Don’t put all your eggs in the experiential basket

New data shows that, sometimes, shoppers just want to shop

There has been a heightened focus on experiential retail in recent years, with brands investing heavily in memorable customer experiences. Incessant headlines urge retailers to engage customers in their narrative via events, technology, content creation in pop-up stores that don’t even sell merchandise, and more.

The zeitgeist insists customers crave more than just simply buying. But sometimes, simply shopping is precisely what customers want to do.

New data from JLL Design Solutions reveals that customers often value convenience and efficiency more than being immersed in a brand's world. Even the buzziest experience can hurt the customer experience if it prevents shoppers from easily…well, shopping.

Our data revealed that only 35% of customers rate immersive as extremely or very important in retail stores—significantly fewer than those who feel accessibility (76%) or intuitiveness (71%) are essential.

Customers feel similarly about restaurants. Only 34% think immersion is extremely or very important in a dining setting, while 80% value accessibility and 71% value intuitiveness.

The Experience Portfolio

Design Solutions recently introduced an Experience Portfolio approach, adding an experience layer to real estate portfolio planning. Our framework helps brands create experiences that resonate with their target customers without eliminating the accessible and intuitive shopping they crave.

Designing each format according to the Six Dimensions of Experience

Our framework includes a series of experience dimensions that help retailers understand what customers want, need, and expect from each unique format. The Six Dimensions of Experience are ranked in order of importance to customers based on our data.

Immersive does not have a seat at every table

Immersive elements rank low in importance for everyday formats that prioritize speed, such as self-service and fulfillment—and may disrupt the customer experience.

Take, for example, an anonymous well-known fitness brand, which are typically located in malls. They offer total immersion in the brand, with in-store classes and smoothie bars. However, the challenges of parking in labyrinth structures, trying on clothes in a bustling store replete with experiences, and enduring long checkout lines make the shopping experience less accessible and convenient.

Imagine if the anonymous well-known fitness brand introduced drive-thrus for quick customer service and added a Nordstrom Local-style option for tailoring pickups, bypassing mall hassles. It would likely improve the customer experience, wouldn’t it?

In other words, the point isn’t that brands shouldn’t offer immersive experiences. It’s that they need to differentiate their immersive formats from their convenience-based shopping outposts. In fact, customers rate immersiveness higher in formats that are naturally more interactive, like flagships and lab concepts. 

Gen Z and Millennials are more interested in immersive experiences across various formats than other age groups, excluding core, self-service, and fulfillment formats.

Case studies in customer-driven experience formats

Among brands striking a balance between offering immersion at the appropriate locations and convenience elsewhere: Nike, which has been pursuing a direct-to-customer strategy, is moving away from reliance on e-commerce giants.

Nike’s flagship stores, such as the one in New York City, offer immersive experiences with interactive features like customization studios and product testing facilities. However, its core stores, like Nike at the Grove, focus on convenience with organized displays, efficient checkouts, and curbside pickup. This approach is communicated on Nike's website, labeling each core location “a classic Nike store.”

IKEA also strikes a balance. In its flagships, customers can explore furnished displays and enjoy the brand’s renowned meatballs. Its smaller city center stores and pick-up locations prioritize convenience, lacking these extras.

The stores that contain showrooms are formatted so that they don’t interrupt the ease of shopping, which includes pickup of online purchases.

Where should the line be drawn between immersion and convenience?

Our data makes it clear that immersive experiences, while intriguing, are not the panacea for all retail woes. The key lies in striking a balance, offering immersive experiences that truly enhance the customer journey.