The Art of Experience-based Retail: Real World Lessons from Japan

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Unique and surprising in-store consumer engagement is fundamental to how bricks and mortar retailing will thrive in the future. On a recent study tour to Japan with the Large Format Retail Association, I was fortunate enough to experience a master-class in consumer engagement.

Here are three examples of unique and surprising consumer engagement experiences from Tokyo and Osaka.

Snow Peak Eat - Photo by Phil Schoutrop (Buchan Group)

Snow Peak Eat - Photo by Phil Schoutrop (Buchan Group)

1.      Snow Peak – Moripark Village, Tokyo

Snow Peak is a manufacturer and retailer of “camping equipment of the future” and has been in business since 1958. Snow Peak’s philosophy is that its employees are also users of its products.

The Moripark Outdoor Village store (about 50mins from central Tokyo) has two integrated offerings.  The first is a retail showroom, the second is Snow Peak Eat. Snow Peak Eat is a camp style café in which the food is prepared and served on Snow Peak camping gear and the furniture is all Snow Peak camping products. This a demonstration of its ‘we are also users’ philosophy.

In this particular example, the model is not simply to be a retailer who serves its customers coffee. Both the retail and café component could have been standalone offerings, but their combination was compelling and interesting. This is necessary to gain the attention of customers and to create an experience of the Snow Peak brand, which will ultimately increase loyalty and customer buy-in.

Saturdays Surf NYC, Osaka - Photo by Phil Schoutrop (Buchan Group)

Saturdays Surf NYC, Osaka - Photo by Phil Schoutrop (Buchan Group)

2.      Saturdays Surf, Osaka

In a similar vein to Snow Peak, Saturdays Surf built a substantial coffee offering into its retail model. Here again, it was not something tucked into the back or even right at the front of the store to entice customers in; the café offering was the hero of the fashion experience.

Saturdays Surf has a reputation globally for the quality of its coffee (which is its own brand). Customers were coming into the store for a coffee in a unique setting. The café payed homage to the brand images on the walls which displayed design inspiration and the story behind the label.

There is no better way for a consumer to experience the culture of a brand than for it to be shared with them by someone who embodies the brand over a cup of coffee.

Tsutaya Book Store, Osaka - Photo by Phil Schoutrop (Buchan Group)

Tsutaya Book Store, Osaka - Photo by Phil Schoutrop (Buchan Group)

3.      Tsutaya Book Store, Osaka 

Tsutaya Book Store appealed to the natural excitement that human’s experience when they are surprised. Within the book store there was a food and beverage offering at one end, around another corner there was a small men’s shirt studio and around another corner, a leather goods department. Each sub-department manned by a product expert.

The book store provided ample room for sitting and lounging, which encouraged customers to stay and enjoy the product and ambiance.

The other striking component of Tsutaya Book Store was the museum-like displays that combined presentation of product with a relevant history. Behind glass screens in the centre of various book departments were displays that were intriguing and informative to the curious mind. 

All of these experiences compelled the consumer to linger longer and come more often, which is necessary for retail to thrive in the modern era.