2017 trends: “Retailtainment”

“Retailtainment” is the concept of mixing entertainment and experiences with retail. The phrase was first coined by American sociologist George Ritzer in 1999 who described it as “the use of sound, ambience, emotion and activity to get customers interested in the merchandise and in the mood to buy“. Fast forward nearly twenty years and retailers are increasingly using retailtainment as a strategy to engage with customers and boost sales. Many industry commentators have predicted that even more retailers will embrace the trend this year.

Pioneered by Hamley’s

The idea of attracting customers through in-store entertainment is not new. Hamley’s, the oldest and largest toy shop in the world, has been retailtaining for years with a live entertainer at the entrance, soap bubbles coming out of the shop and on-going events inside the store. The Hamley’s experience is largely due to the products and target market it caters to (toys and kids). Other retailers may be influenced by other factors.

According to research undertaken by The Verde Group, the primary factor that keeps shoppers away from physical stores is the lack of variability in the types of store. Other factors which have forced retailers to re-assess their in-store strategy include the growth of e-commerce – why shop in store if you can do it in the comfort of your own home? – and the growing trend of shoppers preferring to spend more of their money on experiences and less on general merchandise and clothing. Retailtainment, which gives the customer a reason to enter and stay in the store, is therefore a good strategy for addressing these issues.

American brands leading the way

American retailers have really embraced the concept. The enormous Apple store on Regent Street in London looks more like a showroom than a store and features a studio for creative advice and a 64-seat theatre for workshops, events and demonstrations. Similarly, the flagship Disney store in London includes a Disney Princess Magic Mirror, where children can watch stories of Disney princesses and a theatre which hosts events with various Disney characters throughout the day. The entrance to the store feels like you are walking from the streets of London into the countryside as the smell of freshly cut grass permeates. Specially-composed music also welcomes shoppers and helps the Disney brand subtly enter the subconscious.

We may see more European and British brands embracing retailtainment to compete with the American brands – for example, in July last year, Burberry welcomed shoppers to their Regent Street store with a glass of prosecco upon arrival and a personal shopper to facilitate the shopping experience.

Is it worth it though?

There is no denying that the word-of-mouth buzz provides a useful marketing tool for retailers as shoppers share their shopping experiences on social media.

However, retailtaining comes at a price. For example, M&M invested £10 million on their four-storey store in Leicester Square. In a challenging retail climate, this kind of investment is unlikely to be viable for many retailers even if it does result in significantly fewer Instagram, Facebook and Twitter tags. In any case, retailtainment will not be a suitable investment for all retailers – it depends on the nature of the product and the brand.

Arguably some retailers may be better off spending their money on other innovations such as virtual and augmented reality technologies which make it easier for customers to make purchases (for example, virtual showrooms and fitting rooms) or other campaigns to engage customers. For example, in one of Marc Jacob’s recent campaigns, customers who came into a store were rewarded with free gifts if they sent a tweet or posted on Instagram. The campaign resulted in over 13,500 tweets and 4,300 photos on Instagram, bringing rewards to the brand without the expense of laying on in-store entertainment or opening a new flagship store.

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