandwitdh is cheap by comparison.

Create an event, create a culture, create an experience that makes people want to be part of something more. Even if that’s as simple as a tool to help people understand and learn more about a given product you sell, something as complex as a virtual dressing room, or somewhere in the middle like product recommendations based on personality profiling or custom product builders. There are so many options out there to set yourself apart and bring that offline experiential shopping to the online world and create an AMAZING personalized online shopping experience.

It comes down to inspiring us and peaking our curiosity. If you think of some of the better retailers, that’s what they do. Otherwise it just becomes functional and practical, and we can go anywhere for the functional and practical things. But the great retailers are the ones that really think about how to engage with their customers, and they give us a reason for going back.

“By knowing your customer you remain relevant, and that’s the key for all retail businesses and brands” says Andrew.

You have to know your customer then deliver and keep on delivering what they want. The starting point is understanding your brand and being able to communicate that. Of course this is far more difficult than it may seem. If you are not clear about what you stand for then your customer will go elsewhere. The most obvious way to lose your relevance is to lose sight of your customer and your customer base; by not engaging with them. A retailer NEEDS to engage with thier customers. This means engaging in ways retailers may never have had to engage before in particular joining the conversation via social media and those that are not very good at this are rapidly losing relevance.

Personalization at an individual level, and the trick to this is to not be sharing privacy information. If you know your customer intimately then you can target in the moment, as opposed to a scattergun approach or being retrospective in nature. This will all change over the next few years. The technical tools are available, and through the “intelligent use of artificial intelligence” – Andrew Busby believes that the level of personalization where REAL VALUE is be added will be realized.

Retail has the opportunity to redefine itself and as a sector itself become more relevant but to do this it needs to get closer to us and it cannot start and end at the shop door or the website. People would be far more willing to open the front door to retailers if it adds value to us, and this will bring a really exciting times.

With this in mind, we have to stop the old Brick and Mortar mentality so to speak. Remember ‘The Three Little Pigs’ if you will, the house of Brick would not fall down. Something that is so static in the way its been done for hundreds of years is infact starting to fall, but then you have the oxymoron in the sense where you think about Harry Selfridge having done things over 100 years ago in a way that we are promoting people to do today. Is it history repeating itself, absolutely not, in fact its changing and morphing incredably quickly but the idea here is still very simple.

Its about experiantial shopping, giving people an experience which they enjoyed and will make return. The problem I run into on a daily basis is how do you do this in the online presence and the answer is in one word, custom. You need everything to be customized and built in such a way that you are providing an experience that people are going to want to come back for. You cannot take a templated approach to your business, because your customers are not a template, they are not a persona, they are individuals. And to meet the needs of the individuals you need to know them, and customize the experiences to thier needs.

Presenting them with something of value, inspiring them and peaking that curiosity. “You have all heard this term “omni-channel” you can forget about this term, I have a new one for you, it’s called shopping.” – Andrew.

We will find ourselves speaking less and less about online and digital or retail bricks and mortar, because it will all be one thing. The journey can start and end in so many places and really the idea of omni-channel is at the heart of a solitary shopping experience. It’s more about using the online and the physical space as a whole to being relevant and inspiring experiences, otherwise consumers will just move on because there is plenty of choice these days.

The narrative of the death retail or the retail apocalypse is not one anyone should subscribe to, yes its its changing, its evolving and at a rate never seen before, and for individual retailers it can be quite brutal. But for a more hopeful narative you need to read Andrews book and check out his articles in Forbes.

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About Branden Moskwa

He is the co-founder of calls him remarkably innovative. IBM says he is one of the industry's brightest minds, and SAP refers to him as one of the industry's top players. Branden has been quoted by and CDW and his company was recognized for being one of the top 5 most innovative companies by SBBC.