In recent years bricks-and-mortar retail has undergone a profound change; moving away from the traditional, transactional model towards experience-led shopping. Consumers are looking to bricks-and-mortar shops to provide them with memorable events, interaction with like-minded individuals and an escape from their daily routine. This shift is known as experiential retailing.
Independent boutiques are uniquely positioned to respond to this change in consumer expectations. Integrated within local communities they are able to create engaging spaces that can quickly and easily adapt to the changing needs of their customers. This gives them an advantage over bigger retailers on the high street where decisions trickle down from a centralised head office causing local needs to be overlooked. The current retail landscape is incredibly competitive: in order to stand out from competitors and attract new customers, stores are expected to employ impeccable visual merchandising, to host unique events and more.
The layout and interior of a shop is an important way for retailers to attract and engage with their customers. Everything from the shop front to the interior design can greatly impact the consumer journey and experience. They can take customers on a journey, sparking their imaginations and enabling a more organic interaction with products. Through building great displays and playing music, shopkeepers can deliver a multisensory experience that goes above and beyond one that is purely transactional. The retail experience becomes one of discovery where buying is secondary to browsing.
Eastern Biological, a member of Trouva’s boutique community, provides a great example of effective and thoughtful visual merchandising. Walking into a green space, covered in botanical prints and references to land-living creatures, you are guided to a set of stairs at the back of the shop. These lead to a second room, painted blue and filled with aquatic themed merchandise. Moving downstairs mimics the transition from land into the depths of the ocean, adding to the sense of adventure and exploration that is echoed in the product range which focuses largely on celebrating natural history. In designing the shop in this way, owner Alf has created a unique retail experience unmatched by chain retailers.
The type and range of products stocked has a big impact on the customer experience. Authenticity is an increasingly important factor in retail with discerning consumers preferring products whose origins can be easily traced. As such, handmade products sourced from artisan makers continue to be extremely popular. They encourage a dialogue about the story and origins of the product between shopkeepers and customers, personalising the retail experience, building brand loyalty and increasing the likelihood of repeat visits. This marks a transition away from the faceless experience commonly found in larger retail outlets where the products are often mass-produced and the opportunity for interaction with customers is reduced.
In a bid to attract new customers, there’s been a surge in multipurpose spaces in which facilities such as cafés and treatment rooms sit within or adjacent to the shop. Retailers hope that by offering a space in which to relax, potential customers may feel encouraged to browse and potentially shop. By broadening their remit and offering a diverse range of services, retailers become a community hub and ensure greater longevity of their business.
Other ways in which shops can enhance their consumer offering is by hosting in-store events like talks, book groups and workshops. These events are often held outside of store opening hours which makes the event more exclusive and the experience more personal. These occasions offer mutual enrichment: shopkeepers share their skills with customers, whilst guests leave having learnt something new.
Trouva’s independent boutique community is responding rapidly to this changing retail landscape, take Nonsense Store in Manchester and Haeckels in Margate for example. Located in Manchester, Nonsense Store was founded by Jeanette Ramirez and Alex Newton in 2016. The space combines a stunning retail area with a coffee shop, studio as well as playing host to regular workshops. By becoming more than a shop, Nonsense Store is able to appeal to a wider audience and to those looking for more than a transactional experience.
With a passion for design-led products, Jeanette and Alex curate a distinctive selection of items sourced from around the world. Buying is focused on supporting independent makers which locals are unlikely to have come across before. Where the retail area allows customers to discover products from across the globe, the café draws the focus back onto the local community, stocking delicious cakes from bakeries across Manchester.
Workshops at the in-house studio have included terrarium making, jewellery design, and classes for children. A bespoke design service further enhances the notion of collaboration and interaction, allowing like-minded individuals to work together in a creative environment.
Margate-based Haeckels was set up by local film maker Dom Bridges in 2012. The company produce handcrafted skincare and fragrance inspired by the British coastline using ingredients indigenous to the British Isles, with some species of seaweed found only on the Margate coast. The ingredients are hand-harvested locally and the team refer to themselves as Ocean Farmers, protecting the local environments whilst utilising its riches, coining the phrase, ‘from the ocean for the ocean’.
Educating customers on the process of their product production is key. In-store visuals ensure visitors are aware of the processes involved and their connection to the local landscape. Filtration apparatus is part of the decor and sits alongside finished products whilst strategically placed stickers walk customers through the various stages of manufacturing. An atmosphere is also created through low lighting and back-lit products. In this way customers are encouraged to think about the origins of the product, therefore connecting with the story of the brand in a more meaningful way than simply pulling items from the shelves. By focusing on the riches of the local landscape the brand is inherently and authentically connected to Margate. The use of unique ingredients and processes intensifies the feeling of exclusivity and encourages word of mouth recommendations.
This shift in bricks-and-mortar retail is having a positive impact on independent high street shops. With the chance to encounter new experiences that they are otherwise unable to access, shoppers are encouraged to venture out to visit physical stores to do more than just shopping, which ultimately improves footfall on the high street which benefits other retailers. By integrating themselves into the local community, shopkeepers benefit from these meaningful new ways of interacting with customers, developing brand loyalty and encouraging repeat visits.
Experiential retailing is changing the way we shop, altering our interaction with products and placing consumer education and discovery at the for. Trouva’s community of independent boutiques, with their dedicated staff and authentic products, are pioneers of this trend which is set to revolutionise our high streets