Snacks Retail Expertise

Immerse, Inspire, Activate: New Models for Experience at Scale

Madelyn Young

At the recent National Retail Federation (NRF) Conference Big Show, “experiential retail” was a hot topic of discussion. A number of speakers discussed how the term’s meaning is gradually changing.

Experiential retail has always been about creating exceptional, memorable experiences for consumers. But shoppers’ preferences are moving away from manufactured, one-size-fits-all experiences. Instead, they want to experience the brands they love in ways that “fit” the role those brands already play in their lives.


"The most inspiring shopping experiences align with a brand’s core, but also compel shoppers to do more than what’s expected."


How can brands get out of the way and let shoppers create their own best experiences, while still leaving them with a meaningful, memorable impact? It's easier at the 1-1 level of a sale or service interaction, but at scale it’s a whole different story.

Leaders in experiential retail are succeeding with strategies driven by purpose, innovation, and community. The best models immerse consumers in a consistent brand experience, inspire new forms of engagement and activate touchpoints with the brand’s products in the right places, at the right times.

Authentic Immersion

Having a true purpose — a “why” for the brand’s existence — helps make a brand’s interactions with consumers more meaningful. Those interactions may simply be purchases, or experiences that create a lasting sense of community and connection by immersing the customer in the larger “why.”

At NRF 2019, speakers spotlighted how physical spaces are being used for this kind immersion. One example is from shoe and apparel brand Vans — whose purpose lies in enabling creative expression and inspiring youth culture (especially streetwear and skateboarding culture) with its “Off the Wall” ethos.

Vans operates eight House of Vans locations in cities like Chicago and London. The spaces have no merchandise for sale; instead, they host free skate workshops, concerts, open mic nights, and art installations designed to appeal to the brand’s audience.

These events create collateral like videos and social content that extend the in-person experiences to a digital scale. So rather than being about revenue or transactions, the House of Vans spaces are high-impact marketing vehicles that immerse consumers in the brand while staying true to its purpose.

Unexpected Inspiration

Shopping experiences should stay true to purpose, too. People want to have new experiences with products they love, from the brands they love. They want to be surprised, delighted and have their curiosity (and loyalty) rewarded in innovative ways.

The most inspiring shopping experiences align with a brand’s core, but also compel shoppers to do more than what’s expected. They’re about using the existing relationship between brand and consumer as a springboard for new opportunities.

Levi’s is doing this well. The iconic brand is using experiential models to inspire fans to take their classic styles further with customization and personalization. Its in-store tailoring, for example, give shoppers the ability to personalize apparel before taking it home.

Extending education and personalization to the digital realm drives further inspiration at scale. The #LIVEINLEVIS campaign sparks consumers’ creativity, while the Customized by Levi’s platform allows them to easily “take our most iconic pieces and make them yours.” The approach weaves inspiration into the path to purchase while staying faithful to what customers love about the brand.

Targeted Activation

For Hershey, sweet moments of connection are a big part of our brand. We play a major role in our consumers’ celebrations and special milestones, and our experiential approach focuses on extending that role into more environments and occasions, with our brand being a catalyst for memorable connections. 

We’re continually working to be present at the right place and right time, creating a stage for consumers to make the most of their time with friends and loved ones via shared, branded experiences. This summer, for example, we’re putting Hershey in places where families spend quality time together. This summer, for example, we’re putting Hershey in places where families spend quality time together.

Our new Hershey’s Kitchen cafe concept will debut at Philadelphia’s Independence Visitor Center in May 2019 - a first-ever branded experience in a U.S. National Parks location. The experience will give families visiting the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Constitution Center and other Philadelphia landmarks a chance to bond together (or just take a special break from sightseeing) over s’mores, milkshakes, snacks and coffee in a vibrant, Hershey-branded cafe environment.

We also have plans to update and scale our Hershey's S’more Kiosk and Chocolate World concept to other fun locations where our brand can leave a meaningful, memory-making impact. The pop-up concept, which debuted in Las Vegas' New York-New York Hotel last year, was a hit and will become a permanent experience as a result of that success. It brought vacationing families and friends together to share more than 12,000 s'mores over 12 weeks. It’s proven to be a fun way to motivate consumers to create their own best experiences with the Hershey's brand they love.


Download our report, Experience and Convenience in a Shopper’s World, and learn how the latest snacks retail and shopper insights can better inform your business decisions.