“How do you make someone who is coming to buy a holiday feel like they are on holiday already?” asked Howard Sullivan, creative director of experience design agency YourStudio. The answer to that question lies in a combination of ‘immersive playscapes’, ‘approachable luxury’ and ‘retail sanctuary’, according to Sullivan, who spoke at Retail Design Expo 2018 on the changing face of experiential retail.
In order to communicate that escapist feeling in-store, Virgin Holidays has taken the language of sales out of its shops. Instead of sales assistants at desks, it has a ‘concierge’ behind a bar to introduce holiday concepts, and experts to talk people through holiday details.
“We don’t talk about holidays,” said Dan Buckingham, head of retail at Virgin Holidays. “We talk about whether our customers are dreaming because, when they are, they are more likely to buy a holiday from us.”
Virgin Holidays worked with YourStudio to develop its store concept to get customers in that ‘holiday-ready’ mood from the moment they walk into store. The brand has drawn on the look and feel of its celebrated airport lounges to deliver a ‘v-room’ concept to its store estate. The stores are designed to give consumers an experience of the brand and its holidays with a savvy use of technology, decor and amenities.
Virgin’s new Cardiff store, for example, features a champagne and coffee bar, a playful kids area and comfortable lounge seating in a tasteful, muted colour palette. “It is a place to dwell and have as a sanctuary,” said Buckingham. “Not just a place to make a purchase.”
The store design purposefully encourages natural conversation between staff and visitors, while virtual reality technology teleports people to new destinations, including the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean and the golden plains of and African safari. Customers can listen to music from each of the destinations as well as sample typical food. The try before you buy concept is also employed with a mock-up of a Virgin Atlantic cabin, including Premium Economy and Upper-Class seats.
As a brand Virgin has a heritage in disrupting and innovating, which it is keen to capitalise on. “We focus on learning quickly and innovating,” said Buckingham. “Today’s consumers expect brands to push the boundaries.”
The experiential approach, where retail, travel and hospitality overlap, has proven successful for Virgin Holidays so far. Team engagement across the Virgin Holidays store portfolio is at a record high and the new sites are all performing above targets.