I’ve been creating digital experiences in physical spaces for decades, since long before the term “experiential” was in widespread use to describe them. And some of those spaces were retail stores from the very start. Back in the late 90s, much of the team that would later become my experiential agency Operand created a number of interactives for Levi’s flagship store in San Francisco. There was a 3D body scanner to fit customers for jeans. There was a digital periscope that allowed them to see to other floors. There were various screens around the space. The goal was to make the store not just a utilitarian place to shop, but an experience worth visiting.

In the years since then, the shopping experience has been completely revolutionized and much of it has moved online. Amazon famously decimated the brick-and-mortar bookstore ecosystem, then home electronics stores experienced a similar winnowing. Every segment of retail is increasingly under pressure from e-commerce, even those that once seemed impervious, like fashion and groceries. Department stores have been especially hard hit of late, as have the mall operators whose malls depend in large part upon those anchor tenants. Younger customers, who have never known a world without online shopping, and who are increasingly tethered to mobile experiences, increasingly expect a different kind of retail experience.

All of this has created an environment in which retailers must become ever more aware and responsive to the retail experience, weaving opportunities for commerce around a physical experience as opposed to providing a space centered around shopping per-se. Those same impulses that motivated Levi’s a generation ago, and other clients of mine throughout the years, to build more engaging retail experiences have now become an existential concern. Retailers who can neither take their operations online nor craft a compelling enough experience to drive physical store visitation will surely perish. Enter the era of Experiential Retail.

Of course, I’m far from the first commentator to recognize this trend. I’ve been talking about it with other retail consultants and professionals in the industry for years. But it has very much entered the mainstream over the past couple of years. The Wall Street Journal ran a great piece a few weeks ago that included several recent examples of the trend towards retail experiences, many of them here in New York. One of those is Story, a wildly innovative 5-year-old space that resembles an art gallery as much as a retail store, rightly seen as an innovator in the trend of Experiential Retail. For a fee, Story partners with brands to create limited-run experiences within their space, often built around events as much as around products. Story is in some sense a rotating pop-up shop, and the current trend of Experiential Retail is closely linked to that recent phenomenon as well.

Mall operators have been working hard to retrofit their existing properties into the newly emerging experience economy. Westfield, General Growth Properties and Macerich, to name just a few, all promote opportunities for creating experiences within their malls. If the New Jersey Meadowlands boondoggle American Dream mall ever does open, it promises a host of experiences alongside its stores, including a Nickelodeon theme park, a DreamWorks water park, an aquarium, and an indoor year-round ski slope. As currently imagined, these mall experiences are not well integrated into the shopping experience, but if retailers decide to partner with mall operators as the heat on them increases, more innovations will occur in these spaces.

Last week, LVMH announced an interesting “experiential e-commerce platform” for its Moët Hennessy brands in the UK. The concept would augment an online shopping and 24-hour delivery service with offline experiences such as tastings and parties. Such offline events are already fairly standard fare in the spirits category, but if LVMH finds success with this platform and decides to extend the model to its fashion brands, that could lead to some very interesting developments.

One other thing of note to me is that all or most of the experiences at the center of the current wave of Experiential Retail are decidedly analog. Because they are largely in reaction to the technological trends of e-commerce and smartphones and social media, they are self-consciously low tech. And there is something refreshing about that. But as Experiential Retail becomes more accepted and more commonplace, the judicious use of empowering technologies like augmented reality, smart changing rooms, mobile tracking and others will surely find their place.