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Interactions’ booth (#2351) at FMI Connect, taking place June 23 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, imparted an air of excitement. The Hollywood movie theme – dreamed up by Creative Director Ryan Dee and his team, and even including popcorn served in boxes and a “sizzler reel” showcasing the San Diego-based experiential marketing firm’s recent promotion involving a mini ice cream truck roaming store aisles and distributing samples – is meant to embody Interaction’s mission of bringing theater to the in-store experience, Director of Sales and Marketing Lindsay Steller told Progressive Grocer.
These days, however, it’s not just about sampling. Interactions has branched out into such services as design; digital partnerships to offer recipes, coupons, surveys or branded content; mobile tours; mystery shopping; pop-up stores; and one-of-a-kind events offering such unexpected features as flash mobs – all to keep engagement with the shopper going long after the sample has been consumed.
Interactions President Bharat Rupani explained that such undertakings are customized to each client, depending on time, need and objective. For a flash mob, one of which was deployed at a recent Ahold USA store’s grand opening, the company takes about two to three weeks to pull the whole thing together, coming up with the concept, drawing on local talent (in Ahold’s case, a gospel choir) and rehearsing them until they’re ready to perform. The point is not just to sell product or promote the company, but to create a fun and engaging experience. “The store is – can be – theater,” Rupani asserted.
On the digital side, he noted the company’s use of “nonintrusive, noninvasive tech” to gauge shoppers’ response to a product or event, which can help with future product development or the creation of a better in-store experience. Shoppers respond via tablet to the few questions, with Interactions duly mindful of any privacy concerns and careful to prevent any consumer information from being compromised. From the responses gathered, the company can see trends across stores and regions.
One way that Interactions is striving to go beyond traditional sampling is by bringing products to the community, which mobility enables it to do. For Advance Auto, for instance, the company sent an RV out on the road with a husband-wife-and-dog team serving as brand ambassadors, with the goal of drawing attention to the retailer’s loyalty program. The tour proved so popular that the dog’s Instagram account became something of a hit, according to Rupani, who stressed the importance of social media to communicate with shoppers. For food retailers, truck tours featuring customized stops not just outside stores, but also at venues such as schools or community events, result in enhanced engagement with consumers.
Despite the widening of its mission, Rupani insisted, “Nothing’s more powerful than face-to-face communication – it forms the cornerstone of who we, as Interactions, are.” To that end, he notes that the brick-and-mortar retail location will always be key – “it allows people to come and see” – and notes that even e-commerce giant Amazon has opened a physical bookstore.
As for the future, he said that it’s “where tech makes it as real as possible”; that is, virtual reality. Pointing out how so many people these days are immersed in video games, Rupani noted that online retail platforms will need to similarly entice shoppers, while physical stores will have the challenge of providing the convenience and pricing offered online.
Although “virtual reality will play a big role in times to come,” Rupani predicted that “human interaction, and the art of engagement, won’t be lost – if finessed, it will be a competitive advantage.”