IT’S SHOPPING JIM: BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT!

I have mangled the title of this blog from a misattributed quote from Star Trek. I am referring in this instance to how the act of shopping is constantly changing before our eyes. In various chapters of the text we have discussed the concept of experiential marketing and how it is so relevant for retailers and by implication, shoppers.

Of course the concept is not new: it has been practiced for many years in various business sectors such as the sports and entertainment areas. Many commentators argue that its growing importance has been driven by the ever more sophisticated customers that are out there today. Fired up by higher levels of disposable income (relatively speaking) their expectations levels continue to rise. Organisations, particularly in the services area have to respond accordingly and provide what is often referred to in the literature as an “enhanced and positive customer experience”.

That customer journey is built around four pillars: engagement, interaction, participation and immersion.

In the context of retailing this largely revolves the development and creation of a positive shopping experience – both on an online and physical basis. In this blog I focus on the implications for physical “bricks and mortar” stores and outlets.

In chapter five of the text we examine the nature of the retail selling environment and make the observation that physical stores in many cases have reinvented themselves through the creation of “positive shopper journeys and experiences. This focuses on specific aspects such as store design, layout and atmospherics. I do not intend to revisit them here but I will make a number of observations that have struck me recently as I read about the continued responses of retailers to the concept of experiential marketing.

In particular I was struck by the attempts of a few retailers to enhance the shopper experience recently.

Firstly Diesel, the clothing retailer recently announced a venture which at first glance appears to be so “wacky” that it defies analysis. At the end of October (2016) it introduced a strategy at its new flagship store which is built around a 5D multi-sensory Virtual Reality experience. It designed this concept in partnership with a third party company: Savvy. The latter is a retail and shopping marketing agency. It builds upon an earlier strategy called “Fur you: Fur me” campaign. Through the use of CGI and 3D binaural sound design it creates a world of furry characters. In this virtual world, shoppers can ride around on the back of these creatures, fly through clouds and furry trees. Reality is further augmented by creating features such as windy conditions. Through VR diesel also creates an interesting trapeze experience. The experience also makes use of smell – through the introduction of the scent of candy floss – to further heighten the experience (http://www.eventmagazine.co.uk/diesel-launches-flagship-store-vr-experience/brands/article/1413832).

All very interesting and potentially entertaining you might observe. However what has this got to do with the basics of shopping? Is this a step too far? Diesel clearly embraces the notion of providing a “fun”, entertaining and immersive experience for visitors to its store. Will it encourage or motivate shoppers to spend some money in the store? Or will they see it as a fun place to “kill some time” and provide entertainment for their kids? What target market indeed are they addressing via this new initiative?

Certainly from the perspective of its brand personality it sees itself as a fun brand targeting young people including teenagers It also has a “diesel Kids” range. On this basis it possibly can be argued that this “wacky” approach fits broadly into the brand associations that many of its followers might buy into.

Another retailer – Foyles (A UK book retailer) has also embarked on experiential marketing campaigns, albeit in a more traditional and conservative (relatively speaking) way. It has adopted a strategy which is based on the presumption of “marrying in-store technology with a community-led retail experience” (Retail Week). Its Director of Customer Services notes that their research identifies four segments or groups of shoppers that frequent their stores.

  1. Leave me to browse.
  2. Please help me.
  3. Connect with me.
  4. Immerse me.

The latter two segments might be impressed by some of their initiatives. One such activity is the introduction of motion-sensitive audio visual pads that are scattered around the store and where shoppers can listen to authors reading their works aloud.

Oasis the clothing retailer has introduced a café bar and salon into its flagship store on the Tottenham Court Road in London. It has brought in partners to run both initiatives: “Saucer and Spritz” and “pin and Polish”. It argues that this frees it up to focus on what it is good at – fashion.

I could go on and on with examples – a quick search on Google will identify a number of interesting and perhaps “wackier examples” than I have highlighted. In an earlier blog I mentioned that IKEA had introduced the “Dining Club” concept in a pop-up store in the London area. This affords shoppers the opportunity to liaise with chefs in a café situation and where there is also space for a kitchen show room and an area for cooking workshops. Again it could be argued that this is about as far away from IKEA’s core business (household furniture items) as icebergs in the Sahara Desert.

In defence of such strategies however it can be argued that this is the modern face of retailing in response to the changing preferences and perceptions of shoppers. Younger shoppers, particularly those labelled as “millennials”, want to engage with products and brands; they have a desire to be entertained and find many aspects of traditional shopping to be boring and repetitive.

We have also seen this happening in other sectors such as sport. If we attend some of these events we see a package of entertainment being built around the core activity (the game, competition or duel). Sports such as cricket and rugby have changed the rules to simplify the sport. In the case of cricket it has introduced a couple of variations (e.g. shorter forms of the game) to deal with lower attention spans.

Similarly in the case of retailing we are witnessing many operators redefining what their business is all about. On a broader scale, particular in some regions of the world, we have seen this for many years now in the context of shopping malls and retail centres (discussed in our chapter on retail location in the text). These shopping malls are in many cases “cathedrals” of entertainment: containing features as diverse as indoor skiing slopes, children’s entertainment centres, cinema multiplexes and so on.

It follows that at the micro level of individual retail outlets, retailers also have to grapple with the need to create an immersive and interactive store selling environment. This has stepped up somewhat with the increasing use of technology such as Augmented and Virtual Reality.

We are likely to see more and more of such initiatives over the coming years as retailers constantly strive to be more innovative and entertaining in an attempt to attract and retain shoppers. This might be at the expense of investing further in customer service. Why bother with the latter if shoppers can acquaint themselves with all of the necessary comparative information on brand choices? However this is a topic for another day!

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