Retailtainment & Experiential Retail are Dumbfoundingly Simple

Like most people, I spent many, many hours over the Christmas period browsing shops for various gifts and presents. In the last month I think I’ve seen every window display and instore promotion on offer from the top 100 brands in the UK, and a fair number outside too.

There’s a lot going on in retail to try and capture consumer’s attention. Aside from the well-document rush to slash prices and seemingly live in the land of ‘perma-Sale,’ retailers have also been told that consumers need something more than just shopping aisles to be tempted away from their laptop, tablet or mobile screens and into a store environment.

Experiential retail activities certainly holds much promise for retailers looking for innovative ways to capture customer’s attentions, affinity and loyalty.

But shopping around this Christmas, I couldn’t help but notice how depressingly identikit many of these ‘moments’ were; from flashing lights in clothing store windows, to massive digital activations from the big tech brands, I was struck by both how little newness was on offer, and how much these activities missed the point.

Invariably, brands have focused on delivering a stunt, or a ‘big’ moment to stop customers in their tracks. Great – but we’ve known for years that that one second moment in the store window hasn’t gotten someone to walk through the door for a long time.

Where’s the magic? Where’s the “I’ve got to tell my friends about this?” resonance?

I saw two notable exceptions.  The first is Santa. I saw no less than 4 Santa’s Grottos on my travels this year. All of them had one thing in common – hoards of queues of children waiting to sit on Santa’s knee.

Isn’t Santa’s Grotto the ultimate experiential moment of the year? Think about what makes it successful; the consumer (in this case, around age 4), gets a genuine, real moment where they are immersed in that experience; Santa is real; he’s listening to you and responding to your questions and conversation. Not only Santa – usually an Elf or two too!

Now – what’s the tech involved here? At best, our 4 year old customer walks away with a photograph to mark the occasion. The magic doesn’t come from over-digitalising and dazzling with new stuff; it comes from immersion and interaction. Its simple and, I still argue, one of the most successful experiences of all time. (my proof – it comes back every year!)

And now an adult example; I visited a L’Occitaine en Provence store.  Completely unprompted, I was approached by a retail sales assistant and asked to participate in an ‘advent calendar’ exercise (see the picture). Thus started an experience that lasted no more than 2-3 minutes but, quite literally, I’m still writing about it.  The advent calendar is a simple, but beautifully designed physical box with a number of opening doors behind them. I picked a number and, after a bit of theatre, my number corresponded to a door opening and a product behind it. I was told what the product was, how it worked, and was given a sample of it. Crucially I was also told that it was one of a range of 24 advent products available as a great gift sit (also see picture). So simple, so effective. There were 5 people in the store while I was there, and 3 bought the gift set.

My festive learning has been, aptly, a simple one; retail stores and businesses are in desperate need of innovative, fun, engaging moments to make them relevant again for today’s shopper – we all get that. But in the quest to achieve this, its easy to do too much and become inaccessible. Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the most effective.

Marcus Fox