The rise of experiential stores in India  

Arushi Sakhuja  
The way real estate is being used has changed drastically over the years; in some cases, it works as the conventional source of investment or as commercial/ resident use. But since the pandemic, the change in consumer behaviour has given birth to newer kinds of real estate in the commercial world — the rise of experiential retail stores. Going beyond just a regular store, retail stores have started leveraging experiences for customers rather than products. The old model of in-store (and even online) retail strictly focused on products being sold is disappearing and a more engaging experience is now in vogue. Customers now look for a combination of both entertainment and retail. Hence being creative with the use of real estate not only generates profit but creates experiences. 
According to a study conducted by Forbes in 2019, “The trend has been driven largely by millennials and their preference for experiences over things.” A study from Harris Group found that 72% of millennials prefer to spend money on experiences rather than material things. 
However, the real magic behind retail stores, is that these stores allow their customers to connect with them in a more immersive manner. By connecting with the consumers at all touch points, the technologies that promote experiential retail also enable the retailers to influence consumer behaviour. A notable example is Samsung’s $43 million pop-up that features its products but does not have any for sale.  But Tarun Tahiliani’s new address with his latest flagship store in Bangalore raises the bar for experiential stores. Nestled in the heart of the city, the store is housed in a heritage home. There are private rooms upstairs for fittings and the aura is all about collections displayed as though they are inhabitants of the home. 
A fallout of technology 
The focal point of the experiential retail approach creates a unique interpersonal experience that shapes their perception of a brand and hence leads to them coming back for more. Further, the emergence of virtual reality, augmented reality, and improved mobile technology will continue to push retail brands to add layers and new experiences to their traditional retail models.  
While the US is the hub for such stores — and a mecca of consumerism — India has also seen a steady rise in the clout of experiential spaces. Brands understand that the need of the hour is to create a personal experience to set themselves apart from their competitors and thrive in the competitive world. India too is gearing up for a new retail experience.  
According to the Freeman Global Brand Experience study, more than a third of CMOs said they plan to spend 21% to 50% of their budgets on brand experiences over the next several years. It’s also interesting to note that 80% of marketers believe live events are critical to their company’s success, and 77% use experiential marketing as a vital part of a brand’s advertising strategy. Experiential retail is counterbalancing the growing popularity of e-commerce, and ensuring profitability by increasing the brand’s physical presence, said a report by CBRE. It further stated, “following the pandemic, the productivity of retail spaces came into sharp focus, with ‘experience’ becoming more crucial because of its ability to increase customer engagement and not just sales. “Anshuman Magazine, chairperson and chief executive, India, South-East Asia, Middle East, and Africa, CBRE also noted that brands are resizing and recalibrating their physical store strategies to diversify their portfolio and expand their footprint, with ‘experience’ stores bridging the retailer-consumer gap.  
Today’s educated consumers prioritize creating memories, and these positive and memorable experiences influence consumers to make purchases more than traditional marketing. In fact, 74% of event attendees also had a more positive opinion about the company, brand, or product being promoted after an event, said a study by Forbes. 98% of users feel more inclined to purchase after attending an activation, and hence we can say that the human touch and immersive experience go a long way for brands and pays off eventually. Brands are realizing the potential of experience centres — and it works as a brand’s USP since it is intangible since cannot truly recreate or copied. This strategy is all about creating a meaningful experience that’ll engage the audiences, in relevant ways.  “Giving immersive shopping experiences to our customers has always been our top priority because our eclectic collection of home furnishings and furniture at Sarita Handa has always been craft-centric. With Sarita Handa Now, we have ushered in a new design language so we wanted to stimulate their senses by creating tactile, engaging experiences. Moreover, having an experiential space is a “must-have” because it gives customer’s a feel of the brand and its ethos,” quotes Mrs Sarita Handa, Founder and Creative Director, Sarita Handa NOW 
experiential stores
Mrs Suparna Handa (L) and Mrs Sarita Handa (R)
 
Experience stores can broadly be categorised into those that are aesthetic like fashion stores, staging stores like home décor stores and product user experience stores like technology. Apparel retailers are using technology like virtual trial rooms and smart mirrors for customers to ‘experience’ the outfit or accessory, and electronic stores are using technology such as augmented reality to offer a simulated experience of the gadgets are becoming common;and home décor brands are giving consumers a chance to have a tactile experience of the product. Each of the experiential stores a has a unique USP to cater to the different selling. From artistic cafés and stores to ones that offer customers a chance to touch, feel and engage with a product. These stores have also been located carefully (mostly closer to airports) to ensure a customer can visit a new city just for the store. Here are a few experiential retail stores in India that are leading the way.  
The human touch  
As we move towards online shopping ecosystems, some still prefer the traditional tactile experience of touching and seeing before purchasing a product; the feel and smell of a physical store can be captivating. After the pandemic, individuals wished to go back to in-person shopping experiences, and this urged retailers to experiment with newer modes of experiences and sales. While some retailing on e-commerce platforms started hosting pop-ups; others introduced staging stores. Luxury brand Ikai Asai was one such homegrown brand to organize an interesting experiential pop-up at the AM/PM Store in DLF Emporio where the brand collaborated with Chef Bani Nanda for a workshop on the art of table scaping. This was an unusual way to introduce consumers to touch, feel and experience the lightweight Ikai Asai products — that are not available in stores — before purchasing the product.  
experiential stores
Ikai Asai X Ravi Vazirani
Sprawling spaces 
Some luxury brands in the design and décor space like the Dash Square flagship store in Bengaluru,  Beyond Designs experience centre in New Delhi and Dialogues by Nirmal’s to name a few are changing the way people experience home décor retail. Dash Square’s flagship store on New Airport Road, Bengaluru is home to the biggest experience centre of the brand in India. The store spans over 30,000 square feet with multiple brands under one roof. Dash Bespoke 3.0. changed the furniture buying experience where “customized furniture met Home Décor met Interior Design,” according to the store’s founder. The new store experience allows the consumer a chance to tailor-make furniture to suit their home requirements. Inside the store, you can experience unique set-ups of each space in the room to truly experience the product in use.  
experiential stores
Dash Square flagship store in Bengaluru
Bringing the concept of a home store and bistro into one is the Beyond Designs 8,000 square-feet bright space nestled on MG Road in New Delhi. The store is a unique walk-through concept displaying a formal living room, dining room, bar lounge, bedroom and bathrooms along with an exclusive area dedicated to accessory shopping, and a beautiful 52-seater cafe with a private dining area. If you desire a quick meal while you’re on the go, the bistro is the perfect place to stop. Beyond Designs Home and Bistro is the brainchild of Founder and Restaurateur Neha Gupta. It brings together her design’s aesthetics with her passion for food. Exploring her passion for food, Gupta decided to expand the scope of Beyond Designs with a new vertical – The Bistro which is housed in their flagship store. “As a designer, I take interest in all artistic areas, be it food, fashion or hosting events. Everything revolves around good taste and an eye for detail. For me, the culinary space is another such area. So, it didn’t seem like much of a diverse idea. The inspiration came from all the concept stores I visited while travelling abroad that offered beautiful shopping and dining experiences. I wanted to recreate that experience for our patrons here in Delhi,” she said.  
experiential stores
Beyond Designs experiential Delhi store
Upon stepping into the space, you will be greeted with grand chandeliers, gorgeous white marble-topped tables, chic cane chairs that redefine vintage, and classic sofas upholstered in floral fabric, antique-inspired accessories and charming classic-contemporary décor brimming with warm and romantic vibe that take you straight to the Parisian streets. The display experiments with shapes, forms, and surfaces to bring to life varied influences: art deco, graphic futurism, and lyrical decadence.  
Yet another store that promises an experiential journey is in the Delhi Design District on MG Road — Dialogues by Nirmal’s. Spanning over an area of 6,500 sqft, the experience centre showcases exclusive collections of interior fabrics, wall coverings, artefacts, and bed linen, curated from across the world, that customers can, touch, feel and experience before purchasing. The store design was ideated on the lines of international home décor brand Maison & Objet to offer an international experience in the capital city Speaking on the ideology behind the store, Sachin Chauhan – Director, Dialogues by Nirmals shared, “When you think about a furnishings store, almost immediately a stack of catalogues, plenty of hangers and fabric rolls come to your mind, we wanted to change that. Our idea was to offer something different to the country.” He further said, “we wanted to have a space that doesn’t create any hindrance to the creative thought process of our guests.  We have created 7 Different spaces within our store that any guest can interact with and can take inspiration from. All these sections are designed in a way to look like a part of a modern home. Apart from these spaces, we also have a hall that houses all the samples, it is right in the centre in order to serve all our guests but does not take away from the aesthetics of the store but simply adds to it.”  
The store design takes care to accommodate multiple languages or dialogues in home interiors and such individually tailored solutions are possible only when there is an exchange of ideas between the Dialogues team and clients. Hence the brand hosts at their experience centre a series of wonderful dialogues between the creativity of the clients and their offerings that result in stories that are worth conversations.  
experiential stores
Serendity Delhi
Located in the village of Jaunapur in New Delhi, Serendipity is a haven for those who love to travel. A unique Travel inspired Concept Store, set in a beautifully restored Haveli by Kuldeep Kaur, the creative mind behind this Lifestyle Store with a Rooftop Café, it boasts gorgeous views of the historic Mehrauli area. Founder and Designer Kuldeep Kaur has parlayed her flair for Interior Design and Travel into a beautifully curated space with Textiles, Furniture and Vintage finds from international markets.   
A restored haveli spanning three floors the store guarantees an experience for all your desires. Full of linen, furnishings, clothes, jewellery and furniture, Serendipity, offers a retail experience along with a culinary delight at their rooftop which is nothing short of gorgeous. Serendipity focuses on the idea that “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” 
Aesthetic stores  
While home décor brand champion the tactile sense organ, fashion stores often captivate your visual senses as they take you into a world of fashion and art. The two come together in harmony to delight your senses and give you an artistic and creative lens while picking out extravagant couture. Fashion designers often showcase their style sensibilities through the artistic interiors of their stores. While some collaborate with others for a unique experience, others showcase a new line or product category; and others have a private consulting room to make the experience personalised.  
Sabyasachi, the name that holds immense weight in the fashion world, is synonymous with opulent stores that promise grandeur and royalty as you enter the store. His newest addition to the gamut of stores is the one in New York City at 160 Christopher Street — which also created a lot of buzz in the news last month and is also the e first international flagship store. The store celebrates the rich culture of India and is unapologetically maximalist, decadent, and ornamental. It is a celebration of the handmade and of the finest Indian artisanship with a uniquely modern perspective. But what truly makes this experience is the design and architecture of the store, the breath-taking expanse and attention to detailing instantly transport you into a regal world of Indian artisanship which is intrinsically Sabyasachi. “I have spent the last two decades creating a brand rooted in heritage, artistry and a point of view that is authentically Indian. It’s time for me to share this with the world,” said Sabyasachi Mukherjee. “The New York edit shamelessly interlaces the east and west, the traditional and rebellious, the precious and profane, and the sensorial with the intellectual,” the designer further adds. The Bengal Tiger insignia is deconstructed across prints and fine artistry. The tropical flora and fauna of Bengal’s Sundarbans are hand painted by the Sabyasachi Art Foundation and digitally rendered into now classic house prints. The New York edit maps the journey from Kolkata to New York and revels in the decadence of Indian craft, heritage, and the spirit of a new renaissance.  
experiential stores
Into the world of Sabyasachi
experiential stores
Inside the new Sabyasachi New York store
But when you speak of aesthetically curated stores, one can’t miss the new JJ Valaya experiential and flagship store ‘The World of Valaya’ at the JW Marriott Hotel in Aerocity, Delhi. The awe-inspiring beauty of the store spread across 12,000 square feet and two storeys feature the designer’s three primary loves under one roof — fashion, home, and photography. To make the immersive in the true sense of the term, everything in the store has been designed, developed, or curated by the master couturier and takes a maximalist route to design.  
Upon stepping into the store you with stumble on a small reception, and the store also has a jewellery section adorned with pieces from Aulerth, and the brand’s new bridge-to-luxury brand, JJV. A regal and opulent winding staircase takes you up to the most special chamber — a room dedicated to some of his most expensive and intricate bridal lehenga with a museum-style display. Finally, the store has a section for couture and home décor and it boasts scene photographic works of the designer.  
experiential stores
JJ Valaya Aerocity. Shot by Ashish Sahi
experiential stores
JJ Valaya Shot by Ashish Sahi
The future of experiential stores  
With the increasing need for emotional connection, long-lasting experience and the tactile experience of new product categories or modern technologies, brands are being forced to rethink their strategies and push creative boundaries when it comes on to the use of space. While the e-commerce space is booming, customers still want to touch and feel, they walk into a store and see the products that is paving the way for more experiential stores across the globe.  
An experiential store creates a memory and a lasting experience that forms a unique connection with the clientele and will also influence the purchasing power. However, experiences are not limited just to stores, pop-up shows account for experiential spaces as well as opposed to aggressive, hard-sell marketing tactics, give breathing space to the consumer, and let them be themselves. These spaces curated to suit the brand, style, and audience ensure it’s a delight not only for the brand but also for the consumer. But the bottom line remains that engaging with the customers is a very vital factor and retailers are getting creative as they experiment and try new methods of engagement and experiences. 
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