From furniture to clothes, brands pitch experiences to attract millennial

Royal Enfield looks to build a biking community around its brand, while Fabindia has a café and a children’s entertainment zone inside its new experience centres
What does it take to sell clothes, mobile phones, furniture, bikes, cars and all else to millennial customers? Engaging them with the right experience say brand custodians at Fab India, Royal Enfield, Pepperfry, One Plus, RedMi and many others. Over the past year and more, several brands have experimented with their retail outlets or opened up new ones to serve up a range of experiences—café, wellness centres, children’s playrooms, reading corners and what have you—apart from their core offering. The brand promise, they say, is increasingly about values and emotional connections as much as it is about a product or a service to meet a need.


Ajay Kapoor, president-Retail at Fabindia that has opened 11 centres over the past year or so said that experience centres mark a shift from transactional exchanges to a more experiential and interactive retail experience. FabIndia plans to go for 30 more centres in the coming months. “As per the industry norm, re-developing a store leads to 6-7 per cent sales growth whereas with experience centres we are experiencing a jump of up to 30 per cent,” said Kapoor.


Brands are interpreting the millennial rush for experience in different ways. Some see it as a need to entertain the customer, others look to align the brand to specific tastes and expectations. Royal Enfield stores for instance are built to push the feeling of camaraderie among bikers, to create an ambience where enthusiasts can share their passion about riding, said its spokesperson. The centres offer a glimpse into the brand’s history and its position within the shared heritage of the world of biking and adventure. The Royal Enfield Garage Cafe in Goa, for instance, hosts a motorcycle museum, customisation area, a café and a retail store.


Brands such as Pepperfry, born and bred in the digital universe, look at experience centres as physical outposts that help bring customers into the fold. Customers want to touch, feel and interact with furniture, said its spokesperson. Pepperfry Studios help the consumer choose the right type of furniture and have a conversion (customers to footfalls) ratio of over 50 per cent. “The average ticket size of a studio order is three times that of an online order. Studios contribute 30 per cent to our topline and we have seen catchment sales go up by 90-100 per cent in areas where we have launched a Studio,” the spokesperson added. The company has ramped up its offline strategy significantly, going from 29 Studios at the end of FY2018 to 52, end of FY2019. The company said that it was targeting an increase in their contribution to the topline from 30 to 45 per cent.


One Plus that started with an online-only presence and set up its first experience store in Bengaluru has now expanded to Chennai and Delhi. Vikas Agarwal, general manager, One Plus India says Indian consumers prefer to touch and feel the product before making their purchase. Besides premium buyers look for a value-added experience woven around their core purchase. Hence Agarwal added, One Plus serves gourmet coffee and creates an ambience of exclusivity in its centres.


Rival mobile handset brand Xiaomi has five ‘Mi Home’ stores across Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. The centres are a way for the brand to reach out to customers directly thereby removing multiple operational costs and inefficiencies said the company’s spokesperson.


For home décor and lifestyle brands experience centres are a longstanding tradition. KE Ranganathan, managing director, Roca Bathroom Products said that they help provide a seamless retail experience. For some it is a way to showcase the diverse set of products in its fold and establish an umbrella brand. Vasanth Kumar, managing director, Lifestyle International said they are setting up large (50,000 square feet) centres where its products will be retailed.


However experience centres are much more than retail showrooms. They are not about products or pricing, but a place where one can relax and enjoy the entire shopping experience say the brands that are working on creating such centres. For bike brand Jawa, experience stores create a warm brand experience, said Ashish Joshi, chief executive officer, Classic Legends. Here buyers can walk in, read about the bike’s Czechoslovakian origins, dig into motorcycle folklore or buy T-shirts and accessories or browse around the small library of books located in the space. The art of retail it would appear is all about the art of mastering the subtle sales pitch.