In the internet-obsessed 21st century, high street stores rely on one key demographic: senior citizens. But with an increasingly tech-savvy ageing population, the alluring appeal of experiential marketing could be the only way retailers can ensure steady foot traffic from older customers.
“Goodbye, street” to the high street?
In the media, high street retail is constantly pitted against e-commerce. Online sales are growing at a rate that could be alarming for brick-and-mortar stores (around 1% year-on-year), but e-commerce still only accounts for 17.5% of all purchases, according to statistics from the UK.
Senior citizens are often considered to be the last remaining holdouts of the pre-digital era. Only 60% of 75-79 year-olds and 44% of those over 80 say they use the internet, meaning all of their purchases must naturally be made in person.
However, the online shopping boom is not in fact being driven by millennials. In the US, middle-aged baby boomers are responsible for a disproportionately high percentage of online sales. This could spell bad news for offline retailers. If these consumers carry over their spending habits into old age, e-commerce could see itself growing at an even faster year-on-year average.
Thankfully, there is a way that high street retailers can combat this downward trend. Experiential retail may well be the answer.
Turning the shopping experience into a shopping experience
Again, it’s conventional wisdom that the trend towards “experiential retail” has been driven by millennials, but the numbers suggest otherwise. According to GlobalData, consumers over 50 prefer experiences, while Gen Xers and Millennials care more about the actual products they are purchasing. This research suggests that experience-based customer engagement could be instrumental in keeping older shoppers on the high street.
So how is it done? It’s one thing to decide you want your shop to incorporate an “experiential” dynamic, but actually making that happen is something else. One way to do it is through technology. Take “smart mirrors”. These devices have been slowly working their way into major clothing retailers around the world as a way of enhancing the process of trying on clothes. Each smart mirror differs, but at its core, the idea is that customers can see what they would look like in different outfits without necessarily having to try them on; add items to their basket or even make payments at the mirror; and see suggested accessories or other items of clothing that would complement with the pieces they are thinking of buying.
High-tech endeavours like these can be expensive, but thankfully there are low-tech alternatives. ME Hotel hired design agency FormRoom to create three “cable cars” (really themed seating areas that looked like cable cars) for a rooftop bar to celebrate the start of the winter holiday season.
IKEA managed to create an unforgettable consumer experience without having to invest in any new technology. Their 2011 in-store sleepover gave 100 shoppers the chance to stay overnight in an IKEA store—a lifelong fantasy for many of the chain’s loyal customers. This simple act generated publicity, but also may have increased sales from this faithful few. After spending a whole night trying out the different beds, they’re bound to find one they wanted to buy. (Please note: This campaign did seem to have some negative consequences, as unauthorised sleepovers continue in may IKEA stores against the wishes of the brand and the police.)
Does experiential retail really increase foot traffic?
Though undoubtedly arresting, if experiential shopping does not drive sales, it is no more than mere window dressing. (And indeed, window dressing was the experiential retail of its era.) Thankfully, there is hard evidence that personalised and experience-based shopping is more successful. Factors like exclusive discounts, live product demos and special events are all major purchase drivers, according to a 2017 study.
With figures like this, it’s clear that getting on board with the trend towards experiential retail will do far more than cater to millennials. To capture a huge chunk of the retail market, stores need to start focusing on experience. Just be careful if you’re planning to host sleepovers in your shop.