Connecting with your customers using retail theatre

  • Opinion
  • August 27, 2018
  • Sarah Dunn & The Register team
Connecting with your customers using retail theatre

I’ve noticed over the last year or two that there’s something happening to shoppers around the world. It’s not that consumerism is less important than it used to be – anyone scrolling Instagram or tracking the growth trajectory of Amazon can see that the latest and greatest products still rule supreme – but there’s now a desire for shopping to be about more than just the product itself.

Consumers are no longer content with simply exchanging cash for goods. As they access increasing purchasing power, Millennials, like myself, and members of Generation Z, like NZ Retail’s deputy editor Courtney Devereux, are communicating that we want our purchases to mean something, and we want to feel that meaning while we’re making them.

We're seeing a number of trends springing up to satisfy that desire for meaning - notably personalisation, conscious consumerism and experiential retail, and it's under the experiential retail banner that retail theatre fits in.

As retailers seek to find an experiential edge that differentiates themselves from their pureplay cousins, they're increasingly turning towards laying on hospitality, elaborate amenities and spectacular displays. This full-service offering actually represents a throwback to the late Victorian to early 1920s era of retail. At that time, full-service department stores like Chicago’s Marshall Field’s dominated the scene.

Retailers can mine this era of history for modern inspiration - I recommend reading French author Emile Zola's The Ladies' Paradise for its beautifully visual display ideas.

Today, retail theatre means offering Bonheur des Dames-style premium extras to a mass market, while also maintaining the basics of product, price and good service. Retail theatre isn’t about trying to bedazzle customers into making impulse decisions they might later regret or tricking them, but about using that "wow" moment to forge a meaningful connection with them.

Some finer points to consider:

  • Many of the very best retail theatre activations are currently taking place in the hospitality scene. Take a look at top cafes and restaurants before committing to a retail roll-out.
  • If you're using technology as part of your offering, think critically about whether it's necessary, and whether it's contributing or detracting from the authenticity of your offering.
  • Put yourself in the customer's shoes. Don't think about what you'd like to buy, but how you want to feel. Are you in a rush or ready to browse? Are you familiar with the brand? Would you like to be thrilled or pampered?

A full feature exploring this topic is currently available in NZ Retail magazine issue 757, August / September 2018. It's on sale at Relay stores and select Paper Plus outlets, or subscribe online.

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