Elegant ‘Experiential’ Shopping Lures Online Buyers

By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz
Chicago Tribune.

There are appliance stores, and then there is Pirch.

At its new showroom in Oakbrook Center, on Chicago’s North Shore, you can sidle up to a cafe for a free cappuccino, enjoy the smells and samples that chefs cook up in working kitchens, or reserve a time to take a shower, yes, take a shower, in the Sanctuary, a eucalyptus-scented room with steam showers and a granite bathtub filled by a spigot that pours dramatically from the ceiling.

Offering such heightened store experiences is becoming increasingly paramount for retailers seeking to give shoppers a reason to get off the couch, off the Internet and into their stores for something beyond the lowest price, industry analysts say.

“These are the kinds of places that are developing more as a counterpoint to a digital experience and saying, ‘Come in and touch and feel; it’s worth the trip,'” said Wendy Liebmann, CEO of New York-based WSL Strategic Retail.

More than stores that simply let you interact with the product, Liebmann said, “these beautiful inspirational settings … create almost a mouth-watering quality.”

While some retailers, like Apple or Anthropologie, have been offering such high-touch retail experiences for years, more companies are joining in as retail success stories become polarized between the very efficient, commodity-driven businesses (think dollar stores) and the inspirational, experiential stores, said Neil Stern, a senior partner at Chicago-based retail consulting practice McMillan Doolittle.

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