Theoretically, we all know that today’s consumers expect to move across digital, physical, virtual, and social platforms while seamlessly switching from browsing, researching, and buying. However, we in the retail sector know that while we aim to deliver on this omnichannel/connected commerce shopping behaviour it is easier said than done. From legacy systems, lack of money available for investment, trying to simply keep up with the basics (ie. Paying our team members, a fair wage and financing all those extra public holidays), content repositories, and right now inflationary pressures and sales dips we will continue to see the continued evolution in behaviour and expectation. To put it simply, it’s bloody hard to juggle all the elements necessary to deliver a compelling, engaging and relevant experience.
The upcoming phase of commerce will shift the focus from individuals selecting which platform to interact with, to retailers striving to establish proximity to the consumers and the locations they frequent and spend their time. Places where demand, discovery, choice, and consumption happen.
I recently spent some time in Sydney speaking with business leaders around this precise issue. The discussion was equal parts exciting and depressing. Exciting for those who see the continued and iterative investment in “experience” as critical to the successful growth of their business and customer relationship. Depressing as many simply “can’t afford it right now” as they must “just cut costs” off the back of a covid-impacted period where “customers just rebounded back and it didn’t matter what we did, they continued to consume.” We also know this blip won’t last forever and that you can’t stand still in retail, or you become irrelevant (I won’t bore you with the list but I should make that a competition to see who can produce the best list!) So, to remain upbeat, I carved out a couple of days to take myself on a retail study tour of sorts to see how local retailers are elevating experiences to enhance their business prospects. Please note many of these sit in the arena of WOW, but hey, we need WOW to be truly inspired.
ANACONDA ADEVENTURE HQ – Chullora
Imagine a place where you can not only find everything you need for your next adventure under one roof - but can also experience the equipment in action first. As the first of its kind anywhere in Australia (and a whopping 7,500sqm), the Chullora Anaconda Adventure HQ truly is the one-stop shop that will be just as good as getting out there.
I had second-hand embarrassment for myself as I entered the store as I think I squealed with delight. This place was awesome. Once you crossed the lease-line you entered an interactive destination where anyone can walk in and receive expert advice from the friendly team, get hands-on with the latest outdoor products, watch live demonstrations from guest speakers, and most of all, find everything you need for their next outdoor adventure in one location.
🛥 an entire boat yard (including jetty)
🎣 a huge 40ft casting tank (filled with barramundi and Australian Bass) for casting demonstrations, and fishing simulator where you pick your “fish of choice” and fight to haul it in (grown men have been seen to sit and weep).
⛺️fully kitted out camping trailers and hybrid caravans to explore
🎿 skiing simulator
💥 an extensive range of outdoor products, how-to sessions, community events, guest talks and everything in between.
I got talking to Brett the Marine Specialist and he said this was the first and going to be the smallest. The next one to open in Queensland was going to include a crocodile park!
Spotlight Retail Group are the retail gurus behind the concept revealing plans to open a series (we hear about 10) of super-sized Anaconda stores on the east coast catering to outdoor adventure junkies.
Rebel CX Store – Parramatta
This was one of the first of Rebel Customer Experience (rcx) concept stores to launch in Oz at Westfield Parramatta. The concept has evolved in other parts of Australia, however due to covid I still hadn’t experienced IRL. Dubbed RCX (for Rebel Customer Experience), the concept store focuses on more interaction and immersion while shopping and when it launched in 2020 was bucking the trend by investing in physical retail.
Although Rebel is a well-loved Australian sports retailer it was getting its lunch eaten with international behemoths setting up sticks in OZ, like JD Sport and Decathlon. They certainly needed to step up their customer experience and take fight to the global players.
It is a sports lover’s paradise where you could spend hours aimlessly wandering through the store, messing about with the merchandise, playing a defensive shot with a still-wrapped Kookaburra Kahuna, imagining yourself banging one into the top corner with a new pair of Adidas football boots, or fawning over that year’s release of NRL jerseys.
🏈 Dedicated sporting zones
🏀 The Home of Basketball invites customers to shoot hoops against the backdrop of street art murals painted by western Sydney artist, Shannon Boyd
⚽️ The Home of Football allows shoppers to ‘try before they buy’ the latest boots, balls, and equipment, and play rebel’s football smash game
🏃♀️ Try before you buy home fitness equipment area
🎮 Integrated virtual gaming, animated screens, and dynamic displays
🧍🧍♀️🧍🏾♂️“Make it yours” Personalisation clothing capability
🖥 Investment in state-of-the-art technology
I think it was an elegant execution but a little underwhelmed, possibly as I have already seen many of these style of concepts in the US (United States) and Europe. None the less, credit where it is due. The business has managed to deliver a seamless and interactive experience and it has won awards by delivering on the brief:
The stores needed to be experience centres, not traditional retail shops – a significant step change for anything Rebel had ever done
They had to balance the creation of these experience centres with the need for business results. The Parramatta store experienced a 60% increase in sales since launching the renovated store
They had to make every dollar count when coming up directly against big global players.
Winnings Experience Centre – Redfern
Winnings has launched one of the best appliance showrooms in Australia, if not on a world stage. I was incredibly delighted to see such investment in turbulent times as this is a statement which brings the whole industry to life. While times are tough in certain parts of the market, from the number of conversations, deals being done and activity in this store when I visited, there is still incredible buoyancy in renovations and new builds.
Winnings is a family-owned kitchen and laundry specialist which was founded in Australia in 1906. Throughout the generations the family has continued to find the most outstanding brands and products at the forefront of design and innovation and then remained committed to delivering exceptional service and solutions, whatever the budget.
This store had only recently opened in late March and is part one of a multi-release project with the next stage scheduled for July which will reveal a one-stop destination for everything lifestyle and luxury for the home at 2400 square metres. With an exceptional design-led focus what impressed me most about this store was the level of service, knowledge, and expertise in customer service.
I was greeted by a delightful concierge who explained to me everything about the service, what to explore and where to find what I might be interested in. There were designers sitting around the store with their clients, product experts demonstrating live products and a big deal being done (8 people) on a development (from what I could eavesdrop). I turned down the offer of a fresh barista coffee (I was already 3 coffees in by the time I got there).
The customer’s visit to the showroom is all about engaging different senses. In the culinary theatre, for example, freshly baked goods are prepared there and then using the latest technologies – ready to be tasted and smelled in the store. The shower lab similarly provides a space for testing products, allowing visitors to touch and use shower heads and try out water pressure options. It’s all part of an experience that puts demonstration front and centre.
Using the words of the Winning team (not mine) …the Winnings approach is less transactional and more experiential, and this is where the culinary theatre and coffee bar come into play.
“Just as every kitchen is the heart of the home, we like to think of the culinary theatre as the beating heart of the showroom. The form disrupts the rectilinear layout of the store, with the brand tenancies orbiting around it. This is a space to gather, to be entertained, to learn and to hero some of the key products within the store.”
I am incredibly impressed and will be back to see Stage 2. This will also bring to life the everything for the home, with leading appliances, furniture, lighting, textiles, homewares and bathware retailers Winnings Appliances, Spence & Lyda and Rogerseller, recent acquisitions of the group.
Retailers should carefully consider how they want to appear IRL especially when the lines between commerce and content further blur. The physical bricks and mortar experience needs to deliver “more” elements of engagement, discovery, and delight that digital cannot.
What impressed me the most is how well considered these executions were and that the retailer wasn’t standing still. They recognised that you don’t require “grand gestures” on large scale, but there are elements of your DNA that needs to map back to every part of the brand, touchpoints or the store. For all these retailers the magic was in the customer service and team interactions. They were precious and showed a commitment to ensuring the proof is in the pudding, not just a half-baked mixture.