Retail: a physiological experience

  • Opinion
  • February 11, 2016
  • Juanita Neville-Te Rito
Retail: a physiological experience

Physiology is the way in which a living organism functions. Our physiological state can determine how we feel about a store, how we behave and our propensity to spend in that store.

A simple example of a strong physiological reaction is what happens to your body when you encounter a sudden, startling event, such as a loud bang. You feel pressure on your chest, caused by a rise in your heart and breath rates. Your body readies itself to fight or flight.

With the exception of a few specialist retailers, these particular physiological effects are not typically desirable whilst shopping, but the outcomes of creating engaging experiences of joy, delight, trust and love are. Retailers who bring shoppers into the right physiological state create magic and will reap the benefits of engaged hearts, minds and wallets. 

In the midst of this physiological theory is the ‘CX (customer experience) Heart’, a philosophy based on providing experiences through principles that always map back to the heart. The best retailers apply physical and emotional experiences to unleash authentic, differentiated and memorable connections straight from the CX Heart, with their shoppers.

It’s not hard to fathom that if a retail environment or brand has a strong, positive impact on a shopper, a sense of belief, belonging and love can be fostered.

Two brands imbuing this philosophy, whose retail operations are entirely constructed around their CX Hearts, are Build-A-Bear and Ridermakerz. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, my kids and I had personal encounters with both these brands. Little hearts were beating fast, eyes were wide and cheeks were glowing for all the right reasons.

Maxine Clark started the Build-A Bear business in 1997 and ten years later she co-founded Ridermakerz with Larry Andreini. Both are now huge retail brands, operating hundreds of stores worldwide.  

Both brands embody the ‘me-tailing’ trend by being built around the customisation of a product that is especially for the customer and the customer alone. So much more than shops, these are fabulous places where kids, parents and siblings are encouraged to make their own magic and to fall in love with their creation and a brand. These shops ooze CX Heart.

With bears, as with Ridermakerz’ customised remote control cars, you first choose your shell. Choosing takes time. In the downtown Disneyland store there are two storeys of bears in different colours, dressed in different ways. Limited edition bears, branded bears and animals, cute bears and strange bears, all at US$25. As I discovered, this is just the starting point.

Excitement levels mount as you join a line and interact with the store team, who are seasoned experts at sprinkling some fairy dust and enhancing expectations. “Michelle is going to help you build you bear in a few minutes. I know she can’t wait to meet you and your bear. How exciting. Are you excited? Have you thought of a name yet?”  We were in a place where people love their work and CX Hearts are worn on sleeves.

When we meet Michelle, she is a fairy without wings with big open eyes and a kid-friendly voice. She talks up the experience next to a glass fronted machine with stuffing whizzing around in it. My girl pushed a pump with her foot which blew stuffing right into “Beary” and he started to take shape. Next, we selected a sound and a special heart to be inserted into the bear. Undertaking a little ritual of love, Michelle guides each child to pass on special attributes to the bear from his new owner, culminating in making a special wish while holding the bear’s chosen heart super tight.  

If this is starting to sound a little goofy, trust me when I say I shed a tear at this point in the proceedings as the bear was sewn up and Michelle talked about all the adventures my daughter and her bear would go on.

Clark followed her heart in creating this brand, commenting in an interview with Forbes this year that this was the reason inserting the bear’s heart became an iconic part of the Build-A-Bear experience. She literally put the heart into CX Heart.

On our bear journey, which is similar in its experience to Ridermakerz, more retail genius moves followed. A selection of clothing and accessories the bear might need were on offer, such as a bed, roller blades and a friend. A special birth certificate was created, plus validation for a code which means lost bears may be returned to Build-a-Bear to locate their rightful owners.

The experience is immersive, fully sensory and the physiological and emotional impacts are very apparent. Build-A-Bear should also be applauded for extending its unique experience beyond bricks and mortar through a website and strong social connectivity.

Ridermakerz plays just as strongly into the CX Heart. Its site says since its inception, Ridemakerz has “been committed to the importance of play in the positive development of kids…..self-expression through the creation of one-of-a-kind toy cars or Ridez.”

“Here, here!” cry droves of parents desperately attempting to pry devices from their offspring’s sweaty grip.

It’s hard to imagine how you could top the experience of a day in the happiest place on earth, aka Disneyland, for a nine-year-old boy, but Ridermakerz did. Across the lease line, you are welcomed by an endless choice of inspiring Ridez car bodies, starting at that oh-so-deceptive price point of US$25.  

After selecting your components, including remote control, tyres, wheels, accessories and so much more, you go to the assembly area packed full of power drills and other tools.

The RZ Crew Members work side-by-side with the customisers (shoppers) enthusiastically, through games, skills tests and never-ending compliments. “What a great choice!”  “How cool are those tyres?”

They are clever and well trained. Even the youngest or most uncoordinated shopper leaves feeling like an accomplished champion.

The experience is designed around Ridemakerz’ principles called the Five C’s. These points are the pathways to their CX Heart, which is what creates and keeps the magic alive.

  1. Choice – to experience choices and options in life instills in us a sense of optimism and possibility. Customising a ride is an exercise in choice: body, style, tyres, rims, spoilers and so on. Your one-of-a-kind creation is an expression of your individuality, your style and your personality.

  1. Unleashing Creativity - Ridemakerz believe everyone is born creative and expressive. Through its process, it provides car customising artists with all the high-quality parts and accessories to create the unique vision of their dreams.

  1. Fostering Confidence - “Does success build confidence, or does confidence build success?” Ridemakerz says. The cycle of success and confidence is critical for this experience – through freedom and guidance, young people learn the important aspects to drive their own success.

  1. Encouraging Collaboration - working together, with the assistance of others allows customers to realise the art of collaboration. Guidance, coaching and achievement are important aspects of creating happy and healthy kids.

  1. Instilling a sense of Community - through the building process we learn that initiative, creativity, collaboration and cooperation come together through connecting with others. Connection is critical to all of us to make the most of our lives on this wonderful planet we share. Ridemakerz brings people together and creates communities through a shared experience.

Ridemakerz and Build-A-Bear have created retail ecosystems of wonder. Embracing the physical, physiological and emotional aspects of what makes shoppers tick, they have created highly experiential, memorable, magical retail moments and are shining examples of CX Heart.

Naturally, the magic results in mountains of money for them. The US$25 basic starting prices don’t reflect the financial outlay. All the extras, most with bigger price points, add up and up.  

But these well-established brands have long realised what many retailers have not fully caught on to yet, but should be considering. Don’t just sell your product, instead reinvent the way consumers experience your products and services. Teddy bears and remote control cars have been around for years, but here they are reimagined in ways and environments that have a profound physical and emotional impact on their customers, some of which lingers long after the lease line is left behind. That’s brilliant thinking, impeccably delivered.

This story was originally published in NZRetail magazine issue 741, December 2015 / January 2016.

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