Retail Theatre: the Magic is Waiting!

I love going to the theatre, I tend to fall asleep if I go to the cinema. It must have something to do with the live shared experience which the theatre provides and which exists between the performers and the audience. It engages you on an emotional level.

Nothing is quite like it; I still recall the last night of Evita with Elaine Paige and the goosebumps at the final curtain call; not because I’m a particular fan but because of the intimate shared experience which it provided. I witnessed it…..I was there.

I was fortunate enough to attend the National Retail Federation’s annual convention in New York in January – otherwise known as Retails BIG Show. And for good reason; 2 whole floors of exhibitors from the big names such as IBM, SAP and Microsoft down to the smallest of niche players. 26,000 delegates over 3 days from all over the globe made this a truly remarkable event. But what was most memorable to me were the number of sessions and exhibitors covering one aspect or another of the in-store customer experience. Bricks & mortar stores aren’t where the investment is being made, right? Wrong! Online sales maybe booming so why have a large store estate? Well from the interest shown at NRF it is clear that whilst online will continue to grow, the store estate will remain. Perhaps in a different guise but the importance of the store and therefore the in-store experience has never been as important or relevant as it is today.

One of the sessions at NRF discussed best of breed retailers and what struck me was what they had in common. Virtually all focused obsessively on the in-store customer experience – the retail theatre which they created for their customers. If you have ever been to the Burberry store in London’s Regents Street you’ll know what I mean; if you haven’t – GO! It must be one of the truly memorable experiences on the high street and I would argue one which rivals the West End theatre for spectacle. I half expected that at any moment, Gloria Swanson would sweep down the wonderful curving staircase as if in a scene from Sunset Boulevard.

As more and more retailers embrace the in-store experience as a way not only to entice customers into the store but to stay there and purchase, it becomes a key differentiator in the fight for survival. Some, like Apple achieve this in a very simple straightforward way – no frills when you look at the store, just rows and rows of tactile ‘iSomethings’ to touch, feel and try out. Others like Burberry follow a different route but both are engaging their customers at an emotional level and this is rapidly growing in importance amongst retailers. This is the retail theatre and long may it continue.

Next time I shall explore how store colleagues are the cast and how crucial it is to fully engage them if the ‘Show’ is to be a success.

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