“Experiential” is practically a given in today’s consumer climate, but the era of the Museum of Ice Cream and its ilk is arguably already winding down. As you read in Points of Departure, brands and retailers are leaning into on-demand retail to meet consumers on the go, whether at the airport or on a cruise. Retail as entertainment, entertainment as retail underscored the ways in which consumer companies are uniting and sometimes ingraining retail into concert halls, stadiums and other venues. Still other companies have attempted to make retail itself the event, creating ticketed experiences that showcase their own or third-party products to drive user-generated social media content and build their brands. However, many of these events place the brand on the stage and consumers in the audience, both metaphorically and literally. This approach fails to acknowledge the shifting role of shoppers, who are increasingly self-educating and aligning themselves with various, brand-agnostic communities. It also ignores the integral role consumers play in driving cultural relevance, which will be tied to any brand’s potential for longevity.

This report looks at the evolution of conferences, trade shows, conventions and festivals to highlight their growing significance in shoppers’ lives as well as the advantages and disadvantages for participating brands and retailers. Analyzing the rise in consumer-facing events, we illuminate how companies can centralize their biggest enthusiasts in one place with a structured program that still leaves room for spontaneity and unforgettable experiences, staying with shoppers for much longer than it takes to upload an Instagram Story or purchase a product, all while instilling cultural relevance into brands and retailers.