The future is experiential rather than transactional; immersive storytelling using innovative, sensory-based showrooms that connect with consumers through emotional narratives

David Todd McCarty
David Todd McCarty has spent a career as a branding consultant, telling stories that attempt to explain human behavior in relation to commerce, from Dallas to Dubai, Moscow to Miami.

The Future

Of Retail

Imagine walking into the flagship showroom of your favorite brand, where your senses are immediately enveloped in a captivating manifestation of the brand’s identity—an immersive encounter that lingers in your memory long after you’ve departed. Here, you’re not focused on the product, but the experience itself. It’s a magical, elusive, and surprising journey.

You explore the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes without worrying about size, color, availability, or fit. You’re on a journey to connect with yourself, and the eventual sale is merely the culmination of the brand experience. It becomes a cherished memento—a receipt capturing an unforgettable encounter.

In the meantime, you allow yourself to be guided by a mix of artificial intelligence-driven virtual reality and high-tech production, innovative technology, and authentic sensory explorations, a narrative that promises a more fulfilling life. All that is required is a deeper relationship with the brand so that you can become part of the story.

Is A Sensory

For years, the media has incessantly spoke of the decline of brick-and-mortar retail, resulting in the inevitable death of malls. Fortunately, to borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, reports of the mall’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. 

While online shopping has grown and evolved, it still accounts for less than 15% of total retail sales in the US. The over-expansion of retail in America was decades in the making, so even a significant collapse of our physical retail inventory could be explained as nothing more than a healthy, long-overdue correction. 

America is dramatically over-retailed compared to other markets. According to the CoStar Group, a leading supplier of data analytics to the commercial real estate industry, America currently has approximately 42 sf of retail per capita, whereas the United Kingdom, a much more densely populated market than the rest of Europe, comes in at a mere 22sf/pp.

A reckoning was inevitable.


So, what’s next?

The evolution of the retail store has always been in a constant state of flux. We’ve seen the evolution from general stores to department stores, malls, big box concepts, and e-commerce. We now find ourselves navigating the fractured world of social media and subscription services. So, what’s next?

Human beings are social creatures, evolved to live in communities. We are drawn to shared experiences, often choosing to watch a performance, athletic event, motion picture, or exhibition with others, even though we can now experience these events with even greater production value in the privacy and security of our own homes. 

We are also sensory beings, suited to gathering input about the world around us through touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. We desire experiences, not just possessions, and we are far more driven by our hearts than our heads. Traditional retail was designed around product distribution. Madison Avenue sold us the dream, and Main Street offered us the opportunity to see the product in person and try it out. But that’s changing. 

The future of retail will be brand showrooms, not distribution centers. As overnight and even same-day shipping has become ubiquitous, merchandise can be delivered to your door within days or even hours, using regional distribution centers, so there is no need for overstock, and no reason to lug things home from a central location. 

Stores will become experiential destinations, meticulously designed to invite you to try on a new lifestyle. The brand experience will combine high and low-tech, textures and scents with virtual reality, video, and sound. Tablet-wielding brand evangelists will guide you through the seamless process of completing the order, enabling contact-free payment and hassle-free delivery.

Beyond the inspiring technology and sensory displays, a significant expenditure will be devoted to brand ambassadors: highly-trained individuals capable of walking consumers through the brand experience, offering them a compelling emotional narrative and a satisfying sensory immersion. Think of actors putting on a show rather than mere salespeople. Cast members, not cashiers.

The fusion of immersive experience, cutting edge-tech and exceptional human interactions will set forth a new chapter in the evolution of retail.

Now imagine the best malls in the country, reinvented as awe-inspiring collections of flagship showrooms, featuring best-in-class brands. You plan your adventure using an app that schedules all your appointments and provides your digital dossier to the brand specialist in advance. Consequently, they receive you like the VIP customer you are, every time.

You depart these extraordinary spaces invigorated and satisfied, all your purchases sent to your home ahead of you, all your experiences captured in digital form to be shared with friends and family online, and all your likes and dislikes noted and cataloged for future reference.

Some might assume that traditional retail has run its course and is no longer practical when we can order anything in the world on our phones without leaving the house. But that ignores the vital human element, one that lies at the very core of human society. Time and again, we think we want the speed and efficiency of cold technology before realizing that we miss the unpredictable warmth of human culture and interaction. 

Do you agree with this?
Do you disagree or have a completely different perspective?
We’d love to know