It’s coming home
Those in the international market have the opportunity to achieve bigger, more temporary retail theatre because of the greater buying power and heavier traffic conferred by bigger populations. Lizzi Whaley, chief executive of interior fit-out company Spaceworks, says overseas retailers understand that retail isn’t just transactional, but is more about the experience and engaging with consumers.
“We’re slow here to pick up theatrical trends because retailers here are very transactional, they haven’t adopted or adapted to the fact that consumer behaviour has changed so much.”
Whaley, who spends time overseas analysing international retail trends, says bigger retailers do have the opportunities to do bigger and better things but warns New Zealand retailers should remember Kiwis prefer authenticity over flashy stunts.
“Even what I’ve seen overseas is that gimmicks don’t stay around for long. There is an element of authenticity and tall poppy syndrome everywhere, but international consumers may enjoy the odd gimmick more. Authenticity is really important, people need to understand it’s about engaging with a motion rather than being just for show.”
Frugality can often hinder New Zealand retailer’s efforts to go above and beyond with retail theatre, but Whaley says investment in this area will more often than not result in a profitable outcome.
“Theatrics connect people with the brand, it connects people with the location, and it stimulates people. In a crowded retail environment, there is so much competition you need to stand out.”
Yet although retailers are encouraged to adopt certain ways to wow customers, Whaley says there are some aspects of international examples we cannot emulate, due to size, cost, and population.
“We have less of a population, so we will never achieve some of the sales coming from a huge international retailer. A larger sales revenue channel means they’re able to do more in terms of theatrics.”
Whaley acknowledges that our retail theatre may be in its growth stage, but she recommends digital shouldn’t always be the main focus.
“We should be doing less digital, because it is visual, and we’re already bombarded with visuals. Whether it’s the product that you’re looking at or displays, adding digital is just adding another layer to that. We should be starting to focus on the other senses and engaging from a tactile perspective.
“When we did see good use of digital overseas it was not about messaging, it was used as a beautiful picture backdrop. But I think the availability of using that sort of digital enhancement in New Zealand is restricted to the cost. Large screens for that use are incredibly expensive, and although they look great they’re hard to implement in the New Zealand market.”
The trick for our inherently cynical consumer culture is creating an experience that is engaging but not high pressure or obnoxious.
“Good theatre is done in a subtle way where you don’t feel like you’re being screamed at,” says Whaley. “If a retailer is going to put any type of theatrics in their store they need to make sure they’re executing it well, then just leaving it. Don’t shout ‘Look we’re doing something!’ Just do it.”
Retail theatre can be a confusing whirlwind of a retailer’s own making. Knowing what to do and how to pull it off can be more stressful than wondering if it’ll actually work or not. Whaley’s advice is simple: position yourself as a customer and figure out how you would want them to engage.
“How do you want to make them feel? Not only about your product but also about your brand when they leave. That is not often about what they’re about to buy, but all the other factors that are surrounding them.”
Between capturing attention, engaging with customers, entertaining and creating repeat business, there is plenty of ways retail theatre can enhance the experience of your store. By looking beyond just selling the products, retailers are exploring the possibility of creating immersive experiences which more deeply and meaningfully connect with their customers.
Retail theatre represents a completely new aspect of the seller-buyer dynamic and could prove to be the thing that sets physical stores apart from their virtual counterparts, as well as the competition.