What do Bass Pro Shops and REI know about customer experience?

This month, Bass Pro Shop unveiled a massive new store in Memphis.  They retrofitted the 32 story Memphis Pyramid into an over the top superstore.  This store is more like a theme park.  In addition to its tens of thousands of hunting, fishing & boating items that visitors can shop for, the store offers a man-made cypress swamp, bowling alley, archery range, observatory and a 105 room hotel.   It's estimated that 2 million people a year will come in to consume the brand experience.  Bass Pro Shops Founder, Johnny Morris called the new location, "...one of the most dynamic, captivating retail adventures in the world."  Morris is known for architecting exceptional customer experiences, that also happen to eloquently align with the company's merchandising plans.   

It's not uncommon for retailers to take a page or two out of the playbook of theme parks.  Long before the term 'experience' became a buzzword in the digital space, the theme parks had it down.  They moved into branded merchandise as a natural mechanism to enable the customer to bring a little bit of that experience home with them.  

Today's consumer continues to seek out brands that can provide an experience on top of, or in addition to, the product or service they provide.  Today's consumer is more actively looking for more than just the product.  Help me learn something.  Help me make my life simpler.  Help me associate with like-minded people. 

Another example in the outdoor recreation space is REI.  The co-op started some 7 decades ago as a community of climbers.  Today they have over 130 stores and millions of members.  While REI doesn't have the over-the-top theme park feel that the larger Bass Pro Shops have, when you walk into an REI you can tell immediately that customer experience is at the heart of their strategy.  In my experience, in-store associates are knowledgeable and engaged.  They ask smart questions and share relevant & practical product advice.  They can do that because they're customers first.  They've assimilated practical product knowledge from experience, not from a merchandising orientation manual.  That's a tough model to scale, unless you build the culture into your organization.  REI has successfully created that culture and works diligently to grow it. 

While BPS and REI each deliver different experiences to their customers, they are common in their ability to tell great stories that have carefully curated product stitched in.  They're both authentic about their desire to help their customers create lifelong memories from their outdoor activities.  Because of that, they can both create a significantly more meaningful connection with their customers.    

You might notice I haven't talked about the digital customer experience in this post.  Both organizations are viewed as leaders in the digital commerce space, and both organizations work to create similar in-store and digital customer experiences.  I didn't lead with digital in this post because, if you don't have it - an organizational purpose that includes customer experience - in person, you're not going to have it online.  As a brand, make sure you know who you are and why you exist.