How are early adopters seeking human experience over online engagement?

When Dan Mitchell and co-founder John Skelton first began working on high-end clothing retailer LN-CC, they weren’t thinking in terms of buzzy phrases like ‘experiential retail’ or ‘community cohesion'.

What they did know for sure was that, fresh off the back of turning luxury menswear retailer Oki-Ni into a pioneering eCommerce success, they wanted their new venture to have an equally strong brick and mortar element alongside its formidable online offering.

“As much as online retail seemed like the future back then,” said Mitchell, “for me it was still very important to have a physical presence.

"In the same way that I would rather have a record in my hand over a digital file: it’s the artwork, the smell, the touch, the history that makes it."

Physical has the edge 

For today’s early adopter consumer, online retail may provide all the trappings of 21st century convenience but it is still physical spaces that offer a heightened experience and connection.

Both of these qualities go some way to explaining the wider, shifting approach to physical retail in recent times, stretching from niche boutiques to iconic department stores and high-street outlets.

Physical experiences bring people together in a way that resonates beyond the means of the digital world

Faced with the ever-growing, somewhat homogenising impact of online shopping upon their trade, they are channeling reactions that can only be gained from an in-person, multi-sensory experience; that can’t be found amidst the cold convenience and two-dimensional white backdrops of a web-ready product image.

This means that retailers are having to become more and more open to increasingly abstract, high-concept ideas when it comes to (re)engaging their customers.

And engage they must; over half (52%) of participants in the Protein Community survey stated that they have spent more online than offline. To varying degrees, there is an acknowledgement that playing an aggressive numbers game is not the way to future-proof their businesses if they are to rely on a savvy, demanding crowd of millennial shoppers.

Experiences > things

The same Protein Audience Report showed that 61% of us would now rather spend on experiences than products and some of the most iconic, dominant names in luxury retail are attempting to harness this.

Of course, the by-product and ultimate achievement of these experiential endeavours - whether looking at retail, hospitality or the emerging shared space between the two - is the fostering of community.

Experiences after all beget shared experiences. 

This is true not only in terms of end customers but also in the people that come together to create those experiences in the first place - from furniture designer Faye Toogood disrupting the sheen of a Selfridges shop-floor, right down to, as Mitchell points out, the “artisans and local craftspeople that handmade all 1.8 million bricks for Katamama just a few kilometres from the resort’s beachside location.”

Physical experiences bring people together in a way that resonates beyond the means of the digital world, and below we take a closer look at some of the retailers beginning to engage with this shift in the most interesting ways.

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