The idea of the “Third Place” isn’t exactly a new one; urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term in his 1989 book, The Great Good Place. He describes the third place as that place where people spend their time outside of the confines of their home (the first place) and work (the second place). A third place is a place to be social, to feel comfortable and accepted, and to exchange information and ideas that are the foundation of community life. A third place is free or fairly inexpensive, provides free or inexpensive food and drinks and is nearby and easily accessed. It is a place people tend to go to on a daily basis that feels welcoming and friends new and old can be found there; the kind of place where you become a regular.
Sounds pretty nice, right? But why should retailers and property owners care? RetailWire explains that “We are shaped and defined by our third place, whether it’s a pub, a local store, or what has become the world’s most popular third place, Starbucks.” Of that ubiquitous retailer, Forbes states “The chain has inserted itself into the American urban landscape more quickly and craftily than any retail company in history, and has forever changed the way Western companies market themselves to consumers.” Trendwatching.com, which tracks global consumer trends, explains that retailers who have successfully put this idea to use are “accommodating consumers outside of the home and office, becoming a relevant and useful part of their daily lives offering them surprise, discovery, empathy, transformation.”
When retailers become a third place they increase their brand awareness in the public space; when developers and property owners actively shape their properties into third places, they attract successful tenants and in turn, consumers. Shopping centers that have a carefully curated tenant mix that provides for the full range of consumer needs like convenience, service and experience do well, but when combined with pleasing architectural design, thoughtfully landscaped outdoor space and easy access for both pedestrian and vehicular traffic, they become a third place. Fast Company explains, “Vital third places contain the physical elements—seating, landscape, a connection to surrounding retail and other public activities—that make people feel welcome and comfortable. Spaces that are visible and easy to get to, stay in, or move through are ideal third-place territory, especially when located near public transit and other civic destinations.”
The Shops at Park Lane is a great example of a center hitting all the marks. With a tenant roster that includes Nordstrom Rack, Old Navy, Ulta and Dick’s Sporting Goods along with Aveda, Whole Foods, Bowl & Barrel and plenty of restaurants like Bar Louie and Grimaldi’s, shoppers from all walks of life have reason to stop and stay a while. Close proximity to a DART station and plenty of onsite parking makes the center easily accessible and very walkable. The most recently opened addition that brings this center to third place territory is The Park, a green space with water fountains, seating, free Wi-Fi and charging stations nestled between a Flagship Starbucks and Zoe’s Kitchen. The Park plays host to public events like GrillFest and Fitness in the Park which offers free yoga and Pilates classes led by Studio 6 instructors. CBRE’s Amanda Gross, who leases the retail portions of the center says, “The Park has been a great addition to the Shops at Park Lane. This area has become the heartbeat of the project. People are using this space as a meeting point and also a place to hang out before or after shopping and eating.”
With the rise of trends like e-tailers opening brick and mortar locations and experiential retail, shopping is no longer about just getting in and getting out. Smart retailers and property owners are creating comfortable and attractive spaces with public amenities like Wi-Fi and charging stations that are giving consumers a reason to settle in for a while, make new friends and discover a new third place.
You may not immediately recognize the term Experiential Retail, but you have certainly experienced it. At the most basic level, shoppers are already participating in experiential retail when they grab a food sample while wandering the aisles of the grocery store or when testing out multiple shades of lipstick before selecting a final color for purchase. A few savvy retailers are taking the experience concept much further and capturing the attention of that Holy Grail group of consumers: Millennials.
Forbes describes Millennials’ shopping behavior as “No longer passive. Millennials want to interact with brands, to co-create products and to participate in the brand experience,” and suggests that “Millennials today are looking for relevance and authenticity. They want to develop relationships with brands that deliver a personalized, customized experience. Brands that don’t understand and respond to these needs will fail.”
Indeed, this has been proven by one of the best specimens of retailers doing it right; Apple. Millennial shoppers in an Apple store are surrounded by people their own age and by slick, high tech products that promise to simplify their lives. Apple’s advertisements echo this appeal- they show young, hip iPhone users expressing their individuality by putting their phones to creative uses and even inventing their own apps to make their lives easier. Fast Company recently stated that “Today, a product or service is powerful because of how it connects people to something—or someone—else. It has impact because we can do something worthwhile with it, tell others about it, or have it say something about us.” This generational shift in ideals is affecting purchasing habits- at least 70% of Millennials have purchased a product that supports a cause and they’re more willing to pay extra for a product if it supports a cause they also support. Both TOMS and eyeglass retailer Warby Parker employ the “for each item we sell, we give one to those in need” approach, which has been a huge hit with this emerging group of shoppers.
With Millennials’ preference for experiences over tangible objects and consumer behavior turning increasingly digital, retailers are using their brick and mortar and flagship stores to focus more on creating a fully-immersed brand experience for the customer. The TOMS flagship store in Venice, CA provides an experience beyond just shopping for hip shoes; they offer coffee and lattes, baked goods, and plenty of seating and free Wi-Fi to perpetuate their image as not just a place to shop, but a place to hang out and to see and be seen. London-based Burberry recently launched their flagship store as a physical representation of their website, complete with the world’s tallest retail screen, performance stage, and clothing containing RFID microchips that when tried on by shoppers, transforms dressing room mirrors into screens that show how the clothes look on a catwalk. They have also done away with cash registers and equipped staff with iPads with credit card machines, similar to the checkout process at an Apple store. Menswear retailer Bonobos refers to their brick and mortar locations as Guideshops, where customers can have a beer while consulting one on one with a Guide. Purchases are completed online and shipped directly to the customer; the stores are solely there to offer a personalized and individual experience for their customers.
By using new technology and appealing to customers’ sensory experiences, forward-thinking retailers are effectively using experiential retail to form memorable and emotional connections between the customer and the brand to generate loyalty and influence purchase decisions.
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