Online and offline brands offering retail therapy now have a new category: experiential zones

Online and offline brands offering retail therapy now have a new category: experiential zones.

For many brands and retailers today, stores are a thing of the past, it seems. They want the passersby to step, not into an old-fashioned shop, but into a place referred to as an “experiential centre”, offering a sort of immersion into an enchanting world made up of a variety of products and services.

The staffers do not frown if the visitor does not buy a thing; they know the visitor is taking home an “experience” and may, inevitably, return. Pooja Barthwal is one such staffer at Fabindia’s 10,000 sq feet experiential centre in the upmarket Vasant Kunj area of New Delhi.

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Posted at the interior design studio, she helps visitors not just find furniture but also seek consultation on layouts, mapping, furniture customisation and colour coordination.
Barthwal, a trained interior designer, says she even visits customer’s homes and uses a software to virtually show the host how a certain piece of cabinet may look in their rooms, for a fee, of course. The place also has a café with organic menu, a wellness store with consultants, a free alteration studio and a kids’ play zone.

“The centres enable customers to engage with the brand in multiple ways, shifting from transactional retail to a more experiential and interactive one,” says
Viney Singh, managing director, Fabindia. The ethnic clothing and handicrafts retailer now plans to turn a quarter of its retail space into such experiential centres, says Singh. Similarly, Taneira, Titan Company’s saris and crafts brand, is creating “experiences” at its stores. “The concept is of India under one roof and customers can get an authentic experience of the products without any glass or counters to hinder them. It’s a concept of self-service with the staff
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supporting the customer to understand the products,” says managing director Bhaskar Bhat, who retired on last month.

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‘Touch’ Points
Such immersive zones have also become vital for online retailers whose customers long to size up, touch and even try the products before adding them to the cart. For innerwear brand Zivame, which went from online to brick-and-mortar in 2017, the experience studios aim to help women find the right fit and also try services such as recommendations based on body profiles. “The studios allow us to not only offer the customer a touch-
and-feel experience but also to serve her in real time,” says chief executive Amisha Jain. Meanwhile, Sang, a make-up artist at cosmetics brand Nykaa’s Luxe centre at The Chanakya shopping centre in New Delhi, has his hands full. He says there is a lot of demand for makeovers from visitors. He then offers some tips: “Natural tones and glows are the trend of this season.” “Make-up is a tactile touch and feel category and the physical presence of beauty advisors has helped in building the brand. While we leverage our online database and app to understand our customers, the experiential aspect at stores, which offer make-up stations, domes and zones, help enhance the customer experience,” says Anchit Nayar, CEO-retail, Nykaa.

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CEO-retail, Nykaa. Shilpa Sharma, cofounder and head of products curation at online handicrafts brand Jaypore, explains it further. “For apparel brands, an experience centre provides more visual display space while for online players, the customers can experience, see, touch and feel the products, sometimes with the help of technology, rather than perhaps actually buy them and take them home.” Though none of the apparel retailers in India appear to follow the “guideshop” model of Walmart’s online menswear brand Bonobos, online furniture retailer Pepperfry is doing just that and not getting into the business of directly selling to customers. Its furniture studios are zones for visitors to interact with staffers who are architects and interior designers.

We have deployed large screens and augmented reality for product displays. Visitors can also scan the QR codes on the furniture and place them in online carts.
However, there is no fulfilment since they cannot take the products home from the studio,” says chief operating officer Ashish Shah. The studios also host
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stand-up comedy sessions and culinary workshops to pull in more visitors. Though it is not yet clear what the returns on investment are on such experiential zones for the retailers, customers can continue to enjoy the no-pressure shopping experience.

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