I was shopping recently in Walnut Creek, an affluent east bay suburb of San Francisco. An upscale shopping destination, Walnut Creek has the usual array of high end stores and boutiques.
But what caught my eye were two stores that don't actually sell things. Instead, they are meant to be places where potential customers can learn about and experience products and services.
Tesla, the high end electric car company, has one of their showrooms in Walnut Creek. The showroom gives you a chance to see, touch and feel a Tesla as well as arrange for a test drive. But if you want to buy one, you do so online.
The other experience store is owned by Inspirato, a private vacation club that provides their members access to luxurious villas, apartments and homes in major cities and resorts across the globe.
The nice folks from Inspirato told me the goal of the store was to provide potential members with a place to experience what it's like to be a member. While you can sign up for their service in the store, most sales are finalized via their direct sales force.
Both of these are part of the broader trend of providing experiences via retail stores. Many of the companies doing this are brands that used to be online only. Examples include:
Warby Parker - a trendy online seller of glasses that has opened 9 stores and/or showrooms.
Bonobos - an online clothing company somewhat famous for saying they would never have brick and mortar stores. They now have 10 brick and mortar "guideshops" where customers can try on clothes across the country with more planned.
BeGood Clothing - an online sustainable clothing company that also has a retail store in San Francisco and is planning a series of "pop-up" showrooms across the country starting this fall.
With the rise of ecommerce, traditional retail has needed to reinvent itself. Providing experiences is one way this is happening.