6 Retailers that are Offering Next Level In-Store Experiences

We’ve all seen the headlines about the so-called death of physical retail. “The retail apocalypse is ripping through America,” reports one outlet. “The retail apocalypse is heating up,” says another.

A closer look at the industry paints a different picture. For starters, the notion that ecommerce is killing brick and mortar is far from the truth. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the fourth quarter of 2018, ecommerce sales accounted for just 9.9% of total retail sales.

So, what’s with all the store closures? We can get into a lengthy discussion about this topic, but to put it simply: store closures are a result of America being “over-stored” and a good number of traditional retailers failing to evolve along with modern shoppers.

But make no mistake: brick and mortar stores are alive and well. Today’s best-in-class retailers recognize this and are using their physical spaces to drive awareness, sales, and loyalty.

How can you apply their practices in your own strategy?

The Disney Store: Delight

Disney has mastered the art of creating magic in a variety of areas, including theatres, theme parks, resorts, and yes, even retail stores.

Take the Disney Store at the South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, CA. The store gives guests a combination of irresistible deals, timely product assortments, in-store entertainment, and above-and-beyond customer service.


When you walk in, you’ll immediately see merchandise from the latest Disney films (at the time of writing this, they were Dumbo and Avengers: Endgame). The store is also punctuated with displays featuring limited-time promotions, giving people a sense of urgency to buy.

From an entertainment standpoint, the shop has something for everyone. The store has a whole corner where parents and children can hang out and watch Disney content, and there’s even a small castle that kids can walk in and out of.


Then there’s the staff. Everyone at the Disney Store is happy—no, eager to help. One associate even gave my son some Disney trivia about the toy he wanted to buy.

The whole experience is remarkable from start to finish. And it’s because of Disney’s masterful use of both traditional practices (deals, customer service) and modern tactics (castles, entertainment corner) to win over shoppers.

Strive to create a similar experience in your store. Get the basics right by ensuring that your selections are on point through hyperlocal assortments, and don’t be afraid to spruce things up with in-store attractions.

For best results, use data and analytics to figure out the right product mix and attractions. Analyzing sales, returns, as well as local trends will give each store’s team the info they need to determine what to stock and what types of initiatives to run.

Atelier Beauté CHANEL: Ease + Elegance

In luxury retail, it isn’t always easy to strike a balance between classic and modern (as well as exclusivity and inclusivity), but Chanel does it quite well, particularly in its Beauty Atelier in New York.

“One brand I am watching right now when it comes to in-store experience is Chanel with its newly launched Beauty Atelier,” says Melissa Gonzalez, founder of The Lionesque Group.

She adds the store has “the friendliest staff and it walks the line between exclusive and inclusive atmosphere, offering the opportunity for self-service or high-touch guided services, with an easy way to track and save all your product interests.”


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Here’s a glimpse of what that experience looks like: prior to entering, you’ll build an online profile using a mobile app, which will track the items that you’ve looked at. No need to carry a shopping cart. If you want to buy something, simply add it to your cart using the app and you’ll be notified when it’s ready for pick up.

As for the actual in-store experience, you can browse the space on your own, or if you prefer some one-on-one time with an expert, you can book services with one of their Artists-in-Residence and Skincare Guides.

A good takeaway here is that you don’t always have to pick between two extreme concepts when creating an experience. You can incorporate both classic and modern ideas in your store. You can be both exclusive and inclusive. The key is finding creative ways to execute seemingly divergent ideas in your space.

Start by identifying underutilized areas in your store, then use technology to breathe new life into those spaces. Our post, Underused Retail Space: The Final Frontier shows you how to do that and more.

Showfields: Eye-Catching

Showfields is dubbed “the most interesting store in the world,” and it’s a nickname that’s well-deserved, for sure.

The store carries products from emerging companies, encouraging customers to try each brand’s products so they can experience them firsthand. To make things more interesting, Showfields crafts eye-catching and unique (read: Instagram-worthy) displays to showcase their merchandise.

As one Yelper puts it:

This store is absolutely stunning and even better, has everything you’ve ever sought after online or only from afar, in person. Each brand that Showfields features has a dedicated showroom, and each room was so beautifully decorated.

The company has also come up with an out-of-the-box way to encourage people to experience the space. As Gonzalez shares, Showfields (which is a client of The Lionesque Group) added a slide on the third level to get shoppers to go up to the top floor. Doing so “created a captivating draw in the retail store to drive traffic to the 3rd level.”

“Vertically-integrated spaces are challenging but according to the brand, 90% of people go to the top floor now because they want to ride the slide and then they must walk through the second floor to get back down to the first floor,” she adds.


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Retailers looking to drive in-store traffic can learn a thing or two from Showfields. By teaming up with the right brands and showcasing merchandise in unique and fun ways, you can create share-worthy experiences that attract larger audiences.

Athleta: Partnership

Nicole Reyhle, the founder of Retail Minded, commends Athleta for creating “a destination for shoppers that extends far beyond just discovering and purchasing clothing and accessories.”

Athleta holds timely events that are locally-relevant to each store, encouraging community engagement. “Their stores are looking outside of their own four walls or even their entire brand at large to welcome partner with like-minded yet non-competitive businesses for in-store events,” says Reyhle.

“Meanwhile, their staff is encouraged to be conversational and friendly while also informative and supportive of product knowledge. These details, combined with merchandising strategies that encourage customer engagement, are helping to strengthen the Athleta experience and sales alike.”

The takeaway? Tap into the power of people and communities. Shopping is still a social experience, so use your stores to bring people together.

Target: Niche Labels

Target’s private label game is getting stronger. The retailer is constantly putting out new products under its owned brands, and they’re just as good as—in some cases, even better—than traditional brands. And since these private labels can only be found at Target, they create a draw experience for shoppers.

Private labels aren’t the only thing contributing to compelling shopping experiences at Target. As Jasmine Glasheen, a retail expert and contributing editor to RetailWire points out, “Target’s doing a great job of bringing Millennia customers into stores by acquiring digital brands that are known for their expertise in their particular niche, such as Harry’s (shave club), and Hearth and Hand — which draws on HGTV fame to appeal to Millennial parents.”

Like Showfields, Target is using powerful brands (be it their own or otherwise) to connect with its customers — specifically Millennials. If you’re catering to the same audience, evaluate your own branding efforts to determine whether they’re strong enough to get through to your target customers.

Sephora: Human + Tech

According to retail analyst and keynote speaker Steve Dennis, the retailers that are doing well in brick and mortar are “treating their stores as assets rather than liabilities, delivering a harmonized experience across touchpoints that reflects what physical stores are good at while leveraging digital technology.”

Sephora, he says, is an example of a retailer doing just that.

I agree with Steve 100%. Sephora, like Disney, creates extraordinary in-store experiences by executing a strategy that combines conventional practices (like top-notch customer service) with modern solutions (such as in-store tech).

All of the Sephora locations are staffed with helpful employees who know what they’re talking about. Sephora also equips its stores with technology—like mobile POS systems—to make shopping easier.


As for customer-facing tech, some stores have touch screen displays to enhance the shopping experience. The Sephora store in South Coast Plaza lets customers take a tablet-enabled Hair Care Finder quiz that helps them select the best products based on their hair care needs.

And thanks to their mobile app, customers can “try on” lipstick without opening the tube.

Another thing that Sephora does well is driving sales and loyalty through its Beauty Insider Program. Aside from offering personalized recommendations, members of the program enjoy a seamless shopping experience across different channels.

Every product you buy—regardless of where or how you buy it—is stored in your Beauty Insider profile, so re-ordering items is a breeze.

Take a leaf out of Sephora’s playbook and find ways to bridge the online and offline gap through technology. Whether it’s through in-store gadgets or a backend that powers omnichannel shopping, strive to connect physical and digital channels to give customers a seamless retail experience.

The bottom line: balance

“Next level” in-store experiences are all about balance. The retailers that are truly winning brick and mortar are the ones that understand how to combine tried-and-tested strategies with modern and digital solutions.

Strive to do this when you’re designing retail experience for your brand. Continuously search for out-of-the-box solutions, but don’t lose sight of traditional practices.