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Simple Experiences

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Michael Alan Furniture & Design vignette
At Michael Alan Furniture & Design in Lake Havasu City, AZ, owner Chris Cooley creates an experience for customers by shopping for one-of-a-kind pieces like those shown here.

For two sisters on a Friday night, nothing beats tapas and a trip to one of three local HomeGoods stores. In December, I flew to D.C. to visit a few showrooms for the upcoming Retail Road Trip, and I extended the trip to stay the weekend with my sister. It rained the whole time, so in between wine tastings and a few games of Mario Kart, we killed time browsing the shelves of HomeGoods.

The joy of HomeGoods does not come from a meticulous display or a knowledgeable store associate (though one is always appreciated). It’s about finding cool products and that I-didn’t-know-I-needed-this-until-I-saw-it feeling. In no particular order, we passed a clownish-looking, cupcake-shaped punchbowl, a large Batman canvas and a couple of interesting reinterpretations of the elf-on-a-shelf elf. I didn’t buy anything, but not because I didn’t find anything. There was just no way everything would fit in my carry-on suitcase.

Over the last few years, I’ve written countless articles — and read three times as many — on how to make retail an experience, that this is the wave of the future and what will keep brick-and-mortar strong against the ease of the internet. I stand by my writing, but I do feel that sometimes we overthink it.  

I think David Avrin, who spoke at the ALA conference in Asheville, NC, last year, explained the experience best without ever using the term. He asked those in the audience to think about what their customers love, hate and fear about buying lighting. Then he told them to think of ways to address the hates and fears by modifying how they did business — essentially creating a better experience for the customer. It’s easy to focus on what customers love — great products, expert service, cool technology — but looking at what customers hate and fear about buying lighting made listeners stop and think about the small, simple ways they could improve the experience for customers. Sometimes, a good experience is just getting someone to return a phone call or an email within a reasonable time frame. The smallest actions make the biggest impacts.

In shaping the way our magazine looks and reads, we think about your experience with it and how we can better deliver what you come to us for. Our Idea Board this month explores two styles making their marks on traditional design. Senior Contributing Editor Kimberley Wray toured the Showtime Fabric Fair and brought back tons of great insights on what’s going on in the fabric world. And in lighting, Jennifer Pinto caught up with a few lighting manufacturers defining new roles for themselves. 

I’m not a retail expert (yet), but I do know that the experience mindset isn’t going away. It is possible to compete with free two-day shipping, and I want to know: What’s your store experience? Drop me a line (my email’s to the right) and tell me about it sometime. 

Alison Martin is Managing Editor of Furniture, Lighting & Decor

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