The Importance of the In-Store Brand Experience

Guest post by Eryn Willard, Design Sherpa at Studio 22

I was ready to replace my hand-me-down mountain bike two seasons ago. So as any other shopper about to make an expensive equipment purchase does, I began exploring brands to find the best fit for my taste, riding style and budget.

I explored several brands’ websites, poured through countless user reviews over several weeks, and paid more attention to the advertisements I saw for new models. Finally, a “winner” emerged and I was ready to make a purchase based on my interactions with the brand I identified with the most.

Off I went to my favorite bike store. When I asked the sales manager to talk to me about the brand and model I wanted, he waived his hand toward a rack of bikes and said he was the wrong person to ask about full-suspension models, that he “rides a hardtail”. There was no literature in the store about the brand I was looking for, even though they sell the line. No signage, nothing. My positive brand experience had ended when I walked through the shop doors.

I still got my bike – but it was from my new favorite shop across town. They had product literature, designated sections for each brand they stock, and were knowledgeable about the product I wanted. Brand experience restored.

. . . . . . . . . .

Before making a purchase buyers will encounter various touch points that begin building their experience with your brand, such as advertisements, company website and product catalog (or my preference: the magalog). Carefully crafted messages about your brand are served on a plate to customers in a controlled environment, where they can identify with and relate to the adventures of the lucky people in your marketing materials. Suggestions from friends, user reviews and social media will engage the shopper even further. The latter are especially prevalent in the outdoor industry, where products’ safety and performance are top priority – however, you have less control of these points.

A stellar user review and resonant product magalog may be enough to bring a shopper into their local retailer looking for your product. However, you need that last push to help customers part with their cash. With the economic squeeze, shoppers are even more likely to pass on an item if they can’t get all of the information they need to influence their buying decision in the final step. Everything surrounding your products at the retail level needs to reflect the brand’s values.

According to a recent survey, 69% of shoppers choose a brand based on their in-store experience and 7 out of 10 are influenced by aisle signage. Obviously, the more exposure a shopper has to your brand messages before and during the buying process, the more they will identify with your product.

Consider the following to heighten the in-store brand experience for shoppers:

  • Educate the retailer’s sales force about your brand’s attributes so that they can convey them to customers. Sales staff are crucial to the in-store experience.
  • Recognizable in-store brand cues – messaging and visuals from existing marketing – will lead buyers to your merchandise. You can manage the shopper’s experience when these cues are integrated into your retail strategy.
  • Signage or literature promoting a new product or features influence the buying decision. The in-store environment needs to pick up where pre-shopping marketing messages end.
  • Packaging (including hang-tags!) that communicates the benefits of the product help make the sale in the absence of a sales associate.

Sustainability is now also a part of customers’ decision-making and can be a tie-breaker when choosing between products. So if sustainability is baked into your brand, it should be a part of your in-store marketing. It will build brand strength and educate the buyer. In surveys conducted by Deloitte, labeling and in-store signage are the top two ways shoppers identify a product as green.

So much effort is put into developing your brand’s look and messaging to engage customers in the pre-buying stage. Why not maintain the continuum during the in-store experience and fully deliver the brand promise?


Eryn Willard is the founder and design Sherpa of Studio 22 an award-winning graphic design firm that opened in Thurmont, MD in 2005. The studio works on projects ranging from small business brand identity to sustainability reports for outdoor, consumer goods and environmentally-focused brands. Being a hiker, snowboarder, mountain biker and runner with a newly-formed climbing habit, drives Eryn’s creative work for clients.

She’s got a healthy addiction to Twitter for business (@Studio_22) and pleasure (@MissusW) and has it to thank for many virtual friendships in #OIBIZ, including the one with Pemba Serves.

Eryn currently serves on the board of directors for the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition as Brand Manager.


photo: AAD via stock.xchng

3 responses to “The Importance of the In-Store Brand Experience

  1. I really like this post, Eryn! Thanks so much!

    I like also that it mirrors an on-going message of ours: “Specialty” is not equal to “exclusive.” There are a lot of ways of taking this statement, but in this case your experience in the store with the bike underscores it nicely: Just because a shop has the brand a customer wants it doesn’t mean that they’re entitled to the sale. That sale still has to be earned.

    Awesome job, and thanks again.

  2. Many thanks, Brad!

    For many, the entry point into a new outdoor endeavor happens at the retail level. Being inclusive helps make the sale AND creates a loyal customer that spreads the word…

  3. Excellent, especially in these days of Sen. Kohl’s anti-small-business shenanigans (the Leegans case).