Reviving Retail Theatre

The last ten years have seen a great rise in e-commerce and many articles have been written on online retail innovation. But are we in danger of neglecting the physical retail experience, and the powerful role it can play for brands and businesses?

51% of consumers now shop online (2016) and this figure is rising as we move to a lifestyle of speed, efficiency and immediacy. The innovation in the digital world from integrated delivery systems to customer service chat bots has been instrumental in driving the growth of e-commerce. Many consumers are choosing to shop online, opting for ease of browsing and purchasing 24/7.

In turn we have seen retailers desperately trying to keep up with technological advances by implementing magic mirrors, interactive displays and augmented reality into their stores. But how often does this technology actually add to the experience? Is it a fad which is merely amusing or intriguing for a short while but failing to create a meaningful brand experience?

John Lewis Magic Mirror. Source: laurencedessart

In fact technology is not always the answer for a great in store experience. Pine and Gilmore (who defined the experience economy) felt that the experience could be split into four realms- Educational, Escapists, Esthetic and Entertainment. You can build all four realms into your retail experience but generally, successful retailers tend to lead strongly with one dimension that differentiates themselves from competitors and creates a highly distinctive environment. Rapha Cycle Club in London lead with the Escapist realm with cycling themed memorabilia, live races on the TV screens, cycle club rides and the smells from the café, appealing to all the senses.

Rapha Cycle Club Lonon. Source:Greyshoff

This is just one example of an exceptional retail environment, engaging with people and encouraging them to experience the brand first hand. The physical environment can be a very powerful tool in bringing a brand to life.

Understanding customers’ needs is the first step to creating the right retail experience. The French DIY store Leroy Merlin put on DIY classes instore, as they understood that people’s barrier to purchase was lack of confidence in their ability to carry out DIY. The fast food salad shop Tossed givea customers celebrity names when they order, demonstrating how small prompts can create an unexpected sense of theatre. Every shopping experience in store could carry a level of theatre whether it’s a fast purchase or a slow one. The mere design of a store can transform a shopping experience for a customer. The 9 ¾ book store + café in Colombia have created an environment to fuel a child’s imagination and sense of adventure when learning to enjoy and read books. To own a physical store is a competitive advantage. It gives you the space to explore the endless ways you can make people happy, satisfied and loyal.

LeroyMerlin store in France. Source: Dalziel & Pow
9 ¾ bookstore and café in Colombia. Source: Pinterest

I believe We have a level of responsibility as agencies to challenge our clients and be as creative as possible in owning our retail spaces. We need to question the use and implementation of technology in stores to ensure it is adding value to the store experience and not distracting from it. The four realms are important for establishing a store’s purpose and should be used to guide the experience. As we plan the retail future it’s time to reclaim the power of physical space. The physical in-store space is just as important as the digital one, arguably even more so as we move to fewer stores and larger multipurpose flagship stores. What we do with it can mean the difference between success and failure.