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Statistics have revealed designer discount mall ‘Bicester Village’ as one of the most popular tourist hotspots in Britain – trumping both the Tate Modern and the Natural History Museum with its 6.4 million visitors last year. A far cry from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, Bicester’s bijoux boutiques and unhurried atmosphere conjure up a sense of exclusivity, with a 46-minute train ride from Marylebone Station kicking off the ‘consumer experiential experience’.

As online commerce continues to grow exponentially and millennials continue to value experiences over products, the role of the retail store is shifting from purely pragmatic to more experiential. The key to survival for retail stores now relies on their ability to provide shoppers with unforgettable experiences – a feat in which the likes of Bicester Village clearly excels.

In response to a changing industry, retailers are beginning to use their stores as vehicles for marketing rather than serving as a purely transactional function. Many big-name brands such as Coach and Nike have revealed plans to focus on a small number of strategic partnerships and their own direct-to-consumer efforts.

New initiatives include concept stores and branded spaces within the stores of premium retail partners which explore brand story and elevate the ordinary shopping experience with special brand-centric touches such interactive displays, on-site demos, instant product personalisation and on-hand brand experts.

As well as this, more and more retailers have started to incorporate cafes, bars and salons into their flagship stores. With the objective of increasing and retaining footfall, retailers are offering shoppers a fully-integrated ‘lifestyle’ experience – something that simply cannot be replicated online. Take Selfridges for example – the UK’s most revered department store has built a reputation for delivering extraordinary customer experiences and a truly iconic shopping experience through themed restaurants, cafes and bars as well as pop-ups and events for high-profile brands.

Experiential retail does not have to mean a huge investment by retailers, but it does have to be something more memorable than the everyday shopping experience. It is less about selling a product on the spot and more about allowing consumers to spend more time interacting and connecting with the brand – creating a positive, engaging and meaningful retail experience that may very well translate into an online sale at a later date.

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