Karl McKeever, founder and managing director, Visual Thinking, on growing consumer demand for an ‘experience’ from retailers

The role of the physical retail store is changing. Customers no longer want a space that is simply transactional, instead seeking out those that provide ‘experiential’ appeal.

Experimentation is at the heart of many great current retail success stories. And, for me, bakeries should sell the idea that everything is ‘fresh from the oven’.

While for most bakery shops, it may not be practical to open up kitchen spaces to let shoppers view craft bakers at work, it’s important to think laterally. The theatre of the pizzeria is as much about the art of dough tossing as it is about the pizza oven.

Creating a small space front of store to display bread kneading, and share hints and tips with inquisitive customers, is a great way to inject a sense of theatre and elevate the retail experience. It would also demonstrate the skill, care and expertise that go into the products on sale.

Store teams can also play a huge part in delivering the customer experience. For the true artisan bakers out there, the knowledge you have, and can share with customers, is likely to be as informative and inspiring as a conversation with a highly skilled barista would be to a coffee enthusiast. 

Great visual merchandising can be of great importance to the customer experience. Deliver outstanding retail presentation and you can truly wow customers. And in our world of social media, you can quickly find your displays and brand being shared with thousands of potential new customers, in an instant.

If you want to differentiate your store from the competition and leave a lasting impression in the mind of your customers, then product displays should be consistently maintained, to an exceptionally high standard – full of fresh temptation.

The artisan aesthetic is one that can be easily achieved, and at a low cost, using serving boards, chalkboard signs, baskets and handwritten labels. It is also a way of making product appear more wholesome. When done well, artisan is a strong proposition, helping to create memorable experiences for customers and enabling businesses, particularly independents, to flourish.

Local bakeries may once have been considered to be on the brink of extinction. But while such products may be the bread and butter of large grocery retailers, if specialist bakers can find ways to create a unique customer experience, through exceptional store standards and a passionate team, they have a great future.