The future of retail isn’t coming. It’s underway. While the end of brick and mortar hasn’t come as many predicted, we are seeing a seismic shift.  Online retailers like Warby Parker and Amazon are opening retail spaces, and traditional retailers are being forced to rethink the physical space to more closely align with the digital experience.  New media and technology have radically transformed the shopping experience and we’ve seen a fundamental shift in how consumers engage within a retail environment.

Today’s shopper is connected; they’re comfortable moving across a multichannel marketplace powered by options and convenience. This is forcing retailers to rethink their approach to engagement and work smarter to maximize a physical storefront in the digital age. Brands need to shift in a new direction to meet consumers’ expectations. Rather than trying to compete with ecommerce channels, stores need to move toward a broadened value proposition for consumers—offering a level of curation, service, experience and entertainment that can’t be satisfied solely online. If content is king online,  retailtainment – as it’s sometimes been referred to – could be the solution in the physical space.

While the technological revolution has disrupted the traditional retail environment, it has also presented a valuable opportunity for brands to reimagine the consumer experience in a more immersive way. Consumers are very aware of the brands they interact with, so marketing does not need to be overt. If you cater to their interest, they’ll take notice.

Shift the dynamic in how you communicate with customers

This was one of our goals with Samsung 837, our flagship consumer technology space, and it’s been said we’ve done exactly that in just one year. To many, 837 represents a reinvention of the consumer brand experience that invites visitors to play, discover and engage with products. Without the pressure to purchase as in typical retail situations, our focus is on interaction rather than transaction.

 Samsung 837 in New York City, New York.

Samsung 837 in New York City, New York.

While creating a flagship store without retail might sound crazy, the space has allowed us to create a two-way conversation with our visitors. We moved from speaking at them about tech specs and product features to engaging with them. Through immersive experiences that place our products at the heart of passions like cooking, film, art and music, 837 is a true technology playground.We’re allowing our visitors to do the number one thing they say they like to do in brick-and-mortar stores – see, touch, and feel (i.e. try it before you buy it) without the pressure to purchase. We have in-store guides, not sales associates, who help visitors on their journey through the space and explain how our connected devices can power their creativity, ease their everyday life (look inside your fridge while at the grocery store…check!) and enhance the things they care most about.

Embrace partners to deliver genuine experiences that are personal and shareable

Some brands are hesitant to partner for fear of losing share of voice. This mindset is both misguided and myopic. Brands should approach partnerships as opportunities to achieve what neither one of them could do alone. Partnerships allow consumers to experience your brand in a way that they couldn’t ever before. At Samsung, we refer to this mindset as “Samsung + Partners = Awesome” or “1+1 = 3.”

We also vet our partners through the lens of helping us to curate entirely new and authentic engagements that are both personal and shareable. When is the last time you walked into a store and wanted to share the experience with your Instagram or Snapchat followers? Three out of four of our visitors at 837 document their experience in the space on social. Curating programming and installations that resonate with visitors on this level would be impossible without our partners.

Embrace your loyalists and engage the curious

For us, 837 provides the opportunity to connect with both Samsung-owners and non-owners. For owners it has enabled us to provide them with loyalty rewards such as exclusive access to big cultural events and to offer deeper exposure to the Samsung ecosystem. For non-owners, it’s a chance to focus on education and immersion with the brand. These consumer engagements are serving to increase brand favorability by 85%, drive purchase intent across all our product categories among current owners and non-owners alike, and following events we’ve seen an increased pride-to-own among Samsung customers.

And from the looks of it, we’re not the only brand that’s jumping on board with this new retailtainment model, as we saw the Cadillac House, Sonos’ Listening Room and Kola House from PepsiCo pop up shortly after we opened shop, all with unique points of view in bringing their respective brands to life.

Ultimately, I’d challenge you to think beyond your current consumer engagement touch points, and explore new ways to allow consumers to get up-close-and-personal with your products or services. Offer them personal and shareable experiences that enable them to really understand how whatever you’re selling has the potential to make their lives better – bridging the gap to build loyalty and trust.  As our CMO Marc Mathieu often says, “everyone who has a phone is an influencer.” With the right experiences they will become your best advocates, without the heavy endorsement fees.

About the Contributor

Zach Overton is vice president of customer experience and general manager of 837 for Samsung Electronics America.