How Retailers Benefit from the Pursuit of Experience

On a recent visit to Loft in Shibuya, I enjoyed shopping, cheesecake, and a terrifying roller coaster ride.

Passing the demo of eco-friendly scooters and rushing my shopping buddy through the sale section, we headed to the Shibuya City Lounge in-store cafe. There, we unexpectedly found armchairs equipped with virtual reality headsets offering experiences ranging from surfing to roller coaster rides. We eagerly put on our seat belts and were quickly shrieking with fear and laughter in the middle of the store.

Like a vertical drop, words such as “minimalism” and “living with less” can strike fear in the hearts of retailers. They capture the emerging trend away from accumulating physical objects. Japan plays a noticeable role in this movement thanks to Marie Kondo, author and star of what the New York Times calls a “ruthless war on stuff.”

So is there anything that can replace our urge to acquire? In the book Stuffocation, author James Wallman suggests collecting experiences as an enlightened alternative to collecting stuff. Due to a combination of social and psychological factors, it can even be more fulfilling.

Some retailers like Loft increasingly realize that, by offering new experiences within their retail space, this trend can also be turned into an opportunity. Others leverage their proximity to exhibits, restaurants, or unusual events. It gives physical stores a much-needed edge to lure online shoppers back offline.

An obvious example is the Pokemon Go craze, inspiring hopeful retailers around the world with a chance to engage smartphone users in the physical world. Traffic in mega-mall Harbour City increased after the Hong Kong Pokemon launch last week, as they added signs to help players find Pokemon.

Swiftly taking advantage of a trend is smart, but how do you become a reliable destination for new experiences?

DiverCity – a shopping center in Odaiba – may well be a pioneer with its ambition to create a “theatrical city space.” Stores in that mall can connect with passersby who are looking for something out of the ordinary. Besides the shows at the Gundam robot sculpture outside, visitors to the VR Zone Project I Can – a virtual reality space within the mall – can virtually ski down a mountain or walk a plank 200 m in the air to save a cat. DiverCity also benefits from its proximity to the Fuji TV Building, with the Yume-Tairiku festival in its backyard all summer, featuring snow and water parks and amazing interactive art.

Paradoxically these spaces offer the perfect escape from stuffocation and ideal conditions to acquire more stuff.

Had a great retail experience? Tell us about it in the comments!