Experiential Activations Give Holiday Shoppers a Much-Deserved Break

When you think of going to the store around the holidays, what comes to mind? Giant, festive window displays. Decorations around every corner. Children’s choirs singing carols. Waiting in line to see Santa Claus.

Stores have always utilized experiential tactics to attract holiday shoppers. As Black Friday now leads into Cyber Monday, which, itself, is now a precursor for Green Monday, brick-and-mortar retailers are under more pressure than ever to combat the encroachment of ecommerce. This is why brick-and-mortar stores are leaning heavily on experiential this holiday season.

Those findings are in line with the recent “Adobe Holiday Retailer Survey.” The report revealed that 56 percent of U.S. retailers intended to add experiential elements to attract customers, such as creating mock showrooms, developing augmented reality (AR) experiences, and adding features to enhance the overall shopping experience.


“Gone are the days of sell, sell, sell in retail,” Gary Specter, Vice President and Global Head of GTM, Commercial Business, at Adobe said in a CMO article. “Today’s consumers want to experience a brand, and these more immersive moments are playing a role in driving actual transactions. The good news is this survey finds that more than two-thirds of retailers understand this consumer expectation, and they have a few experiences up their sleeves for the holidays.”

The report also contained good news for brick-and-mortar retailers that have a robust ecommerce offering (and ecommerce vendors with physical locations), since 94 percent of the retailers surveyed believe that a physical presence gives them an edge over those that just sell online. The biggest knock against ecommerce is consumer impatience, since many people want their purchases immediately. That’s why the trend of “buy online, pick up in-store” (BOPIS) is picking up steam. The study found that 55 percent provide a BOPIS option, and 46.5 percent state that BOPIS represents a significant portion of their sales.

Of course, experiential retail will mean something different from store to store. While it may make sense for one retailer to develop a massive, interactive virtual reality (VR) display, another shop may simply need to enhance its ambiance to create an environment that shoppers find enticing. For the holidays, retailers historically find exciting ways to put a variety of experiential ideas into action.

Deliver an Experience No One Else Offers

Innovation and specialization will always give retailers a lead on their competition. The holidays provide the perfect time to incorporate an innovative idea that fits within the overall feeling of your store, even if it may seem out of place as a year-long offering.

For example, UK-based retailer John Lewis offers “treetorials” to consumers throughout the holiday season. The idea is to make tree decorating a little easier for those who want a picture-perfect tree by providing a personalized tree-styling. Shoppers have the option of selecting from a pre-assembled package, or they can meet with a “professional tree stylist” who will get a sense of their personality and then create tree decorations to match their personal style.


Walmart, on the other hand, focused on improving its customer’s holiday shopping experience. Knowing that long lines are one of the biggest hassles of holiday shopping, Walmart instituted a new “Check Out With Me” feature in some stores. Associates with handheld scanners were spread throughout the store to ring up customers in any aisle so they could quickly pay and leave.

Provide a Break from the Hustle and Bustle

One undisputed benefit that ecommerce has over brick-and-mortar is the ability to shop without searching for a parking space, fighting your way through crowds, and waiting in interminable lines. Experiential activations give shoppers a reason – really, a reward – for getting off the couch. So, what better reason is there than the possibility that a shopper could leave a store feeling better than when they entered? That’s why stores are finding ways to provide relaxation solutions that fit with their brand.

Shoe retailer DSW gave customers a reason to go sneaker shopping over the holidays by offering a suite of services to complement their loafers. At certain DSW locations, shoppers may go in looking for a pair of shoes and leave feeling blissed out after enjoying the store’s spa-like offerings of manicures and pedicures. Many stores also provide amenities like fittings for custom insoles and shoe repairs.

Athletic apparel retailer Lululemon wanted to introduce some mindfulness into the hectic shopping season. That’s why many stores reserved space to provide yoga classes. There were also meditation pods, so shoppers could slip into a quiet area and find some precious minutes of relaxation. Not only do these services provide a benefit to shoppers, but they also reinforce the brand’s commitment to the overall well-being of its consumers.

Another idea is to combine a product test with an opportunity for a little R&R, like mattress company Casper did when the brand opened The Dreamery. This limited-time pop-up shop allowed harried shoppers to schedule a 45-minute nap in a private nap pod. The pods contain a sleep mask, bathrobe, earplugs, and a bed with a pillow and a Casper mattress.

Create an Innovative Pop-Up Experience

Pop-ups were once a quirky afterthought in a brand’s marketing strategy, something that companies did when they had a little extra time on their hands. Today, brands big and small have incorporated pop-ups as a significant portion of their marketing strategy. Pop-ups provide as many benefits for retailers as they do for consumers. They give ecommerce shops the opportunity to head into a physical space to mingle with customers, and brick-and-mortar stores can venture into new neighborhoods and create concepts that move beyond a brand’s customary motif and inventory.

Last year, online furniture and home-goods company Wayfair launched two holiday-related pop-up shops. Ostensibly, the stores were to promote the brand’s new “e-design platform,” an online offering that allows shoppers to work with a professional and create a room tailored to their tastes. The shops also featured a “How-To” station with lessons for tackling common household issues and more than 100 fabric samples to help visitors create custom furniture. It was also possible for shoppers to place orders and have their goods in their house the next day.


Provide an Interactive Experience

Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of experiential retail is the fun, engaging, hands-on interactions it allows consumers to have with a brand, especially since “fun” is an element that’s often missing from holiday shopping. Providing your visitors with an amusing break or experience that adds value to their day is a fundamental way to show customers that you appreciate them. In addition, providing hands-on interactions is a formidable way to create lasting bonds with consumers.

JOANN Fabrics and Crafts has renovated many locations to create hands-on education areas. For a craft store like JOANN, there are a wide variety of skill and comfort levels for the people who walk through the doors. Some customers have been crafters most of their lives, while others are just beginning a hobby or have a project they need to accomplish. That’s why JOANN provides classes for multiple skill levels. It also hosts meet-and-greets with local artists. To provide shoppers with inspiration, the stores have several touchscreen kiosks positioned in strategic locations so customers can pull up images from Pinterest.

Holiday shopping has long been considered one of the causes of stress. By providing some experiential activations, retailers are building brand loyalty, while giving shoppers an engaging break in their day.