Transporting Experiences: Emerging Themes in Retail #2/4

Inspire "That's Me" Moments

Though it sounds grandiose, shopping — the activity for which retail is designed — is best understood as a hunt for meaning. It’s not purpose-of-life kind of meaning, rather, it’s meaning that comes from affirming a sense of self and belonging. These are the psychological needs that drive what customers ultimately select from an overwhelming number of choices on a store shelves (both physical and virtual). The hunt people are on when they shop is for a “that’s me” resonance, and it is the retailer’s role to help them find it.

This role is even more important now that ecommerce has decoupled the shopping experience from the act of purchasing. Showrooming clearly illustrates this phenomenon: before making a final selection, customers want to try on a pair of jeans, test-drive a computer, read a label, smell the body lotion and –  particularly in the case of services – they also want to hear what other people have to say about its performance or status. Once they’ve decided on what to buy, they’ll purchase from whatever retailer offers the lowest price.

As more sales have gone to the internet, retailers have hustled to add ecommerce as a purchasing option. This is simply a requirement of modern business, not a solution for the continued bleed in sales the retail sector faces.  Nor is cutting expenses and closing stores, acts of desperation that leave the retail experience feeling hollow and sad (ToysRUs, Macy’s, Sears, RadioShack).

To regain relevance, retail needs to return to its core purpose: staging a delightful, memorable hunting ground for “that’s me” moments.  Sales are captured when goods and services are embedded within a bit of a guided adventure (more on this in the next post, “Guided Discovery”) that momentarily transports them to another world.

This theme of transporting experiences is popping up regularly in pop-up shops. It’s also being used brilliantly in marketing campaigns. And while a few retailers are starting to build immersive worlds that genuinely delight and inspire, too many continue simply to rearrange chairs on the iceberg-bound Titanic that the traditional merchant model has become.

One of the best transporting experiences is an interactive installation for Talisker Storm, a Scottish whiskey that staged a real storm for passersby. By recreating the blustery and wet conditions on the Isle of Skye, the home of the Talisker distillery, on the streets of London, Madrid, and Munich, the brand made an impression that jumps off the shelves (and into your cart) the next time you’re choosing a whiskey.


A great format for test-driving new products and ideas, the pop-up shop is generally staged as a world unto itself. They’re beautiful little gems that should also be integrated into standard store design as temporary exhibits (co-created with vendor partners). 

Kate Spade tested its new line of clothes as a store-front kiosk, in partnership with Ebay, and staged as a play on a bricks-and-mortar shop. Only 30 products were offered at a time (with speedy delivery) with new items introduced every Saturday.

One of the best examples of a brand that built Transporting Experience into its retail environment comes from a total refresh to Burberry in 2013 (led by then-CEO Angela Ahrendts). Reimagined for the future, the retailer used new technologies to embed “that’s me” moments in a seamless physical-digital experience. The pay-off of this reinvention: revenues tripled to more than $3 billion.

Read a case study in how the store environment was reimagined for a large retailer in Think Like a Futurist, pp. 162-172