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More Than a Transaction: Reaching Consumers Through Meaningful Experiences

Cadillac House. Photo: Eric Laignel.

The need for speed? I get it. We’re so busy with today’s pace of modern life that we typically look for the easiest solutions. With shopping, there’s more opportunity and acceptance for us to buy online and make our lives easier. But there is an inherent drawback to speed and convenience: a lack of the personal experience. Sure, flying over the Rocky Mountains at 500 miles per hour is efficient, but it’s not a great way to experience the beauty of a golden aspen grove, or the tingling sensation from dipping your toes into an ice-cold stream.

Gensler research finds that a truly engaging shopping experience brings to life the soul of a brand through a heightened engagement of the senses. Understanding how sensory stimuli—sight, sounds, smell, touch and taste—affect emotions and behaviors is a powerful aspect of the design experience. A thoughtfully designed store provides a direct conduit for brands to interact with consumers. In fact, customers now expect experiences that combine and facilitate multiple types of interactions, delivered in a space that serves several purposes and caters to a wide range of needs.

Today’s customer experience involves a greater number of touchpoints across multiple channels, where the experience is only as satisfying as the weakest link in the chain. The most immersive experiences are those in which every element along the user’s journey has been carefully considered, from the enticement to the entry, engagement, exit and extension. It’s important to identify the interactions that matter most, so that every point of contact delivers the highest consumer value. Dyson is a brand that has creatively brought the immersive experience to life through engaging consumer interactions in their first UK brick and mortar store on Oxford Street in London. Dyson Demo, a collaboration between Sir James Dyson and architecture practice wilkinson eyre, allows people to test and experience their full range of electronics through scheduled appointments at the dry bar to try out the new Supersonic hairdryer or through choosing from 60 kinds of dirt to experience their bagless vacuums.

The Dyson Demo on Oxford Street in London. Photo: Dyson.

Stores that offer opportunities to discover and learn in a leisurely fashion are translating traditional high-pressure sales environments into hospitality lounges. The Gensler-designed Cadillac House in Manhattan is a successful example of turning what could have been just another traditional showroom into an experience center. Serving as a rotating space for events, concerts and collaborative partnerships, it incorporates a public café and lounge area, a “runway” for displaying cars, an event venue with an outdoor terrace area and gallery space. It is the physical realization of a shifting marketing strategy for the brand: open, dynamic and contemporary with highly integrated technology, where visitors can fully experience the Cadillac portfolio.

Modern retail is about relationships, not simply transactions. In order to create meaningful relationships, retailers need to reach out. They need not be fearful of experimenting with experiences that are memorable. Starting small is a great way to make traction. Through online try-on tools and pop-up shops in hotels lobbies, Warby Parker tested the experience waters and gained a strong following. Now their brick-and-mortar stores embrace localization strategies and create opportunities for customers to truly engage with the brand at another level.

Heifer International, a non-profit working to eradicate hunger throughout the world, brought the concept behind their catalogue gift guide to a pop-up in Westfield Shopping Center in San Francisco, hiring Gensler to help tell their story and reach new donors. Kimberly Nixon, project manager for Heifer International, described how the pop-up retail shop allowed the non-profit to engage potential donors in the mall while they were holiday shopping. “Heifer is working toward our 2020 goal to help 4 million families move out of hunger and poverty and into a livable wage. With that in mind, we needed to find new ways to tell our story and attract new donors. Heifer started as a grassroots organization over 70 years ago and this pop-up experience touches on that sentiment.”

Heifer International holiday pop up, Westfield Shopping Center, San Francisco. Image © Gensler.

Providing thoughtful touches are icing on the cake. Building trust and providing a reason to visit the brand again—that’s the key. Brands need to remember that although there are multiple ways to reach customers, the physical manifestation of in-store experiences offer a powerful way to evoke your brand’s soul.

Barry Bourbon AIA, LEED® AP, is a leader of Gensler’s global retail practice and a principal in the San Francisco office. With a constant eye on the latest tools and technologies that connect consumers and retailers, Barry inspires colleagues to stay focused on the rapidly evolving issues facing clients, and to design for the holistic experience of a brand. Never one to shy from a challenge, Barry is an expert problem solver who excels at leading multi-location, multi-disciplinary teams with the tightest schedules and budgets. Contact him at barry_bourbon@gensler.com.