Want the shoppers to come? Try free samples

Fred Schmidt

Fred Schmidt

by Dan Rafter

How do retailers get shoppers to their stores? Events matter. And free samples help.

According to a survey by Coldwell Banker Commercial Affiliates and Harris Poll, nearly 75 percent of adults say they are happy to shop at brick-and-mortar stores if they can have an experience.

What does this mean? It’s all about what is known as experiential retail. Respondents to the survey said that they are more likely to visit phsyical locations — instead of online options — if those locations offer in-store classes, product demonstrations, free samples, celebrity appearances, holiday events or book signings.

Just look at the crowds well-known authors can bring to bookstores when they appear for a signing or lecture. How about the shoppers that kitchen-goods stores can entice by teaching them how to create their own home-made stuffing or bundt cakes? A retailer that sells records or electronics can generate plenty of publicity, and shoppers, by holding a free concert at one of their flagship stores.

Retailers who want to keep the crowds coming to their physical locations have to be creative today, said Fred Schmidt, president and chief operating officer for Coldwell Banker Commercial, in an interview with Midwest Real Estate News.

“What does this mean for commercial real estate developers and the like? You will see more event-driven retailers like theaters, restaurants and exercise facilities integrated into malls and shopping centers,” Schmidt said. “At the same time, traditional retail space is changing. There is more square footage devoted to common areas and locations where shoppers can have experiences.”

Schmidt points to Lululemon, the growing retailer that sells women’s athletic clothes. The retailer often offers yoga classes in its physical locations. The shops, then, need to have that studio space for such classes. Schmidt also cited upscale grocer Whole Foods, which regularly offers wine tastings, cooking demonstrations and juice bars. Again, the chain’s grocery stores need to have the open, common-area space available for events such as these.

“These shops are offering a total experience as a way to drive in customers,” Schmidt said. “It’s not just about having customers show up, buy goods and leave. These retailers want customers to stay there and have experiences. The common areas are becoming so important for a growing number of retailers who want to host everything from fashion shows to concerts. These events are becoming more important in bringing people to these locations.”

The survey polled younger Millenials from the ages of 18 to 29, older Millenials from 30 to 34, Gen Xers from 35 to 49 and Boomers from 50 to 69. The survey found, in a somewhat surprising bit of information, that nearly half of shoppers prefer to make a purchase in a store instead of shopping online. The survey found, too, that these shoppers want stores to serve as a hub for convenience and entertainment.

According to the survey, 74 percent of U.S. adults say that any retail experience beyond normal shopping activity is more likely to bring them to a physical store. This holds true for younger shoppers, especially. The survey found that almost nine in 10 older Millennials say that any retail experience is more likely to drive them to a physical store.

In a result that’s probably not overly surprising, the survey found that U.S. shoppers like free things. According to the survey, 57 percent of U.S. shoppers say that free samples make them more likely to visit a physical store. These free samples are, by far, the most popular experiential retail experience, according to the survey.

“This is not new,” Schmidt said. “We first did this survey two years ago. We found back then that shoppers of all ages still enjoy shopping in physical store locations. That stood conventional wisdom on its head. And what these shoppers want when they do go to physical stores is an experience.”

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