From Product Experience to Consumer Experience

12/12/2017

Consumerism culture moves at a frightening pace. It all goes so fast that it is easy to forget where we were merely ten years ago. Let’s just take a moment to consider all the transformations we have witnessed in the past decade, from a consumer’s perspective.

Meet Rachel from California. Rachel was 24 in 2007, and because she was passionate about discovering new products and finding new ways to express her personality on a continuous basis, her Saturdays were usually spent walking the high street, paying her favorite shops a visit. Whether it was clothes, self-care, food or technology products, she was rarely looking for anything in particular when she entered a store. She was only waiting for inspiration to come while avidly browsing everything in sight. Touching, feeling, watching, even smelling or hearing the myriad of products meticulously displayed on shelves ingenuously designed to catch every single ounce of her attention. Inevitably, her inspiration ended up being triggered by a beautiful item which she then felt compelled to purchase, as if programmed. And when she was done bagging her new treasure, she would get on to the next shop and repeat the exact same routine.

 

She would find this whole experience relaxing, soothing, empowering even. Retail therapy at its best! Or was it really?

Fast forward to 2017. For Rachel, like for the rest of us (regardless of gender, age, social class, religion or race), the game has changed. The frantic, if healing, product hunt just doesn’t cut it anymore. The therapy is mainly done online now and we approach stores differently. Stores can’t just be a line-up of products anymore… Especially that we learned that the smartest buys are to be found online more often than not. When it comes to stores nowadays, we do expect the unexpected. We all want more. Whatever it is, we want more!

Luckily for us: brands, marketers and retailers all have realized by now: while a great product experience might still be important, a true consuming experience is going to be even more critical to a company’s success in the near future.

What’s the difference? In a traditional store 10 years ago, the focus was strictly set on product experience: everything was made to drive visitors towards their assigned product categories and convert them into purchasers. We were cramming products and merchandising in our core target’s throats to make a buck or two. All things considered, even the stores themselves were products!

Today, because revenue is increasingly being made online, the emphasis for our traditional brick-and-mortars channel is equally shifting to be creating a fulfilling, meaningful consumer experience. We are slowly going from product-driven, money-making boxes (Ka-Ching) to feeling-inducing bubbles (Wow!). The goal is not necessarily to make money on the spot anymore but instead creating feelings of comfort, pleasure and connection between the brands and their consuming muses.

And this is why there is a new, incredibly refreshing naturalism trend going on within our consumers’ culture. As always, this trend started with flagships, the strongest weapon in a company’s arsenal of stores and which are all morphing into giant laboratories as of late, testing and researching which is the correct formula to take shoppers to new levels of excitement. And should a formula work in those flagships, then it will mechanically cascade down towards the rest of the chain. The Apple genius store concept remains the epitome of the new-age, experience-first, product-second era but there are plenty of equally awesome examples to take our cue from nowadays. Case in point: the new Samsung 837 store in Manhattan is simply mind-blowing: product-less, stock-less, 100% digitally integrated, boasting an art gallery and a café, among other cultural features! Simply put: an incredibly immersive experience, sponsored by Samsung. This is a clear case of prime real-estate being used solely as a mean to reinforce brand image. But how is this model sustainable? How is this type of concept profitable? Simple: it is not. But it doesn’t matter! The business will be made online! Let the awesome shop concept do the talking, people will follow, friend, tweet and pinterest you. You’ll convert down the line if you do it right.

As a business leader, there is a new mindset to adopt, if you haven’t done so already: The retail square-foot ROI should not be calculated in terms of revenue anymore but in levels of social engagement.

That being said, you also must make sure that your digital consumer journey is slick and matches the firepower of your in-store groundbreaking concept though, or you risk jeopardizing this new model entirely. Sticking with this example, let me just guess that, Samsung being Samsung, this variable is covered too.

It is not only the tech sector that is leaning towards turning their stores into sensorial experiences. The whole retail vertical is impacted by a new wave of concepts. Even hotels and supermarkets are tagging along. “Boutique hotels is the fastest growing segment of the hospitality industry”, as per hotel-industry.co.uk, simply because they respond to the growing need of the public to be exposed to an experience rather than to a product. Supermarkets are also engaged in a race towards experience enhancement, and the ones pulling it off and satisfying their customers’ needs, from entering the premises to checking-out, are the ones that will squash the competition, innovation after innovation. “I could stay an entire day in a Target store but can’t get out fast enough of a K-Mart” Daniel Newman, Forbes.

Getting back to Rachel… She is now in her thirties, and has grown with her favourite shops, matured alongside them. She might not be aware of it but she is an important person. As far as consumerism is concerned, she and her generation is about to have an important choice to make. Retail specialists and brands marketers indeed all concur: the next 5 years will decide our lifestyle as shop-goers for decades to come. It all boils down to one question: will Rachel value products over experience while raiding the streets on a Saturday afternoon? Well, the choice might seem tough but data tells us that she has already made up her mind… She is sometimes nostalgic of the shops she spent so much time in during her youth but she would never trade 100 shopping days she had 10 years ago for a single one in 2017!

She is having a lot more fun today.

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