The retail sector is in the midst of one of its largest fluctuations in recent history. With more options and choices on offer to today’s consumer than ever before, gaining customers is only the beginning, keeping them is becoming increasingly difficult. Here, RLI takes a look inside the world of Retailtainment…

Microsoft – London, UK

What do you think of when you think of Retailtainment? Is it something as grandiose as the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge themed areas that have opened this year in the Disneyland Park at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California and Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida; or is it something more brand oriented like the largest Lego store in the world in Leicester Square which is a haven for Lego enthusiasts?

The Concept

At its most basic level, Retailtainment is essentially retail marketing as entertainment. The term was made popular by author George Ritzer, who in his book ‘Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Mean of Consumption (1999), describes the term as the use of ambience, emotion, sound and activity to get customers interested in the merchandise and in a mood to buy.

The phrase is sometimes called Inspirational Retailing and Entertailing, whilst it has also been defined as the modern trend of combining shopping and entertainment opportunities as an anchor for customers. In 2001, Vanni Codeluppi described it as a way for marketers to offer the consumer physical and emotional sensations during the shopping experience,” whilst in an article entitled ‘Using Sonic Branding in the Retail Environment’ in the 2003 issue of the Journal of Consumer Behavior, Paul Fulberg described it as a way for retailers to entertain the consumer with a dramatisation of their values.

The Industry

As the retail industry continues to undergo a dramatic transformation, one which fuses shopping and entertainment under one roof, the focus is shifting to providing a fun, immersive and highly-personalised customer-first experience.

The trend is a direct result of Millennial shopping habits and a new breed of shoppers who no longer merely look to purchase products, but expect an all-round unique and memorable in-store experience. According to Eben Esterhuizen, there are three particular Retailtainment trends appearing in the market which use either one or a combination of ambiance, emotion, sound and activity.

1. The Analogue Experience

Retailtainment does not need to involve the latest high-tech gadgetry and sales can still happen in an inviting analog (non-tech) environment, using skilled sales people. He explains that with these elements in place, the boxes of ambience and emotion have already been ticked.

To a certain extent, it is a design misconception that retailers need virtual reality, robotics, etc., to create a memorable retailtainment experience; it is very much dependent on product and situation. An example of a brand not using tech for tech’s sake is the US women’s work clothing brand M.M.LaFleur. Their retail strategy is to take the angst out of dressing for work with a direct-to-consumer model, focusing on simplicity using personal stylists, giving bespoke service. They believe the human element of good service is vital to their target market and intentionally keeps tech out of its showrooms.

2. The Full-Tech Experience

This is largely where the thrill of Retailtainment lives, the sense that we’re shopping in a science fiction landscape. Farfetch’s Store of the Future is touted as an augmented retail solution which “links the online and offline worlds, using data to enhance the retail experience”.

This includes having connected clothing racks, touch-screen-enhanced mirrors where you can request different sizes, customised order taking, sign-in stations with purchase history, as well as the technology to pay for your shopping without actually leaving the dressing room. Recently Farfetch has unveiled a “new content experience” allowing customers to shop for “selections and edits chosen by the global Farfetch community, sharing inspiration from around the world”, thus, fusing technology, influencers and the global community together to create uber-brand Retailtainment. In the pharmacy/beauty arena the Sephora shopping experience has evolved with innovative technology and hands on customer service. The New Sephora Experience has a beauty hub with digital apps to test products, shoppable connected terminals, latest trend tutorials taking the customer on a journey of what people are ‘crushing on’ at the moment, and in 327 of its French stores they have Snapchat geofilters featuring store highlights. In addition to the technology, flagship stores are offering beauty classes with makeup lessons, workshops by beauty professionals at their Beauty Hub and personal skincare services.

3. The Community Experience

One way to describe the community experience Retailtainment trend is to compare it to a local shopping mall, if the mall had one brand and many activities aligned to create a phenomenal (largely free) customer theme park. Foot Locker’s ‘power store” that launched in Detroit in the US is a concrete example of this. It is an over 8,500sq ft space and described as a hub for local sneaker culture, art, music and sports. Footlocker has consciously positioned the brand within a lifestyle adventure of art, culture and music in a massively shareable (think Instagram) environment. Another version of this is the House of Vans in London. Again the brand seems almost secondary to the vast array of experiences on offer: Live music, art, street culture, fashion, cinema, a BMX track designed by skaters and a cafe. The size of this community Retailtainment hub is 30,000sq ft. Inside all of this lives the Vans brand, part of the unconscious mind as the customer (who may not know they’re a customer yet) has an amazing Retailtainment experience. The community designed experience takes shopping out of the shop and into a sports arena, art gallery, restaurant or all three (or more), it is a hub where Gen Alpha will meet regularly in the future.

Examples of Retailtainment

Unveiling its first European flagship earlier this year in London, Microsoft recently joined an ever-growing list of experiential retailers catering to the changing habits of shoppers worldwide. Split across three floors, the location features a Windows Mixed Reality area of AR experiences like the HoloLens, as well as an Xbox area with a real McLaren Senna supercar synced to Forza Motorsport 7 on a digital screen. There is also an entire floor dedicated to both professional and casual gamers, where Microsoft plans to hold gaming tournaments while introducing gaming to new audiences with Xbox One S and Minecraft. Last but not least, a classroom-style community theatre sits on the second floor and is designed to host workshops, training and special Microsoft events. With this store, Microsoft has joined the ranks of other destination stores dedicated to providing more than just an ordinary shopping experience.

Also in London, Tiffany’s ‘Style Studio’ in Covent Garden marks luxury’s step towards a more relaxed customer interaction, personalisation and performance. The more than 2,100sq ft space features a perfume vending machine and a while-you-wait leather embossing and engraving service where shoppers can create their own monograms and designs on a screen before transferring it to jewellery or other items. Tiffany’s doesn’t just offer exclusive shopping events either — the retailer holds a space at the back of the store for special client events, parties and artwork exhibitions from young artists working with the international art fund, Outset. Tiffany’s is also transparent in the type of customer it targets — the store is open until 10pm and tailors to younger consumers who often shop late, shop for themselves and look for personalisation as part of their shopping experience.

ITV has confirmed a new multi-million entertainment attraction, celebrating TV blockbuster I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! The new attraction will open at The Lowry’s brand new The Watergardens development at MediaCityUK. The I’m A Celebrity… Jungle Challenge will open later next year as an epic 2,500sq m indoor entertainment feature in Manchester, featuring the iconic Base Camp, Croc Creek and Snake Rock in the ultimate jungle encounter. The action-packed family entertainment centre promises to take campmates into the heart of the jungle where you’ll need to navigate a series of obstacles and challenges. Guests will face their fears, test their nerve and agility and venture into the jungle canopy, collecting stars as they go to be crowned king or queen of the jungle! Jason Pullen, Managing Director of Lifestyle Outlets added: “Our partnership with ITV is an exciting development in our goal to create a new generation of Outlets by creating unique leisure and shopping destinations with entertainment at their heart. I am delighted to reveal that “I’m A Celebrity… Jungle Challenge” opening at The Watergardens, MediaCityUK next year will be the first of its kind in the UK. I am confident that the experience will be a huge draw for people across the North West and beyond as they look to get closer to the action of this iconic TV show.”

World-renowned brand Nike last year opened a state-of-the-art flagship store in New York City officially named the Nike House of Innovation. Spanning six floors and 68,000 square feet, it is packed with brand-new customer experiences that Nike has never done before, including the largest collection of Nike shoes for sale in the world, a “speed shop” filled with popular items available for grab-and-go buying, and incorporation of new features from Nike’s shopping app, including instant purchase. One floor is dedicated entirely to sneakers — including an area specifically for women’s shoes — while another is dedicated entirely to men’s clothing. Women’s and kids’ clothing share a floor. The store is also completely module. The walls can be moved, and the store can be entirely shifted using a grid system in as little time as a day.

Meanwhile at Lush, the motto is ‘Going the extra mile’ for customers — especially those who prefer interaction. With product demonstrations and valuable advice found throughout its stores, employees are put through extensive training to serve customers with the right tools and knowledge in order to make Lush the ultimate destination store. It’s not just about people either ; it’s about the senses as well. Thanks to a wide combination of technology, the company gives customers the option to pay with tablets, while also housing a demonstration area that holds large sinks and baths. As a result, the Lush in-store experience is a high-sensory one that’s raised the bar in experiential shopping. Its Manchester location is now a package-free store doing its bit for the environment by letting customers use tech to find product information normally found on packaging.