The New Frontiers in Retail – The Storytelling Store 

Why storytelling and stores?

Combining storytelling and stores might seem to some obvious, to others enigmatic and still, to others, useless. Store managers might think, “Who needs storytelling when I’m running my store efficiently and selling well?”, sales managers might say, “storytelling is for communication and marketing… just give me the tools and I’ll do the selling!” and general managers might say, “Here we go again! Some new marketing idea to mess up the works!”.

Actually, storytelling and retail have always merged in the best stores and the best salespeople. Any good salesperson can explain how they use personal stories to create empathy with the customer. Major stores have always done the same. Walking down Madison Avenue in New York City in the 60’s and entering Brooks Brothers or Abercrombie and Fitch was entering a world of luxury, attention to the customer and the fulfillment of role playing on many levels. Stories were part of the offering: stories about important events, luxury living and unique safaris or arctic adventures were part of what you bought. So really, storytelling is part of retail history. So what’s new today?

Many things have happened in retail since the sixties. But two elements have become of strategic importance in the last couple of years: engagement and data. And here is where storytelling emerges as one of the basic strategies to help excel in both. Simply put, storytelling drives engagement and allows the collection of emotional data. Sure, a solid storytelling strategy is not the only element which brings success to a product or service, but it is certainly a key element often overlooked. Pricing, marketing, communications and visual merchandising are all, obviously, part of the successful mix. But all these strategies are weaker without the synergy of a strong storytelling strategy. In older terms, it’s brand equity in the making, it’s brand awareness put into practice.


Retail Design Architecture

It may appear premature to speak about storytelling when you are in the process of architecturally designing a new store, but the contemporary approach to the customer’s journey obliges us to realize that the store has become only one of the various touch points in which the consumer engages with the brand. That engagement can be simply reassumed as the participation on various levels of storytelling in which the consumer virtually participates in the narration of self. Anthony Giddens’ studies on the Self in Late-Modernity emphasized this narration as being a fundamental aspect of our late-modern, or as some would have it, post-modern society. Consequentially, creating a fictitious story on which to base the concepts, design and execution of a retail environment is the most successful way of differentiating the sales point and avoiding turning it into a sterile technical landscape which so many retailers believe to be the future.

People need values and fantasy, not another tablet to swipe or another electronic gadget to fuddle with. So the store is the ideal setting in which the consumer becomes the protagonist of your story. Stores represent not only life-styles or persona, but an actual theater in which your story takes place. When the customer walks into a storytelling store, he or she becomes the protagonist of his or her self-narrative. This role playing is at the core of self-identity and the storytelling store should be at the core of your customer’s self.

The integration of the virtual with brick and mortar reality does not mean becoming a gadget freak. Digital technologies offer us two concrete developments: new communication platforms closer to people’s lives 24/7 and the possibility to eliminate errors, time and space in the buying process. These are great advantages. Unfortunately, people are confusing these advantages with the whole retail process and that is a nearsighted mistake. Any truly engaging in-store experience is actually a form of storytelling for the participant. Ambience, role-playing and narcissistic image projection is what people crave in a fragmented unstable society such as ours.

Reflection by Edward Rozzo – Director of Business Narrative
Research Insight by Jean Kim – Strategy Director



Excellence Design VIEW Mag
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