Beyond visuals: retail of the future will tantalise ALL of our senses

A growing number of brands are now providing their customers with more immersive shopping experiences that engage all of their senses, forever changing the world of retail.
  • John Lewis unveils a new concept store that offers a multisensory experience
  • Coach aims to reimagine shopping with immersive spaces
  • Step into a one-person experience pod with Xydrobe
  • Mugler’s new pop-up uses the female form as inspiration

Until now, visuals have reigned supreme in the world of retail, captivating audiences across various encounters. However, things are now slowly starting to change. The simple truth is that today’s consumers want more than just a visual spectacle. According to The Age of Re-enchantment report published by the advertising agency Wunderman Thompson, 64 per cent of consumers now expect brands to provide them with multisensory experiences. Furthermore, when offering a new experience, 82 per cent of consumers say that they want brands to engage as many of their senses as possible. To respond adequately to these evolving demands, a growing number of brands are looking for ways to get other senses involved as well, not just the sense of sight, creating awe-inspiring moments that truly immerse consumers into their world.

Some 64 per cent of consumers expect digital and virtual experiences  to activate all of their senses.

The Age of Re-enchantment report by Wunderman Thompson

Thanks to some recent advancements in digital technology, the possibilities for sensory engagement are constantly expanding, giving rise to an era of unprecedented immersion. However, there exists a delicate balance in the art of sensory immersion. While a significant 64 per cent of people anticipate digital and virtual experiences to activate all of their senses, 54 per cent of them confess to feeling overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of multisensory encounters. Brands must navigate this fine line carefully to create experiences that captivate without overpowering consumers. In this article, we will explore in more detail how some brands are leveraging the power of digital technology to provide their customers with a more immersive shopping experience that engages all of their senses.

John Lewis unveils a new concept store that offers a multisensory experience

John Lewis, a British chain of high-end department stores, recently decided to give its concept store in Horsham a makeover, turning it into a “one-stop destination for fashion, beauty, tech, and home design”. In addition to a carefully curated selection of some of the world’s leading fashion and beauty brands, such as Barbour, Levi’s, and Dior, shoppers will also be able to enjoy a wide range of personalised services, including an Elemis beauty treatment room. Perhaps the most interesting element of the new design is that it will incorporate multiple senses into the shopping experience through the thoughtful use of sound, scent, and colour. To make this possible, John Lewis enlisted the help of neuroscience experts, who employed a method called sensory prescription to imbue each specific area within the store with unique sensory elements.

As customers move from one part of the store to the other, they will encounter different sounds, scents, and colours to evoke a different set of emotions. For example, the ‘sleep’ area invites customers to lie down on a mattress and relax for about 10-20 minutes as they listen to calming sleep sounds and breathe in a refreshing citrus scent, surrounded by walls painted in neutral colours. And to cater to the needs of the younger audience, the ground floor will also house a new kids’ area. Besides numerous kids’ fashion brands, the area will also feature an interactive trail, treasure hunt, activity table, and nursery advice service. “We’ve listened to our local customers in Horsham and we’re thrilled they can now shop and experience a larger John Lewis offering with more departments”, says Jack Howe, branch manager of John Lewis Horsham. “Early customer reaction has been incredibly positive, and they love our new look”.

Coach aims to reimagine shopping with immersive spaces

Founded in 1941 as a family-run workshop, Coach has since grown into one of the world’s leading luxury fashion brands. Looking to establish a stronger foothold in Asia, the company recently opened a new immersive concept store in Singapore, the first of its kind on the continent. Named Coach Play Singapore Shophouse, the new store is described as “a blend of contemporary luxury and local charm”, reimagining the elements of traditional design and architecture through the lens of the brand’s place of birth, New York. The three-storey structure spreads over 370 square metres — making it the largest of the brand’s concept stores — and is divided into six rooms. Each room features a different, carefully thought-out theme and invites customers to explore how the brand’s style evolved over the years, providing them with an immersive and experiential retail experience.

The central space of the ground floor is occupied by the Coach Lounge, which features the latest collection of the brand’s leather goods, including many different styles of bags, wallets, and shoes. The ground floor also houses the first Coach Café, where customers can get a taste of fresh artisanal coffee brewed by local coffee roasters, Brawn & Brains, along with some food items that give a local twist to American classics like hot chocolate, milkshake, pancakes with maple syrup, and apple pie. One floor above, customers can browse a curated selection of the brand’s ready-to-wear items in Coach Station — the design and layout of which were inspired by the New York City subway. Moving on, customers arrive at the Vintage Room, which holds various archival gems and vintage pieces that can’t be found anywhere else. Each item in the collection has been specially sourced and then given a second life by one of Coach’s craftsmen. Customers who want to make their newly purchased vintage piece truly unique can do so at the Coach Create station nearby, where they can customise it by adding a new pin or patch. Finally, the top floor is dedicated to Coach World, a digital art experience that takes customers on an immersive journey through the brand’s heritage and craft legacy.

“You get an emotional reaction out of people when you have something that’s multisensorial. It feels real, so you’re able to put people into situations that they would never be able to do otherwise”.

Nell Lloyd-Malcolm, CEO at Xydrobe

Step into a one-person experience pod with Xydrobe

The London-based company Xydrobe recently announced the launch of a new experiential concept for luxury retail, which will provide customers with a multisensory shopping experience that allows them to engage with their favourite brands like never before. To access the experience, customers will need to step into a “one-person experience pod”, a mysterious, spherical object that will be installed at several hand-picked locations across the world. Once inside, customers will be transported into a virtual world, which will use a combination of breathtaking visuals, enticing scents, temperature, wind, and sound effects to revolutionise how people experience luxury fashion.

“You get an emotional reaction out of people when you have something that’s multisensorial. It feels real, so you’re able to put people into situations that they would never be able to do otherwise”, explains Xydrobe’s CEO Nell Lloyd-Malcolm. “It’s being a time traveller; it’s being someone who can actually feel as though they’re experiencing extraordinary things. We can’t achieve that in traditional retail, and we definitely can’t achieve it in e-commerce”. According to the company, the experience will be similar to watching a Hollywood blockbuster. Set to open sometime in 2023, Xydrobe will include a diverse selection of internationally recognised luxury brands, as well as niche independent labels. “There are so many opportunities with VR technology for brands to further communicate their collections to their customers, from the inspiration to the craftsmanship of products”, adds Isabella Gallucci, the company’s chief brand officer.

Mugler’s new pop-up uses the female form as inspiration

The French fashion and fragrance brand Mugler recently unveiled a new pop-up space that will provide customers with an immersive shopping experience that engages not only their sense of smell, but other senses as well. Located at Selfridge’s Corner Shop in London, the space was designed by Amsterdam-based Random Studio in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the brand’s iconic scent, Angel. Inspired by the female form, the pop-up features multiple silvery sculptures, each of which represents a different part of a woman’s body. “Our Mugler installation at Selfridges was born from my love of curves”, explains Casey Cadwallader, Mugler’s creative director. “The pop-up is an over-scaled series of sculptures inspired by the human form and built in Mugler’s signature chrome. I loved the idea of a bold view from the street and a much more intimate experience when inside the sculptures”.

When viewed from a distance, the structure appears to show a woman reclining in an elegant pose. Once they step inside, customers are first taken through the leg section, which houses the brand’s fragrance collection. A drop-like fountain occupies the centre of the space, where customers can refill their perfume bottles. Next up is the torso section, which houses a selection of clothing items, as well as a fitting room where customers can try them on. The final space, situated in the sculpture’s chest and buttocks, is called the Synesthesia Chamber and uses a combination of light, colour, sound, and fragrance to provide customers with an immersive brand experience. As customers walk into the chamber, they are greeted by enticing, siren-like voices, while a drop-like structure at the centre emits a short burst of fragrance into the surrounding space. “It’s a unique approach that is accompanied by a strong architectural gesture. It is all the audacity and creativity of our house gathered in one place”, adds Danièle Lahana-Aidenbaum, global president of Mugler fashion and fragrances.

In closing

In the ever-evolving world of retail, a profound transformation is now underway. No longer satisfied with mere visual spectacles, consumers are increasingly seeking more immersive experiences that engage all their senses. This shift has prompted brands to explore new frontiers, embarking on a quest to weave together scents, sounds, colours, and textures, creating enchanting environments that transport customers to realms of wonder. These immersive spaces blur the line between the physical and the virtual, captivating audiences in ways never before imagined. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the future of retail lies in the harmonious integration of all our senses. It is a world where shopping transcends the transactional and becomes an experiential journey of discovery. As brands continue to pioneer this multisensory landscape, they forge deeper connections with their audience, leaving indelible impressions and shaping the way we experience the world of commerce.

We’re in the midst of a technological revolution and the trends, technologies, and innovations to look out for are all game-changers. They bring competitive advantages, increase the effectiveness of operations, make our daily lives more efficient, improve healthcare, and significantly change the landscape and beyond.

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