Making Physical Experience Measurable


A quarter of all US malls are threatened with extinction, and renowned retailers are filing for insolvency. Yet, at the same time, young online brands are announcing the opening of stores. First retail is declared dead, then suddenly there’s a renaissance.

This back and forth makes retail decision-makers both nervous and inventive, with many turning to “experience” as a solution. But what does experience actually mean, and what distinguishes a particularly good experience? And as we move from sales per square meter to experience per cubic meter, how can we measure experience? We undertook some research and did the math.

What is experience?

In keeping with the spirit of the times, we began by turning the focus inwards, asking 14 of our retail experts — architects, visual merchandisers, strategists, live concept developers, digital experts and managers (to ensure we circle back to ROI) — what they mean when they talk about experience. The in-depth interviews resulted in the following definition:

“Experience is a conscious, time- and context-related interaction of a participant with a brand. The experience triggers subjective, internal (perceptions, feelings and thoughts) and external (visible behavior) reactions in the participants. An experience is evaluated multidimensionally on the basis of an individual comparison between the expectations and prior knowledge of the individual and the impulses from interactions with participants, brands and spaces.”

To break it down, here’s what we can learn from this definition:

1. Experience is voluntary

An experience is a conscious action. People themselves determine the extent to which they want to interact with a brand, a company, an organizer or whomever. Only through this conscious attention, can the experience come about at all.

2. Experience is interactive

We’re not talking about the next app game or touchscreen integration, but interaction in the human sense. As with services, customers are actively integrated into the creation and evolution of the experience. They are co-creators. No matter whether classic consulting, inspiring convention, a yoga session or indoor sports event — the visitor has to be part of what’s happening.

3. Experience is subjective


Experience is not a physical property of a location, an installation or an event. Rather, it is a subjective feature that depends on the visitor’s ideas, expectations, demands and wishes.

4. Experience is measurable

Even though it’s not as easy as counting likes, experience is something that can be investigated and measured. The results of an experience are internal or external reactions on the part of the visitor and can be recorded as such.

5. Experience is expectation management

When evaluating a shopping experience, it makes a big difference whether the customer expects just a quick purchase or a life-changing inspirational journey. That’s why the perceived experience is always in the eye of the beholder — and their expectations.

6. Experience is multi-layered


There’s not one single experience-driver. Each experience has different facets — sometimes inspiring, sometimes emotional and sometimes super relaxed. Which aspect of an experience is ultimately important depends entirely on the brand’s objective and the demands of the customer.

Experience decoded

Based on the results of the qualitative interviews, we developed a survey and put it to a representative sample of 908 people. With the resulting data we used statistical methods to create a measurable experience model, which can reliably represent experience in seven definable dimensions.

1. Identification

The experience offers the participant an identification surface by reflecting their values, opinions or lifestyle. This can be done by staging the space, the content components or the people present.


Space for creative exchange: A/D/O is located in a 23,000 square foot former warehouse in Brooklyn. | Credits: BMW PressClub Deutschland

The desire to “belong” is a fundamental human need. It is therefore not surprising that we like to surround ourselves with people, things and ideas that are “like us”. With A/D/O, for example, MINI is creating a place dedicated to the “creative community, locally and globally” that, thanks to appropriate programming, interior design and the overall staging, offers an ideal platform for identification and self-expression for precisely this creative community.

2. Convenience

The experience provides the recipients’ expected benefit by satisfying the original reason for their attention. This can be achieved by providing information, simply making products or services available, or satisfying rather abstract emotional needs.


Checkout-free shopping at the Amazon Go store in Seattle. | Credits: Dezeen

There is usually a reason why people visit places. To really be convenient, fulfilling the needs of people should be made as easy as possible. When it comes to weekly grocery shopping, the Amazon Go Store already shows us what’s possible: No line, no checkout, just grab the goods and go.

3. Sensory

The experience conveys coherent sensual impressions to the recipient by addressing his senses in an orchestrated way. This can be done through a harmonious or surprising combination of visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory or gustatory stimuli.


Each space promoted sensory interactions using various sound, touch and visual stimuli. | Credits: Dezeen

Sensory perception is often translated as “multisensory perception”. It is not so much a matter of addressing as many senses as possible, but rather of addressing them in a coordinated way — in other words, a harmonious sensory synthesis of the arts. One example is the Adidas Childish Gambino Experience at the Pharos Festival New Zealand. Three cubes were created; each one delivered an unique sensory, visual, auditory and tactile experience. In some cases, the cubes deliberately deactivated specific senses (e.g. by removing all visual cues) to make the existing ones even more impressive.


The aim of the installation was to incite festival-goers to reconnect to their natural state of being | Credits: Dezeen

4. Self-determined participation

An experience offers the recipient the opportunity to actively participate in a self-determined manner by enabling interaction with participants, brands and spaces. This can be done in a social, technical or physical way.

Remember: Experience is voluntary. So even just passively observing the interactions of other visitors can be an experience in itself. Nike’s House of Innovation is a good example of how diverse and voluntary interaction can be. Every imaginable services is offered across six floors, and this is supplemented by an app for NikePlus members with digital features such as instant checkouts. This offers a broad spectrum of interaction possibilities and depth, from the personalization of sneakers to the simple click-and-collect service.


The Nike Arena’s maker’s space at the House of Innovation in New York. | Credits: Nike

5. Emotionality

An experience conveys a positive feeling to the recipient in the long term by addressing them emotionally. This can happen through content, staging and social aspects, and can also include formally negative emotions in the short term.


Great emotions at the House of Vans in London. | Credits: House of Vans London / Not Waving, But Drowning — An Album Launch by Loyle Carner / Mike Palmer @Mikepalmerphoto

Emotionality is probably one of the first aspects we think about when it comes to experience. Many of our experts also stated that in the end, it’s always a matter of triggering lasting emotions. Experience creates memories and gives us stories to tell. Examples abound: take the House of Vans in London, which creates and hosts concerts, art exhibitions and, of course, highly emotional experiences around skateboarding.

6. Authenticity

An experience has a credible effect on the recipient by being authentically designed in terms of staging and content. This can be done with reference to brand values, the expertise of the actors involved, as well as the physical and digital context.


Rapha’s clubhouse in New York | Credits: Noah Haxel, Granfondo Cycling Magazine

A positive experience will only take place when visitors perceive that what is happening is also credible. A positive example is the Rapha bicycle brand, around which an authentic local community has formed, to the extent that Rapha clubhouses are already integrated into tour planning by semi-professional cyclists.

7. Cognitive inspiration

An experience inspires the recipient cognitively by conveying content and perspectives relevant to his or her lifestyle and interests. This can be due to the pure content or the preparation of the content.


Today at Apple Sessions take place to inform and inspire participants on how they get the most out of their Apple products. | Credits: Apple

It’s not about (over)challenging visitors, but rather about giving them new ideas and perspectives — in other words, inspiring them. Apple has been pursuing this strategy since 2018 with the “Today at Apple” program. Regular lectures, training courses and workshops are offered to inspire customers on various lifestyle topics while keeping the brand in mind.

What’s next for experiences?

Now that we better understand what experience means and how we can measure it, we are empowered to assess not only whether a brand experience — trade fair, event, retail concept, etc. — works, but also why, or why not. When planning new concepts, our framework can be used to precisely determine which dimension is particularly important for achieving specific goals. Even during the conception phase, the framework is useful as a ‘conceptual checklist’ for developing tailor-made ideas.

Beyond that, it gets really exciting when we integrate additional data sources. For example, we can factor in classic KPIs such as brand images, NPS or purchase intentions, which would make it possible to demonstrate the value contribution of a brand experience. The tool also helps us benchmark and monitor stationary retail formats to provide clients with data-based advice. This means that, together with our customers, we can understand more quickly how our own brand touchpoints compare to the rest of the industry or within the format — and more importantly, how we can improve them.

But even that is just the beginning. We are currently working on the integration of behavioral data (sensors, heat maps, etc.), to close the gap between the subjective experience perception and the concrete follow-up action of the visitors. This could eventually result in accurate live-tracking for stationary retail formats, combining both the experience-driven serendipity of physical retail with the optimizability of classic e-commerce.

Any questions? Email us