Trends Report

Less than 10 mins

Can Sensory Experiences in Retail Design Build Brands and Boost Advocacy?

Sensational! Can emotional and sensory experiences help to build brands and encourage advocacy?

Think back to the last great ‘thing’ you experienced. It could be a movie, perhaps a TV series, or something else. A meme, or even a bit of graffiti.

Then ask yourself this - What made it great? Or at least memorable. Chances are it stirred up an emotional response. A highly personal sensorial echo that made a lasting impact. Not always a positive one, but memorable nonetheless.

These ‘triggers’ are the holy grail for brands and businesses; the ability to instigate a prescribed reaction to advertising, branding, and physical retail experiences. With phones and online shopping at the forefront of many consumer’s vision, it’s never been tougher to break through, and stop shoppers in their tracks. And while some are brazenly attempting to leverage an emotional interaction for straightforward financial transactions, others are going deeper, attempting to instil brand values beyond simple charm and commerce.

It’s those brands we’re interested in. We recognise kindred spirits, and are always on the lookout for fresh perspectives, challenging narratives and inspirational trailblazers.


Sayonara to the High Street?

Not necessarily. While others have sounded the death knell of Britain’s traditional retail spaces, high streets and physical places to buy and sell will continue to play a role in society.

But make no mistake, it’s never been tougher to run a successful retail business. The triple whammy of COVID, fuel bills and supply chain snafus is behind the high prices, and hundreds of vacant shops across the country.

While it will take time to ‘turn the tanker’, there are inspiring tales of innovation, kindness and community at the heart of this potential new retail revolution.

London used to be a mecca for shoppers from all over the world. Now some of its biggest department stores are being repurposed to attract a new, more diverse crowd.

In Wandsworth, south-west London, a former Debenhams site is being transformed into an entertainment centre featuring go-karting and live music. On Oxford Street in central London, a former BHS site is being turned into the UK’s largest food hall, timed to coincide with the street’s pedestrianisation.

Across the country, smaller independents and pop-ups are taking advantage of shorter leases to set up shop in vacant lots. Repair cafes and community spaces are now becoming commonplace amongst the usual coffee shops and charity outposts.


Image courtesy of Johnnie Walker

Johnnie Walker Experience

Is it a distillery tour? A whiskey bar/restaurant? Shopping destination? All of the above?

 For what seems like forever, whiskey tasting was seen as the preserve of the elite; those who could afford seriously expensive drams, and also knew how to taste, savour and collect whiskey.

While whiskey brands continue to offer exclusivity and refinement, some have looked over the parapet and brought in learnings from different retail environments to maximise their potential, without watering down their all-important premium values.

Johnnie Walker for example. Famous the world over for its distinctive single colour labels, this blended whiskey favourite has now opened a experiential space in Edinburgh that blurs the lines between distillery tour, restaurant and living brand celebration.

Distillery tours are usually singular affairs, so Johnnie Walker has created a retail destination in the heart of the Scottish capital to encourage repeat visits (to the restaurant and shopping elements) thereby entrenching and reinforcing multiple positive brand experiences.


Find out more here


Image courtesy of Farfetch


Farfetch - Store of the future

Other brands are embracing the relative reinvention of physical in-store retail experiences, utilising the latest technology to blur the edges between real world and the virtual, and hopefully trigger some emotional, sensorial resonance.

Farfetch, the online luxury pure-player, has been exploring their  ‘Store of the Future’ (SOF) concept for several years now, refining and reinventing their premium experiences to exceed and delight customers. With 75% of luxury purchases still set to take place in a physical store by 2025*, tapping into retail ’reflexes’ from the past (the-sensorial wonders of ‘going shopping’) and combining them with the instant personalisation and tech-led wonder of online interactions makes for a compelling, potent mix.

This SOF launch was more than a turbo-charged retail showcase; Farfetch also gleaned a wealth of data, which will be utilised to improve the customer journey and offer a personalised experience.

For example, implementing a scanner for customers to ‘log in’ with their smartphones when they enter the store, which will allow sales assistants to view customers’ profiles, including their purchase history or what they saved to an online wishlist. The connected clothing rack records items customers pick up, storing them in a smartphone app where they can later swipe left or swipe right to edit selections.

The aim of these experimental retail experiences is to create an innovative platform where technology will be tailored for each brand to reinvent the ultimate shopping experience for new generations.  

Find out more here

Google - Going beyond the traditional value exchange into something more primal, ethereal and interesting

 Sensorial driven experiences don’t always have to have a prescribed response ‘baked in’. Take Google’s partnership with research studio Chromasonic, ‘Making Sense of Colour’.

This interactive installation is designed to simulate the experience of having synesthesia (when your brain routes sensory information through multiple unrelated senses, causing you to experience more than one sense simultaneously. Like tasting words or linking colours to numbers and letters).

This kaleidoscopic experience made its third global appearance at the recent Milan Design Week 2024,

The exhibition features 21 open-box rooms, flanked with semi-translucent panels. Inside each box, overhead neon lights shift their hues as the rhythm of the sound frequencies being played in the background changes.

Visitors are invited to stand, sit, walk around, close their eyes, lay on the floor, and look. There are no smartphones allowed, and no set times to enter or leave. Giving fifteen to twenty minutes of their time, and their silence lets visitors focus entirely on immersing themselves in the experience.

The focus centres around how colour can evoke and inspire strong emotional and sensorial responses, and expressed through everything from sound and taste to smell and touch.


The new frontier?

What are the most effective comms methods that other brands can leverage? And what will the next iterations look/feel like?

As you can see, brands and retailers are still exploring different perspectives when it comes to cutting through the noise to elicit meaningful emotional responses. From the sublime to the somewhat obscure, we’ve found that there’s no set formula for winning hearts and minds, but there are always opportunities to innovate.

What does the future hold? Our best estimate is a variety of different experiences, each tuned to the target audiences. Imagine more seamless joined up brand retail journeys, linking the best of online convenience and coordination, with the physical, tactile in-store version. Or the luxury, high end business who continues to put attentive, ‘classic’ service at the core of both in-person and virtual interactivity.

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