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Experiential retail for couch potatoes? Gen Zers are onboard.

by John Wheeler
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    Gen Z craves stores that function halfway between retail outlets and retail playgrounds. Here's how NYC-based furniture brand Burrow is reinventing couch buying as a form of experiential retail.


    On the face of things, it may seem like a bear-market time to build a brick-and-mortar retail empire. In a era rife with digital coupons and 24-hour online sales events that make global headlines, you’d be forgiven for thinking brick-and-mortar retailers might be struggling just to draw customers through their doors. The death of so-called “boring retail” — a term that conjures images of poorly-lit department stores and groves of lusterless clothing hanging dormant on racks — is well documented.

    But if “boring retail” is slowly disappearing, the phenomenon known as experiential retail is witnessing year-over-year growth. There’s gold to be found in bringing quality in-store experiences to younger consumers, particularly Gen Z. Numerous instances of experiential retail — ranging from Farfetch to Vans to IKEA — all drive home the point. Indeed, experiential in-store retail has reached a tipping point — a renaissance — that makes it possible for a couch store like NYC-based Burrow to differentiate itself from competitors by inviting customers to experience its couches by lounging on them and enjoying hours of in-store, hi-definition television.

    Gen Z craves stores that function halfway between retail outlets and retail playgrounds. According to a recent study by Fitch, Gen Zers have strong aesthetic preferences when it comes to in-store shopping: They want different sections of a store to have distinct colors and sensory contrasts. They enjoy hands-on access to the products they’re shopping for, whether that means clothes, consumer electronics or furnishings. In their minds, glassed-off product displays come across as clinical and museum-like.

    Burrow’s showrooms are the furthest thing from museum-like. For a “store that sells couches,” they’re something of an anomaly. They aren’t simply there to sell you furniture. More accurately, they’re there to help you picture what your life would look and feel like if you owned one of their couches, loveseats, armchairs or ottomans.

    The company’s flagship store in SoHo is divided into four separate sections. Only one of these sections is marked “Shop.”

    The other three sections are custom-built to showcase the full possible range of uses for your Burrow couch. There’s the “Relax” section, where visitors can curl up with books or bundle themselves in Burrow signature blankets for hours on end, if necessary. Next, there’s the “Play” section, which could easily be renamed the “Instagram this” section: A Burrow couch is positioned in front of a green screen that shuffles different visual backgrounds. In front of the couch, a camera records visitors posing, pouting or pillow-fighting on the couch, depending on their preference.

    The final section is dedicated to anyone looking for the perfect seat to recline and watch movies on: a dim-lit room with Netflix shows and movies running non-stop throughout the day. In a recent joint study by IBM and the NRF, 56 percent of Gen Z respondents stated that a fun in-store experience influences who they buy from. Burrow clearly takes pains to influence Gen Z spending sprees by providing them with fun couch experiences.

    This isn’t to say Burrow’s “experiential” messaging is confined to physical space alone. The company’s ads feature young people generally splayed face-down on their couches, luxuriating in various states of inertia: napping, reading, sitting, watching movies and so on. The tongue-in-cheek tagline for these spots? “Burrow: Good For Nothing.” Likewise, their Instagram handle features creative and often hilarious — “life moments” meant to spark the buyer’s imagination as far as how they could put their own Burrow couch to good use.

    If you’re looking to make your successful mark (and fortune) in brick-and-mortar, look no further than your own humble couch. If a couch company founded in 2017 by two business students is already achieving multi-million sales figures, chances are you'll also be able to remake your store experience into something that appeals to Gen Z’s love for Instagram… and just plain fun.

      Download the report: Gen Z spending habits before and during COVID-19


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