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  • Writer's pictureZaine Venter

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

iD, Managing Director


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