Skip to main content
Retail Phase Change

Retail Phase Change: Glimpsing the Future of Experiential Retail at Situ Live

By June 20, 2022June 24th, 2022No Comments10 min read

The Situ Live storefront from afar – note the prominent digital signage to the left of the entrance, and a beautiful Maserati to the right. Two very different approaches to grab one’s attention, both very effective.

There’s a special place in my heart reserved for retailers that design and deliver in-store experiences that reward customers for coming into the store.

One such retailer is Situ Live at the Westfield London Shopping Centre. It’s a favorite of mine, and I make a point to spend time in the store whenever I’m visiting London. Situ Live gets it right on so many levels. It’s a case study in how traditional retail can be additive to the customer journey. Curious to know what sets Situ Live apart? Read on…

Glimpsing the Future of Experiential Retail at Situ Live

I’m a quick study when it comes to retail spaces. Usually within just a few moments of entering a store, I can tell you what works about the store, and what doesn’t. I’m unapologetically judgmental when it comes to retail. I can’t help myself. It’s a behavioral characteristic I honed over my many, many years spent as a retailer myself.

I’m also tough to impress. When you’ve been around the industry as long as I have, you begin to easily see through retailers’ half-hearted attempts at creating memorable in-store experiences. And to put it bluntly, this is the norm across much of the retail world. It’s a shame to say it, but the vast majority of retailers have mastered the art of delivering uninspired, forgettable in-store experiences.

But for as critical as I am of mediocrity, I’ll never stop singing the praises of retailers that get it right.
It's fun!

Situ Live describes itself as a “discovery playhouse.” Spend a few minutes in the store and you’ll soon understand why. It’s set up to encourage playful discovery of an incredibly broad array of products. The entire front of the store is made of glass – it’s a window-shopper’s paradise. The products on display rotate frequently, but the last time I was in London, a blue Maserati was parked temptingly just behind the glass storefront. And while the Maserati is what initially drew me in, I spent the next hour learning not just about my new favorite sports car, but about fitness products, kitchen appliances and everything in between. Discovering new things is fun, and Situ Live delivers it in spades.

But Situ Live’s positioning as a discovery playhouse isn’t all fun and games. The store is designed to foster a thrill of discovery at every turn. Novel experiences are known to cause a rush of dopamine. Traveling to new places, meeting new people and taking part in new experiences – each of these can cause a dopamine response that leaves us craving more. The same can be said for discovering new products at retail, and Situ Live has tapped into this quite successfully.

Passionate, Knowledgeable Salespeople

The store is mostly organized by domain, which is effective because it helps customers visualize how the products on display could fit within their lives. This merchandising approach in itself isn’t novel. But what IS unique is how Situ Live manages to staff its stores with domain-area experts who are both deeply knowledgeable and passionate about their respective domains. And it’s not simply a matter of Situ Live being great at recruiting (although they certainly are). They hire great people because Situ Live is a great place to work. Consider this: would you rather work a fashion sales job where you’re measured on how many shirts you fold in 

a day, or at a place like Situ Live where you’re measured on how well you connect with customers? Situ Live encourages the latter, and it shines through in each customer interaction. Case in point, on my last visit to Situ Live, I spent a good amount of time in the living room, sitting on a comfy couch learning all about the latest connected home products from someone who clearly lives the digital lifestyle he’s selling. That sort of authenticity can’t be taught or faked, and I applaud Situ Live for taking the time to hire salespeople who are perfectly suited to their domain, and creating an environment where they can flourish as salespeople.

Digital Discovery

Nearly every consumer walks into a store with a supercomputer in hand, but few retailers know how to take advantage.

Situ Live not only gets it, they built the whole in-store experience with the goal of getting customers’ phones out of their pockets and purses and participating in the product-discovery process. Something you’ll immediately notice about Situ Live is the lack of printed product material, and that’s by design. Rather than bombard customers with printed signage, customers simply scan product-specific QR codes to learn more about the products on display. Only registered customers can scan the QR codes, which means Situ Live can map each point of digital engagement as customers make their way through the store. Think about that for a second. Situ Live can recreate the customer’s physical in-store journey, and they know which products caught the customer’s eye along the way. Mapping the digital path to purchase in a physical store has eluded traditional retailers until now, but Situ Live has cracked the code not only in collecting first-party data about its shoppers, but also opening the door to zero-party data that customers willingly share as part of their in-store experience.

The Situ Live call-to-action is beautifully simple.

Gathering meaningful data at scale in a traditional retail setting was next to impossible. But all that is changing, and Situ Live is paving the way. Gathering engagement data at the store level and matching that data to individual customers’ phones is a breakthrough that cannot be overstated. In aggregate, this data can help retailers understand customers’ in-store behavior to better anticipate and predict future behavior. And at the individual level, connecting with shoppers via their phones provides retailers a direct line to influence them long after they leave the store, and even provide remarketing opportunities to either entice them back into the store or encourage online purchases.

In my view, Situ Live has created an omnichannel juggernaut and I fully expect to see other retailers embrace their model. As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery, and copycats are already popping up (Productpine in Amsterdam, for example).

Predicting the Future 

Predicting the Future 

Predicting the Future 

Predicting the Future 

Predicting the Future 

Predicting the Future 

Here’s the living room vignette, an inviting place to get comfortable and learn about the latest connected home products.

Immersion = Conversion

Situ Live’s CEO and founder Warren Richmond has spoken at length about the importance of experiencing products before making a purchase, and he built Situ Live to make this possible. In his own words, “I strongly believe physical retail is the only way consumers can ensure they are making the right purchase decision. To buy the best oven, I truly think you need to taste the food it produces. To pick premium speakers, you need to listen to the music. To select a coffee machine, taste the coffee.”

The store was designed with demonstration in mind - to create first-hand experiences that enable customers to not just imagine how a particular product will fit into their lives, but to see, hear, smell, taste and feel it for themselves. Immersing customers in sensory experiences creates a deeper connection and accelerates them along their path to purchase.

Freedom from Fulfillment

Customers should not expect to walk into Situ Live and walk out with a product. The retailer has - quite wisely - removed itself from the fulfillment equation. Situ Live provides the showroom environment for brands to showcase their products, but it’s entirely up to the brands to manage the sale.

This gives Situ Live the ability to establish merchandise authority free from the shackles of the supply chain.

In fact, brands control the entire process once a customer scans a QR code. Some brands choose to point to their website and funnel customers to their own web storefront. Others send customers directly to Amazon. It matters not to Situ Live, as they’ve successfully removed themselves from the purchasing process. It’s up to the brands to manage inventory levels, shipping charges and returns. This works beautifully for Situ Live as they can devote 100% of their effort to curating the in-store shopping experience and not be bothered by the many headaches that come with order fulfillment.

A fully functional kitchen in the store. Appliances line the counter, many of which are used when hosting in-store cooking demonstrations.

Timing is Everything

Situ Live opened its doors in Spring of 2021. After a year lost to pandemic lockdown, many had grown tired of shopping online and were craving a return to the retail rituals they so desperately missed. Warren Richmond and his team seized this opportunity and created a playground for retail adventure-seekers as they became comfortable resuming their pre-pandemic shopping habits. And the store’s open design made it easy to manage traffic flow and ensure that proper social distancing was maintained throughout the shopping experience.

Something Familiar, Something New

Another stroke of genius at Situ Live is how it features a balanced mix of what it calls ‘anchor,’ ‘showcase’ and ‘discovery’ brands. Anchor brands are established, well-known brands – often times these are the brands that initially attract customers into the store. Situ Live describes showcase brands as those who are wanting to move from functional retailing to emotional retailing. And discovery brands – as the name implies – are brands that are new to market, many of which have new-to-market, ground-breaking products or services but aren’t yet well-known to most consumers.

This mix of established and emerging brands is brilliant in that there will always be notable brands to draw customers in. But once in the store, those customers are sure to discover brands that are entirely new to them. 

The Future is Bright

Situ Live has tapped into something quite powerful. They managed to elevate many of the best attributes of in-store shopping, simultaneously weaving digital engagement into the mix in a way that enriches the customer experience, while simultaneously capturing data that eluded the physical retail world until now.

It remains to be seen how Situ Live will influence the rest of the retail world. But I’m quite confident this sort of immersive, experiential retailing will become much more prevalent in the months and years ahead.

Many retailers today are at a crossroads with respect to their digital strategies. For most, they look at an innovative retailer like Situ Live and simply can’t fathom taking such a leap to modernize their in-store experience. Fear of risk sets in and they fall into a loop of inaction, further widening the chasm between where they are and where they need to be.

But fear not! You don’t need to go all-in on a digital transformation to affect meaningful change. As the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. So take that first step. Start with an honest assessment of what your customers experience in store today, and whether you think technology could help improve that experience. If the answer is yes, take the next step and pilot some basic changes in a single store and measure the response in terms of sales lift, customer engagement, salesperson feedback and overall customer satisfaction. A successful pilot will earn the support of key stakeholders and pave the way for much broader use of in-store technology in the future.

Andy Austin

 Retail Phase Change

Retail Phase Change is a platform for Andy Austin to share his perspective and insights on the ever-changing retail landscape. With over two decades of experience leveraging technology to improve the customer experience, he is a longtime retailer and passionate advocate for the creative use of technology as an engaging sales tool, creating exciting, cutting-edge solutions for age-old problems at retail. Andy is president of The Industrious, a retail consultancy that elevates brands by creating bold and memorable experiences that spark deep emotional connections in-store.