This is a guest post by Gastón Tourn, the CMO of Appear Here – the world’s leading marketplace for retail space.
Why would a brand spend money on a physical retail space, when that space is nothing but real estate? After all, plenty of brands do perfectly well selling purely online. But retail space isn’t just real estate — it’s media.
Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan said that “media are the extensions of human senses”. So what does that mean?
Take a Google ad, for example. A Google ad is an extension of your sense of sight, you can read it, but that’s it. A television or online video ad is an extension of your senses of sight and sound. It’s a richer experience, but it’s still limited.
If your brand exists solely online, extending your customers’ senses is limited to sight and sound. They can’t touch your product before buying it, they can’t smell it, they can’t taste it. With physical retail they can use more of their senses, which leads to a more memorable experience.
Here’s an example from a brand we worked with at Appear Here.
MATEBIKE: A jolt of inspiration
Anyone who’s ever bought a bike knows that it’s quite a personal experience, and at roughly £2,000, a MATEBIKE is an investment not to be made lightly. What MATEBIKE noticed was that, while they received a healthy amount of traffic to their website, when it came to converting that traffic to sales, the numbers didn’t add up.
Why? According to MATEBIKE UK Partner, Harris Qureshi, “people wanted to touch and feel the bike, test ride it”. Having a physical presence quickly became an important part of MATEBIKE’s sales and marketing strategy. They learned how to use retail as media. They saw that traffic wasn’t converting, but instead of pumping more money into digital media, they opened a temporary store.
Moving from city to city on flexible leases, allowed them to meet more customers, and to inspire them to buy their bike by appealing to senses in addition to sight and sound.
Dishoom: Taking the frustration out of queuing
The idea of physical space as media (or a marketing channel) isn’t new, and it doesn’t just apply to retail. Restaurants do it, too. Before the pandemic, queues of Londoners outside of popular Indian restaurant chain, Dishoom, were a common sight.
Dishoom doesn’t take bookings (well, it didn’t use to). Instead, customers wait outside until a table becomes available. It’s fantastic marketing for the restaurant, and comes at no extra cost to them.
And the reason customers don’t mind standing in line outside (other than the great food)? Dishoom staff regularly walk the queue handing out free little glasses of masala chai. Not only have Dishoom figured out a way to use their space as a media channel, they’ve curating an entire experience out of queuing, something the entertainment industry knows well.
A growing number of retailers are adding a technological twist to their waiting experience. They’re enabling customers to forgo physical queues altogether by joining digital queues through their phones, or to schedule appointments for specific services inside of stores.
The queue is the commercial break
Television channels have a Head of Planning and Scheduling, someone responsible for curating the most creative and relevant schedule to keep their audience entertained. It’s time for physical retailers to hire for a similar role.
If the in-store experience is the main event, the show, then think of the waiting experience as a commercial break. What can you do to get people excited about what’s coming? That’s what Dishoom does. The meal inside the restaurant is the main event, while the queue with free drinks is the commercial break.
More senses, better experiences
Nothing that I’ve spoken about here is new. In the media industry it’s often said that content is king. The same is true for retail. The more you can do to attract, and interact with customers, the better. Everything is content, from the product, to the space itself, to the queue outside.
Digital platforms, newspapers, magazines, videos, they are all media, but they are limited. Physical retail, on the other hand, is quite simply the whole package.
Gastón Tourn is CMO of Appear Here, the world’s leading marketplace for retail space. He previously worked for Google across several international markets. Gastón studied Communication at the University of Buenos Aires, completed an MBA programme in Marketing at The Wharton School and a Master’s in Creative Writing at Oxford University. If that wasn’t nerd enough, he is currently studying for a Master’s in Software Engineering at Harvard University, as he dreams of becoming a code poet.