Marble has been in conversation with partners Appear Here, exploring the power of physical retail experiences in a post-pandemic world, and looking at the trends that lie ahead for both brands and consumers who choose to engage through experiential means.

Makin’ Moves in the Neighbourhood

What is the value of bringing a brand to life in a physical space? 

The way we discover brands, products and content has fundamentally shifted. We’ve got screen fatigue. At their worst, digital ads can be incredibly creepy (how many times over the last month have you thought: “is my phone listening to me?!”), and even at their best, we’re largely ignoring them. There’s something called ‘banner blindness’, which is a relatively new phenomenon where our brains have become programmed to unconsciously ignore banner-like or ad-like information on websites and social media. Even when we don’t ignore them, we only spend an average of 1.42 seconds looking at a digital ad. Contrast this to an average of 13 minutes spent inside a physical store: the impact on memory, lived experience, connection and often loyalty is exponentially greater.

It’s often cheaper, too. With increasing competition for the same online keywords, brands using storefronts as a media channel often see more affordable customer acquisition costs than on Google.

Layer on top the opportunity to really tell a story, connect your brand to a specific moment in time, and bring your community together to experience your brand and product in real life, and building physical space into your brand strategy seems like a no-brainer.

Will this be affected by the shrinking high street? Has this phenomenon been caused by Covid, do you think?

We were already seeing the high street change before the pandemic, but the pace of change has rapidly accelerated over the last year and a half. Customers were already demanding the kind of authentic experiences and service that they couldn’t get online, and the big chains that couldn’t (or neglected to) deliver this, didn’t survive. What’s left in their wake, though, is opportunity – and we’re seeing 1000s of independent brands looking to launch new ideas in their place.

It feels like a changing of the guard, but one that I’m optimistic about. Stores are no longer places where we simply buy things. After the last year and a half, we’re all craving personal connection more than ever, and there’s a real opportunity to transform our streets into what they always should have been: places for diverse voices and community; where we eat, drink and discover new ideas; built around creating experiences; and ever-changing. 

I love this quote from NOTO Botanics on running a store during lockdown: “Being a community space right now means just being able to be open and to possibly be the one thing that my customer looks forward to doing in their week. Possibly being one of the very few exchanges in general that they have that week or month even. Maybe just being here and being able to support my community in the most simple way by being open is what I need to do​​.”

Can you talk through some of the experiential trends you’re expecting to see in 2022? 

We’re already seeing, and I think we’ll continue to see, the rise of the neighbourhood location. During the pandemic, people were forced into much smaller worlds, shopping in neighbourhood stores and buying more locally sourced products. The vast majority plan to continue to do so – turns out people quite like their local butcher knowing their name and their favourite cut of meat. 

The big upside for brands is that they no longer need to be in central London to get people’s attention. We’re seeing some of the smartest launching in neighborhood spaces and connecting much more deeply with local communities. Demand for stores in ‘cool neighborhoods’ versus city centre high streets has gone up by 56% compared to pre-Covid.

I’d also bet on brands continuing to create more experiential activity in public spaces, rather than closed-off events. Even with restrictions eased, people want to congregate outside in parks and restaurants – and brands are looking to see how they can play a bigger role in those in-between spaces.

From a wider lens, sustainability will (hopefully!) shift from a consideration to a core focus. Public demand for climate action is at an all-time high and customers are holding businesses to account. They’re keener than ever to understand where a product comes from and what brands really stand for. For the brands where this is already table stakes, physical spaces can be an incredible canvas to show, not just tell, that story.

What have been some of your favourite live experiences from industry peers/produced by Appear Here this year?

We’re big believers that when you democratise access to space you unlock creativity, and over the last year this has meant everything from turning an old NY department store into a tennis centre, to AR tattoo parlours letting people try before they buy, to a (needless to say, fake) travel agency selling tickets to Mars.

The Gucci Circolo concept in Shoreditch is definitely a favourite. They transformed an iconic Sir David Adjaye-designed building in Shoreditch into a GG-wrapped wonder. It’s an incredible visual statement and a wonderful example of a legacy brand making a bold move into the unexpected. What’s most interesting is how focussed they are on embedding the space into the local community, with content such as a Gucci Café, a bookstore (by IDEA), a listening lounge and a heavy lineup of curated events. Look out for the concept to change a few more times before they leave, too.

Can you explain a bit more about the Space for Ideas competition and what it aims to do? 

Space For Ideas is Appear Here’s annual global competition to find the best new ideas in retail and experience. The competition gives the best creators, entrepreneurs and designers the opportunity to win a free two-week store in some of the world’s best retail cities and is judged by fashion and commerce powerhouses such as Dylan Jones, Natalie Massenet and Neil Blumenthal. 

Sisterhood won our Space for Change category, which awards the idea with the biggest potential to change the world for the better. Their bookshop and storytelling lab (designed by Marble) was an incredible example of how physical space can be a powerful platform for diverse voices, inspire change and build communities.