Retail Labs: The Latest Experiment in Customer Experience

Customers are the lifeblood of brick-and-mortar retail, and their appetite for excellent in-store experiences is ever-growing.  As a result, the face of retail is changing, quite literally, to keep up with the latest consumer preferences.

Enter the next generation of brick-and-mortar stores, the retail lab, a smaller-concept shop designed to offer shoppers curated, immersive, and personalized on-premise experiences, unique to each lab location. The stores play with color, layouts, visuals, and technology to create their individualistic edge. 

Why shift from the traditional store? 

Experience is now the key brand differentiator and is valued more by customers than price. Therefore, the ethos of “pile them high and sell them cheap” is no longer relevant for big-box retailers, nor is it in line with consumers’ primary wants. Retail spaces often are overstored by 1.2 billion square feet, and with consumers purchasing many of their everyday items online, retailers need to reduce their footprint and downscale. 

“When you walk into a store, it should feel like you’re walking into our home.”  Janet Puliafico at Faherty, speaker at the Retail Next Summit held this month. 

By investing less in large, city store formats and spreading equity across smaller suburban experimental stores, retailers can test out different ideas, stock exclusive products, and hone in on location-specific experiences. 

A Look Inside the Retail Lab 

Retail labs come in various shapes, designs, and layouts. Each lab is designed to bring a new wow factor to every brick-and-mortar location, offering one-off experiences that drive customer traffic. While disparate in many ways, they do share one common vision: to create immersive, multi-sensory, and engaging in-store journeys (think Color Factory meets Meow Wolf meets Willy Wonka). 

Can’t wait to take a peek inside one of these experiential concept shops? Below are three takes on the retail lab by Walmart, Swarovski, and Boots. 

The Intelligent Retail Lab by Walmart


Image Source: Business Insider

Walmart opened its first concept shop in 2019, utilizing AI to enhance in-store operations and make shopping experiences easier, freeing staff from mundane tasks. The lab used AI for practical and real solutions, from reactive digital signage to educational screens teaching customers about the technologies and products in-store. 

At the time, it was labeled the “store of the future” which couldn’t be more true today as AI-powered platforms enter retail stores in a big way.

The Wonderlab by Swarovski 


Source: Google Images

For Swarvoski’s 125th anniversary, it created the Wonderlab: a sensorial outlet utilizing their signature crystals to decorate the store and create an immersive space for customers. Swarovski Creative Director, Giovanna Engelbert, describes the Wonderlab as “an idea, an imagined place that embodies everything Swarovski stands for…it’s where science and magic meet, where extra and elegance collide; it is a feeling of wonder that everyone should experience.’’  

The Boots Instagram Store 


Source: Google Images

Health and beauty retailer Boots launched a concept store in London. The store comes equipped with a Youtube studio and Instagram area for customers to take pictures with their new purchases. It also focuses on sustainability with an installed water tap where customers can fill up for free and a switch to reusable bags. As consumers make greener choices, sustainable shopping features like this make their experiences and associations with the brand positive.  

Measuring Store Success 

Retailers who open concept shops are looking for more than a visually impressive store; they want data. Concept shops drive traffic initiatives, but to understand their performance against traditional stores, they need to measure their success by customer conversion rates. By implementing customer analytics technologies into each lab, retailers see granular detail of each store’s performance and use it as a blueprint for future stores. 

What can be measured? 

  • Number of in-store visitors 

  • Conversion success by merging POS data with visitor counts 

  • Customer demographics (age and gender)

  • Customer mood 

  • Customer dwell times 

  • Number of visitors who view specific in-store ad content

  • Viewer attention times 

Apply these analytics across every location using Raydiant’s all-in-one solution. 

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