Just happily survived all festive food events and destroyed the last crumbles let’s get ready for the next retail trend – TESTING.

In Vienna has opened this year the TASTERY where up to 44 products from local manufacturers can be tested – for free. The only request is to give a rating of the tested product. If still hungry and really convinced one can also buy the products.

Testing is just another way of experience driven retail. This rise in so-called ‘experiential shopping’ is in part a reaction to the growth of online shopping. Last year online sales grew by 15% in Europe and North America and a similar increase is expected this year. But this increasingly digital shopping experience means brands have fewer opportunities to meet their customers face-to-face and are getting desperate to connect. It is leading them to seek out new ways of reaching consumers.

Take the Museum of Ice Cream (foto),for instance. It’s not a museum. It’s not a shop. It’s somewhere in between. Tickets to the series of bubblegum pink, ice-cream themed installations cost around $38 and have sold out in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Once inside, visitors are confronted with fun things to do rather than to buy – brightly-coloured, ice-cream themed installations such as a giant pool full of sugar sprinkles to jump into.  

“The way in which we are able to have our visitors physically, tangibly, sensually engage with brands has a return on investment that no ad could ever come close to,” Maryellis Bunn, who designed the experience, said in an interview with New York Magazine. Bunn believes as more retailers move entirely online, their former shop fronts will be replaced by “experiences”.

Traditional bricks and mortar shops do appear to be disappearing in swathes. In the US, Macy’s, Sears, and K-Mart are closing the doors in hundreds of locations while in the UK Mark & Spencer and Debenhams are making similar closures.

It is a complicated picture, but thinking of retail as either online or physical spaces, misses the point, says Steven Dennis, a brand strategy consultant. He believes shopping in the future will need to be both – an amalgamation of both online shopping and physical stores where customers move seamlessly between the two and personalised interaction with customers such as intuitive apps and immersive experiences, will be fundamental to success.

Testing doesn’t work only for food but also for other branches. Even retailers that started out entirely online are moving towards creating locations where customers just try out their products

Menswear store, Bonobos, has a similar strategy. The company started online but has opened physical stores across the US, which it calls “virtual stockrooms for the website”. Customers are greeted by a “guide” who acts as a personal shopper, offering advice and recommendations, but the clothing on the racks stays in the stores, and purchases are mailed out from central warehouses.

Any retailer who is going to win in this new environment must become an experiential destination. Offering a service that cannot be available online and cannot be available on Amazon. Moving from “point of sale” to “POINT OF EXPERIENCE”.


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