The Best Retail Experiences of 2018

2018 was a landmark year for great things in retail. Brands are increasingly focusing on enhancing retail customer experience across every single touchpoint.  And with 90% of consumers still shopping in stores, that means the in-person experience is evolving. For some brands, brick-and-mortar stores are becoming less about showcasing new products and more about designing fun and holistic ways for their customers to immerse themselves in their favorite retailers. This has led to to some truly dazzling in-store experiences. In 2018, more and more retailers used the rise of experiential retail to flex their creative muscles and provide innovative services and settings for their customers. And while the bar for customer experience continues to rise, there were certainly some standouts that took customer experience to an unprecedented level last year.These were some of the best retail experiences of 2018.

Two Canada Goose customers chill out in the Cold Room to test out the warmth of coats they may buy.

Canada Goose’s Cold Rooms

Canada Goose wanted its customers to feel what -25-degree Celsius conditions are like from the comfort of a Canada Goose parka. The brand’s Cold Room concept, which has been installed in a handful of stores worldwide, lets customers try out Canada Goose coats in the conditions for which they were designed.

Why it makes the list: One enduring advantage of brick-and-mortar stores over ecommerce sites is the ability to try clothing on in-person. (Though some retailers are working to bring the try-on experience home to online shoppers.) But Canada Goose takes it to the next level. There’s no way a normal dressing room could possibly showcase the best features of their outerwear, but Cold Rooms make Canada Goose’s superior warmth and insulation abundantly obvious.

The Converse One Star Hotel debuted in London and featured this retro living room.

Converse One Star Hotel

For two glorious days in February 2018, Converse staged a hotel experience in Shoreditch, London. Arranged over five floors, the pop-up displayed rooms designed by music artists and fashion labels, and featured workshops, entertainment, and exclusive merchandise from Converse’s Spring/Summer One Star collection.

Why it makes the list: For its fans, Converse has long been more than just a sneaker. The One Star Hotel’s anti-luxury accomodation was an opportunity to create the ultimate union of sneaker, skate, style, and music culture—in other words, a perfect extension of what the brand represents.

Glossier's flagship store occupies three stories in Soho, New York and features lots of pink and red, mirrors, a wet bar, and a Boy Brow room.

Glossier’s flagship store and pop-up shops

2018 was the year ecommerce beauty brand Glossier brought its wares off the internet and into real life. First testing the waters with millennial pink pop-up shops in a few lucky cities, they finished off the year by opening their flagship store in New York City in November.

Why it makes the list: Since Glossier’s launch in 2014, their all-natural beauty ideology captured Instagram-influenced beauty trends. For millennial women, Glossier is less about individual products and more about a holistic beauty philosophy. The store and pop-up shops managed to be the physical embodiment of the Glossier aesthetic—youthful, minimal, and highly Instagrammable.

It's always nap time at Casper's Dreamery, where patrons can come in anytime and take a snooze to determine if a Casper mattress is right for them.

Casper’s The Dreamery

Casper, the online bed-in-a-box pioneer, opened its first nap store in New York City in the summer of 2018. People can schedule a 45 minute nap break in one of Casper’s nine sleep pods, which come fully equipped with Casper beds, sheets, and pillows. A nap appointment even includes a sleep mask and a cup of coffee.

Why it makes the list: The Dreamery lets Casper distinguish itself in the increasingly crowded online mattress space. And in addition to providing people with some much-needed rest, The Dreamery helps potential mattress buyers understand what it would be like to actually sleep on a Casper mattress.

DSW's new concept store, Polaris Lab Store, offers natural manis and pedis, concierge service, and rewards for participating.

The DSW Polaris Lab

The Polaris Lab concept store, which opened in July, is located near DSW’s headquarters in Ohio and offers mani-pedis, repairs, and more to customers while they shop. The expanded in-store experience was later rolled out to other locations across the U.S., giving customers a chance to take part in some self-care while they browse new shoes.

Why it makes the list: DSW’s customers told the brand that it wanted services along with their shoes—and DSW listened. It’s an example of how retail brands can respond to feedback, foster customer loyalty, and give shoppers more of what they want in fun and unexpected ways.

In GH Lab, a 2,800-square-foot showroom, customers make cashless transactions using scannable QR codes and Amazon's smartphone app. Items purchased from the store are delivered to the customer's home.

Good Housekeeping and Amazon’s GH Lab Store

From October to December, Good Housekeeping teamed up with Amazon to open a pop-up shop of curated goods in the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Every product in the store was tested in the GH Institute’s state-of-the-art labs, and shoppers could purchase or explore items by scanning Amazon SmileCodes using the Amazon app.

Why it makes the list: The GH Lab Store was a delightful, symbiotic blend of Good Housekeeping’s trusted high consumer standards, Amazon’s low prices on an exhaustive selection of items across multiple categories, and cutting-edge self-service technology.

Experiential retail is becoming ubiquitous. Customer experience is more important than ever before, which means that brands will be increasingly motivated to bring interesting and immersive in-store experiences to shoppers around the world. As experiential retail continues to expand, we’ll see even more one-of-a-kind in-person retail. We’re very much looking forward to what 2019 has in store (pun intended).

Want to learn more about retail innovation? Join us at the Narvar Summit, April 16–17 in San Francisco where top retail executives will share their thoughts on emerging technology and the future of retail.

Tamara Stanley

Tamara is Narvar's Senior Content Marketing Manager, bringing more than 15 years of content creation experience for big brands, including Bright Horizons, Salesforce, and Slack.

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