There’s plenty to feel anxious about at the moment – I don’t need to point out the obvious. But, for retailers large and small, it’s a terrible fact that some won’t survive this latest hit to the high street.
More than 4,000 are expected to close for good in the UK alone, according to The Centre for Retail Research. For some keen to spot good news, early indicators of an uplift in post-Corona consumer spending in China – dubbed ‘revenge spending’ – are proving hollow. I am not surprised.
Firstly, the term ‘revenge spending’ is just awful, but that’s not the only problem. What might seem like a hope to hang on, I think completely ignores our changed reality. In amidst COVID-19 Britain we’ve seen a surge in social awareness. Emerging from this crisis, which is set to put thousands out of work, it will be seen as reckless and distasteful to buy an expensive handbag. Rather than shopping being a much anticipated luxurious relief, we will be seeking ways to celebrate our freedom in more meaningful ways.
That’s why I truly think we are at the turning point of the experience economy. Just ask yourself one question. During this lockdown, what are you missing most?
For me it’s my family, my partner, the ability to explore the city. We are missing social interaction, human company and shared experiences. The web is now awash with people sharing tips on housebound hobbies to try, creative talents to explore and ways to come together – digital book clubs, 9am million-viewer workouts. What everyone is craving is meaningful engagement and shared experience.
This is exactly what Pine and Gilmore (the original exponents of the experience economy) predicted – a marketplace where brands would succeed by helping consumers towards a better self – healthier, happier, more fulfilled.
Leading up to this crisis the boom in transformative experiences from mindfulness to meetups signalled the dawn of this new experience-driven world. Now, faced with retail lockdown innovative brands are getting creative in their adoption of experience strategies to drive engagement. Just look at the way luxury brands have been responding to the travel ban. My favourite is the online “turn down service” lesson from Four Seasons. Self care at its finest.
While many brands are ramping up their digital strategies in light of C-19, the challenge is the marrying of this online content with offline product to create complete experiences – some refer to this mix as ‘Phygital’. In light of lockdown the idea of ‘phygital’ strategy is being turned on its head. It’s no longer about splicing a digital element into physical experiences. More challenging perhaps, it’s now about bringing real physical connection to digital experiences.
Traditional retail’s demise has perhaps been dealt a low blow by the crisis, but one that was always coming. ‘Revenge’ spending is not just an ugly term, but one that doesn’t take into account what we are really missing. When our doors and those of the high street reopen it will be the restaurants, cinemas, theatres, parks, bowling alleys that will thrive not our ailing department stores or high street chains.
The brands that use this time to explore and embrace experience as a foundation of strategy will emerge into the new economy fully prepped to meet our new, less materialistic and more human demands. It will be the brands that have proven themselves to be creative exponents of meaningful experience that will attract lockdown loyalty that will translate into post-corona spend.
The challenge for brand strategists and marketers now is how they will entwine the ‘stuff’ they sell with the experiences they can create in a seamless, meaningful and useful way.
- Meredith O’Shaughnessy works as a creative brand strategist for global brands such as Unilever, Marriott and Whirlpool to pioneer bold, experience-led, engagements.