How Brands Are Leveraging “Experience”

Three vega awards displayed on a shelf.

It seems that almost every month, another legacy “big box” store closes its doors due to lack of sales, failure to achieve brand relevancy, or even both. Gone are the days of quantity over quality. The large majority of consumers are shifting priorities away from products to experiences, and many brands are having difficulty keeping up. Brands that neglect this change in preference are paying the price, literally. Today, experiential tactics serve as an innovation tool to maintain relevance and boost profits.

“Experience” isn’t just a popular buzz-term anymore. Rather, with the new decade approaching, embracing experience has become an essential philosophy to guide effective branding, web design, and communications strategy.

When considering the number of brand categories that have struggled to adapt to the need for experience, over the last few years, retail has taken arguably the biggest hit. It’s easy to think of retail as being product-centric. Department stores can offer several reputable brands from similar categories, some of which are listed at differentiated price points. What’s problematic is that consumers become overwhelmed with selections. Consumers are smart enough to know that “cheaper” products aren’t necessarily “better” products. Because it’s difficult to put a price tag on experience compared to products, suffering retail brands have an opportunity to revive and thrive. Convenience and accessibility can be factors that outweigh price points, and some retail brands are catching on.

Earlier this year, Toys “R” Us hit bankruptcy and was forced to shut down its U.S. stores. Although consumers expressed disappointment in the legacy store that was over 70 years old when it shut down, Toys “R” Us re-established their marketplace relevance through an infusion of experience into their brand narrative. In addition to smaller, more intimate stores, Toys “R” Us’ revamped strategy included play areas for guests which could also be used for events like birthday parties. They launched two experiential pop-ups in data-driven locations like Chicago and Atlanta that would garner much-needed visibility. By focusing on consumers’ emotional connection to their brand through an experience, Toys “R” Us was able to change perceptions to meet the demands of modern consumers.

Beyond Toys “R” Us successfully correlating “experience” with their brand, they relaunched their website in order to reflect how this renewed mission would complement the understanding of their brand beyond just products themselves. The website aims to address elements of product “discovery and engagement,” which play into the theme of consumers better identifying with brands through experiences. According to the company, “immersive experience,” such as consumers being able to play with toys displayed out of a box before purchasing, will help the Toys “R” Us brand more accurately measure the impact of in-store retail experiences on online sales. While the change in consumer preferences from products to experiences have been well-documented, Toys “R” Us’ power move only reiterates the value in this philosophy.

As new waves of consumers continue to influence trends and spending behavior, data-driven design, accompanied by intentional user experience strategies, will continue to lead brands into 2020 with meaningful promise.