This article is part of Square’s definitive guide on eCommerce best practices during the holidays. Explore the guide to learn how to curate a festive and stress-free shopping experience for your customers and stay competitive.
Knickknacks are nice, sweaters are super, and wine is wonderful, but some people prefer to give gifts that yield treasured memories to last a lifetime. Enter the experiential shopper.
Regardless of whether the actual shopping is an experience in and of itself, experiential shoppers love to give experiences. The NRF survey says that in 2018, nearly a quarter of gift givers planned on giving an experience of some kind, and 40% of consumers would love to receive a gift of experience. When that field is narrowed to 18- to 24-year-olds, the number increases to 60%.
This experiential shopper loves to find creative, individualized experiences for themselves or their loved ones, which is where eCommerce retailers shine because they have so many tools at their disposal to create and sell experiential gifts. Not only that, but these shoppers also enjoy experiencing things while they shop, so an eCommerce store with a brick-and-mortar counterpart can offer them the best of both worlds.
Understanding the experiential shopper
These ultramodern 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 to spa days, from skydiving to ballroom dance lessons, either for themselves or their loved ones. They want to engage in something that creates lasting memories.
Food is love. According to a 2017 survey by the market research company NPD Group, the most popular gift of experience is a food or beverage event, like dining out, going to a food festival, or attending a wine tasting. Those gifts accounted for nearly 50% of the experiential gifts that year, followed by tickets to an event (32%), a spa certificate (31%), or some kind of travel-related gift, like a flight voucher or a hotel stay (23%).
Creativity is king. These consumers are out-of-the-box thinkers, and they want their retail stores to reflect that, which is why smaller, more specific retailers can excel in this area by offering unique, one-of-a-kind gifts. And while the holiday season is the perfect time to reach out to experiential shoppers, they by no means have to be catered to with holiday-specific items and events. According to the 2018–2019 Winter Consumer View at the NRF, nearly half of all consumers attended a “retailtainment” event (read: pop-up shops or product demos) throughout the previous year; when looking at just millennials, that number jumps to 66%. So offering experiences for either shoppers or as gifts is popular all year long.
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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. According to NPD Travel Retail, millennials, who are a big demographic of experiential shoppers, are looking for experience-based travel. They are “much more likely to base [travel decisions] on adventures.” And all demographics, not just millennials, book things online these days, so having an online system is key to snagging experiential shoppers from outside your local area. Plus, you can offer other experiences through your online booking system, engaging in bundle discounts or partnering with another business to offer package deals.
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 a set of clothing, are a gift the recipient can enjoy all year. According to the NRF, the main reason people like having subscription services is to “try new products,” followed closely by “convenience” and “variety.” Those are all hallmarks of experiential shoppers. Plus, of the consumers surveyed who have subscriptions already, a whopping 73% started using more subscriptions in the past year. It’s something consumers become accustomed to and subsequently want more of.
Don’t forget the gift card. Offering gift cards or certificates is an easy and popular way to appeal to an experiential shopper. According to the NRF, over half of the consumers who gift experiences do so because it creates a “special memory” and is a “unique” gift. Gift cards are a great way to do this because they allow for an individualized experience to be had by the recipient at your business, whether you own a spa, boat tour, restaurant, winery, or other similar place to spend a gifted amount. In a National Retail Federation survey, 60% of consumers said they would prefer to receive a gift card — it actually topped the list of preferred items. Prominently display your gift card buying options online, and offer amounts that will help recipients redeem them for unique experiences at your business.
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.
Create an experience between customers and your goods or services.
If you sell candles and aromatherapy massage oil, offer an in-store meditation class where customers are surrounded by your products as they unwind. 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 or as items shoppers can purchase for someone else (or both).
Make customers feel special. Experiential shoppers gravitate toward in-store activities because it makes their shopping experience feel unique; they also love to give one-of-a-kind experiences like these. Additionally, an experiential shopper is someone who would love to buy or give something with an air of exclusivity to it — a membership or subscription, a special VIP event for newsletter recipients, or a unique item that is 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 also have a temporary physical location in a pop-up shop, offering limited-time items or demonstrations that will catch the experiential shopper’s eye. You might also consider creating special holiday gift boxes that bring the in-person experience to a customer’s home.
Above all, this kind of shopper is looking for a connection with a retailer. They want to feel like the in-person experiences are created just for them, or that the gift experiences are created just for the recipients. This interactivity and originality are paramount for the experiential shopper. That kind of creativity is hopefully rewarded by earning new customers who are loyal throughout the rest of the year.
The holidays can be the busiest time of year for businesses. From helping shoppers find the perfect gift to keeping up with your inventory, sellers need to wear multiple hats. Square is here to help. We have all the tools you need to start, run, and grow your business, whether you’re selling in person, online, or both. And we’ve made all our tools to work together as one system, saving you time and money — and making decisions easier. So you, too, can enjoy the most wonderful time of the year. See how Square works.