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Experiential Retail Isn’t Going Away. It’s Just Changing Its Look

WestBend's Market by Macy's Featured in BISNOW

BISNOW|March 2, 2021

Written by: Bianca Barragn

Macy’s officials have discussed at great length measures to improve revenues, including investments in their online shopping experience, closing underperforming stores and the launch of a new experiential store format.

The retailer during its Feb. 23 Q4 2020 earnings call shared plans to launch a new concept, Market by Macy’s, an experiential, smaller-format store that would go into lifestyle centers. There are now two near Dallas. 

The stores were conceived as a way to experiment with the Macy’s brand and to provide something to customers beyond what they could get from online shopping.

“Adding off-mall locations will provide customers with a fuller omni experience by providing more convenience, selection and speed, whether they are shopping the digital or store’s channels,” Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said of the Market by Macy’s concept.

Experiential retail was on the rise before the coronavirus pandemic rapidly altered occupancy levels in stores and reliance on online shopping. As the features that cropped up through the pandemic to get purchases to customers become requisite, the biggest question is how long will it take for experiential retail to make a full return?

The types of stores that many often associate with experiential retail — the highly designed and Instagram-friendly store from an online makeup retailer or a mattress retailer’s outpost where you can try out their mattress by napping on it — are still going to pop up, but they will capture even less of the market than before, Colliers National Director of Retail Services Anjee Solanki said. 

“It’s the consumer’s behaviors that retailers are reacting to, and based on those reactions, [retailers are] reinventing themselves,” Solanki said. 

The goal of those stores was always to engage with shoppers, but the different ways that engagement can happen include the convenience features that customers have come to expect over the last year of the coronavirus pandemic: buy online, in-store pickup and curbside pickup. These preferences have now become necessities and will remain a part of what customers expect moving forward.

The idea of experiential retail is also about a general feeling that retailers want people to have when shopping in their stores. Starbucks, which has committed to having 45% of its U.S. stores feature drive-thrus by 2023, has also stood firm on experiential retail, saying that it wants to meet “the fundamental need to be seen and experience a feeling of connection to others.”

These convenience factors are not necessarily everything that customers want, retailers and landlords say. 

A seamless process for buying online and picking up in-store, or BOPIS, and curbside pickup at a store is a given now, but “that’s not something to me that…

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