How to Overtake Competitors Using Experiences


When it comes to the most successful independent retailers, they are known, trusted and remembered for the experiences they deliver. Retail is more than just a transaction. A customer’s entire journey instore should be considered, from being welcomed, to the route they may take around the shop, the customer service, packaging and the way they feel when they leave.

By creating an all-round experience for every person who enters the shop, retailers can grow their business quickly by word of mouth, also attracting passers-by, through sparking curiosity. Instore, it’s vital to amplify the difference between your shop and others’, as well as maximising visual merchandising and elevating presentation to differentiate between online and offline.

Karl McKeever, Founder & Managing Director of Visual Thinking took to the stage at Autumn Fair to discuss the ways in which independent retailers can overtake large-scale retailers through creating experiences.

Visual thinking

A redesign can completely elevate perception of your store. It doesn’t always have to be costly, with simple reshuffling, new lighting and innovative displays working to help customers reimagine your shop.

Simply put, a new look can encourage shoppers instore who don’t typically visit, while entertaining regular customers and ensuring they do not get bored.

Karl McKeever said: “The newly opened Boots store in Covent Garden completely changes your perception of Boots. It has ditched the clinical, typical Boots look we have all grown accustomed to and created an engaging micro-boutique. They have come away from the old model to compete with their online competitors. If everyone is competing with price and range, what can you do? You compete with experience.”

Minimal presentation

If you are competing against vast distribution centres, you can compete by being more exclusive in the presentation of items. While larger retailers may be able to sell in larger quantities, they often fail to create the same experiences that independent retailers can.

Instagram has played a huge role in changing the way customers expect items to be displayed. It’s created a whole new importance for photography and sets expectations of store layouts. This can be brought to life instore with minimal presentation being used to highlight specific items, making them feel more exclusive.

Karl McKeever explained: “At the boutique and independent side of retail, you don’t have to commit to such large quantities, particularly when trialling stock. Because of this, you can provide more one-to-one communication, finding products which fit your customers best and creating a more exclusive experience than any large-scale retailer can.”

Sensory and visual merchandising

Sensory and visual merchandising is vital in capturing customers’ attention. Retailers should create memorable experiences, with many of the most successful having recognisable scents, lighting techniques or unique visual merchandising techniques.

Karl McKeever said: “You don’t have to sell candles or perfumes to think about capturing customers’ senses. Sensory touch points are so important. Let customers smell the tea or touch the fabric so before making a purchase commitment, they have everything they need.”

Engage your audience

Retailers succeed when they engage their target audience. Whether it’s making a display including their customers’ most-bought items, or having staff wear the clothing displayed instore and giving personal recommendations, there are countless techniques to engage your customers.

Shared interests can be used to grow interaction, creating dialogue and giving something back to the consumer. If you can engage your audience to the point of building a community, sales and footfall can grow quickly. Another method of doing this is through brand storytelling, giving a deep retail experience while making it memorable, unique, and making customers proud to be involved.

Karl KcKeever added: “Retailers can do particularly well when they tap into a specific section of society. No better example is the pop-up. Stratford’s ‘Trending IRL’ pop-up stall showcased the items the consumers engaged with best. It’s sometimes about the social experience. The Vans brand has understood their community and made the most of this. It’s all about understanding your customers’ interests and making the product work for them.”