Who’s Bringing Experiential Retail to Malls?

We’re saying it again: malls aren’t dead. 

Are the cold, sterile malls populated by mindless franchises and untrained, unhappy employees dead? We’ll leave those in the ‘90s.

What isn’t dead is a new brand of mall, adaptive and energized by smaller, or at least more thoughtful, companies with a well-trained and passionate workforce that’s excited to deliver products they can stand behind. 

One of the sharpest tools in the boxes of these new mall ventures is experiential retail. It’s experiential retail that breaks the reverie of mission-led mall shoppers, that abbreviates the pace of mall walkers, that inspires the monotony of mall goers and engages them in a genuine retail experience. 

These mega-brands are doing something most of the big guys don’t: they’re impressing us, and they’re doing it with experiential retail. Read on to see how they do it, and how you can too. 

Peloton

Peloton is not a retailer—at its core, it’s a manufacturer of indoor cycling bikes. With on-demand classes streamed through its built-in monitor, it’s also a fitness class accessible in your home. It’s also an investment: $2,000 will get the trendy bike delivered to your home, and $39/month will get you access to all the classes. 

What strikes us most about Peloton, however, is the company’s invasion of the mall market. By all modern definitions, Peloton should not be in malls; it’s a tech-driven model with roots deep in the online commerce of the 21st century. And yet that’s exactly where they’ve set up camp: you’ll find 57 stores in eight markets, bright retailers that dominate the already sparkling halls of America’s elite malls. They target malls whose surrounding population touts combined incomes of $150,000 or more with high median home values and existing high-end, trendy tenants like Apple, Tesla, and Warby Parker. 

The stores were developed when the initial reaction to the brand’s website was lackluster. Today they’re definitive of the bike company’s approach. And it’s working. The company has claimed at least 200% growth every year, and in its first two years alone they amassed a legion of 30,000 riders.

These stores don’t just sell the bikes, they create an experience for their customers. Step into the store and step on a bike, where you can experience Peloton for yourself. A nimble associate is there to personalize your introductory experience. With such an organic experience that’s truly replicatable, it’s easy for customers to imagine the bike in their homes. And that’s why good experiential retail like Peloton’s is so profitable: it sustains a new version of a better reality for their customers that they can quickly capitalize on with an easy sale. 

 

Casper

Peloton is far from the only manufacturer to move into malls; even auto manufacturers like Tesla have turned to malls to sell their pricey products. Many of these manufacturers already have long-established digital retailers to back up their brick and mortars. Take, for example, Casper Sleep Inc. The online mattress store recently announced their plans to open 200 physical retailers across North America.

Casper is one of several companies with strong foundations in the digital marketplace that are transitioning into brick and mortars, joining the ranks of ventures like Warby Parker, Bonobos, and Everlane. 

The company—which gained initial popularity because it was so easy to buy and ship online—has already claimed significant growth in sectors with physical stores. That growth can be attributed, in part, to its deviation from more and more online, inexpensive competitors, but the true success of the brick and mortars lies in their experiential elements. 

Mattress stores have always been by definition somewhat experiential, with customers flopping onto product after product, but Casper has taken the experience to the next level. Choose a mattress, close the curtain, and take a snooze—they encourage it. Like Peloton, the success of the model lies in the reality of the aspect; Casper makes it as easy as possible to imagine owning and using their products. 

 

Lululemon

Traditional retailers like fitness brand Lululemon are also incorporating more and more experience into their retail approach. Lululemon consistently exhibits many traits we can applaud, from a well-trained, engaging staff to top-notch visual merchandising, but it’s their implementation of new experiences that draws in new customers in such a special way. 

Live events, like in-store yoga and fitness classes, accomplish so much for Lululemon. At the top of the list: these events persuade customers to spend time with the brand. They’re immersed in all things Lulu for the entirety of the event. When the workout class is complete, they’re encouraged to shop, and spurred to purchase not just by waiting and knowledgeable attendants, but by the pushing weight of peer pressure as other attendees buy-buy-buy. And after they leave, they’re left with a truly memorable experience that keeps Lululemon top of mind.

During these hosted events, customers might not even actually try a Lululemon product; they can show up in their Target brand workout gear, sweat with a guest instructor, and leave, but that’s not what they do. It’s the experience around the experience—the at-hand retail, the joyful pressure of others, and the realization of a reward at the end of a workout—that makes Lululemon’s experiential retail profitable. 

All of these retailers have taken the hollow husk of the mall model and made it new again with interesting, engaging retail. These are lessons we could all stand to learn from: offer your customers a true experience, guide them with knowledgeable employees, present them with products that can sustain the blissful reality you’ve given them, and profit. 

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