How to Reach Experiential Shoppers This Holiday Season

How to Reach Experiential Shoppers This Holiday Season
Christmas gifts have become less about the item and more about the memory it offers. Read on to learn how to give shoppers the gift of experiential retail.
by Andrea Reiher Oct 22, 2019 — 4 min read
How to Reach Experiential Shoppers This Holiday Season

While physical gifts are great, some people prefer to give gifts that create memories to last a lifetime. Enter the experiential shopper.

Experiential shoppers love to give experiences. With many younger shoppers fitting into the experiential shopper category, it’s not surprising that a large-scale survey by Accenture found that 68% of all Millennials demand an integrated, seamless experience regardless of the channel. According to the report, these shoppers “demand a customer-centric shopping experience – one tailored to their wants and needs as valued customers.” But this type of shopping and gift-giving is more difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which means businesses need to get creative.

This experiential shopper loves to find unique, personalised experiences for themselves and their loved ones. This is where eCommerce retailers shine, because they have so many tools at their disposal to create and sell distinctive experiential gifts. These shoppers also enjoy experiencing things while they shop, so as people return to in-person shopping, an eCommerce store with a brick-and-mortar counterpart can offer the best of both worlds.

Understanding the experiential shopper

These ultra-modern shoppers are growing in numbers with every passing year. Here’s what you need to know about them.

They want to go and do. Experiential shoppers are looking for everything from vineyard tours and spa days to skydiving and dance lessons for themselves and their loved ones. They want to engage in something that creates lasting memories. With most in-person experiences sidelined for the time being, many companies have shifted to offering virtual experiences – fitness group classes, demonstrations, boot camps, conversational language classes and art demos are just the start.

Food is love. Food or beverage themed gifts are always a stand-out in the experiential gift-giving category. This can extend to gifts like restaurant gift certificates, double passes to a food festival, coffee vouchers or invitations to a wine tasting. With COVID-19 halting these activities in some areas, many businesses have found a way to offer an equivalent “at-home” experience through 2020. It’s been so successful that the trend could continue beyond the initial lockdowns.

Because personal travel has also halted or changed dramatically due to COVID-19, businesses may see a rise in gifting food-related experiences that are virtual or can be cashed in at a later date.

Creativity is king. These consumers are out-of-the-box thinkers, and they want their favourite retail businesses to reflect that. This is an opportunity for small, more niche retailers to stand out by offering unique, one-of-a-kind gifts. “Retailtainment”, defined here as the convergence of retail, leisure and entertainment, is the new name of the game – though it could be some time before we see its full potential post-COVID.

With in-person retailtainment being less feasible right now, finding creative ways to offer virtual retailtainment becomes even more important.

How to meet the experiential shopper’s expectations

A lot of what experiential shoppers are looking for has been shaped by shopping trends that have emerged in the last few years.

Online booking is a must. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic started limiting in-person interactions, booking online for a later date was already a must-have feature. Now, nearly everyone is carrying a tiny supercomputer around in their pocket, and consumers like the convenience of being able to book experiences from their smartphones. Hosting your experiences online is already something that is important to explore in the time of coronavirus, so online booking goes hand in hand with virtual classes or tours, helping to keep your calendar organised.

Offer memberships or subscriptions as gifts. Experiential shoppers love subscriptions or memberships they can give as gifts because the experience keeps on giving. Regular shipments that arrive with the cheese of the month, or a new board game, or some new-season accessories, are a gift the recipient can enjoy all year.

Don’t forget the gift card. Offering gift cards or certificates is an easy and popular way to appeal to an experiential shopper. Gift cards are a great way to help your customers create memorable experiences. They allow your customers and their friends and family to enjoy a unique experience at your business, whether you own a wellness spa, restaurant, winery, or other way to spend their time.

Prominently display your gift card buying options online, and offer amounts that will help recipients redeem them for unique experiences at your business. An added bonus for your business is that gift certificates can help keep cash flow steady when times are slower and be redeemed at a later date when in-person experiences are safer. To put your customers’ minds at ease, you might consider extending expiry dates on certain gift certificates and promotions temporarily.

How to catch their eye

If your eCommerce store has a brick-and-mortar counterpart, offering in-store experiences is also key for the experiential shopper, either as shopping experiences or as something that can be given as a gift. While COVID-19 is currently making in-person shopping difficult, there are ways to reach the experiential shopper online as well.

Create an experience between customers and your goods or services. If you sell activewear, partner with a local yoga studio to offer a yoga class and then offer a discount on apparel to those who attend.

These experiences could either be offered for customers while they shop (socially distanced) or as items shoppers can purchase for someone else (or both). These experiences could also be offered online. Zoom yoga classes and meditation workshops, for instance, are incredibly popular in the current climate.

Make customers feel special. Experiential shoppers gravitate towards in-store activities because it makes their shopping experience feel unique; they also love to give one-of-a-kind experiences like these. But experiential shoppers also love to buy or give something that feels exclusive. This can include offerings like a membership or subscription, a special virtual VIP event for newsletter recipients, or a unique item that’s only available to shoppers for a limited time.

Think about a pop-up shop. If you don’t have a physical location, or even if you do, you could partner with another retailer to offer bundled activities and items. You could create a temporary physical location – a pop-up shop – offering limited-time items or demonstrations that make customers feel like they are experiencing something unique.

Again, if a pop-up shop is not currently feasible, you can still offer a virtual pop-up shop that offers bundles, demonstrations or limited-time products. You might also consider creating special holiday gift boxes that bring the in-person experience to a customer’s home.

Reaching Experiential Shoppers Checklist

Above all, this kind of shopper is looking for a connection with a retailer. They want to feel like your in-person or virtual experiences are created just for them, or that gift experiences are created just for the recipients. This interactivity and originality are paramount for the experiential shopper. And that kind of creativity is rewarded with new customers who will be loyal even after the pandemic is no longer a threat.

Andrea Reiher
Andrea Reiher is a freelance journalist covering eCommerce branding, holiday shopping, and how experiential retail and experiential gifts are becoming increasingly popular.

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