Why all high street brands should embrace ‘experience retail’ (or risk disappearing)

Shopping online has soared during the Covid-19 pandemic, but brands needs to create experiences in real life to keep their customers engaged in the longer term, says Simon Hatter, founder of creative retail agency Hatter

For too long, high street retail brands have focused on digital shopping, prioritising online sales and branding to the detriment of physical spaces. Of course Covid-19 accelerated this (by as much as four to six years according to Forbes), but it was very much a trend already in the ascendancy. Now, with lockdown lifting, we have a chance to reassess that focus and we must – because digital shopping misses the entire point of what retail can and should be: a personal experience for the consumer.

Now is the time for high street retailers to embrace the ‘go big or go home’ experiential philosophy of their luxury counterparts. It’s not only possible for them to do so, it’s entirely necessary for the survival of the high street. Digital is a crucial retail tool, but if lockdown taught us anything, it’s that people crave human interaction, connection and moments to remember.

Luxury brands have always known the value of investing in retail experiences; it’s why Selfridges still exists. Since day dot, Selfridges has been entirely concerned with the customer. Everything from the window displays that draw people in, to the theatrics inside, is designed to entertain, inspire and provide a wow moment. When I was young and working in events in London, I could afford sod-all in Selfridges, but I would still spend my break there, browsing and getting spritzed with aftershave. I’d even ask the cashier for one of the company’s infamous yellow bags, just so I could carry it about.