Retailtainment [sic] and the real world

This from My Retail Media this morning:

The gist is that ‘retailers are going to have to put emphasis on “sound, ambience, emotion and activity” to tempt the customers into physical stores so that they may be seduced into the idea of parting with their hard earned cash’.

The premise is that TJ Hughes, Habitat and Thornton’s have all failed (no, hang on, Thornton’s is still in business) because they haven’t provided retail theatre.  The exemplar of retail theatrics quoted through the article is, of course, the Disney store.

I am not convinced that the article properly distinguishes between a “good retail experience” – which may be the food hall at Harrods, James Smith‘s umbrellas, or a great little hardware store, according to taste – and theatre (I’m trying not to write “retailtainment” again).  Retailers succeed on value, range, location and service, but they can only flourish briefly on novelty.

The Disney Store is not an exception to this rule, but it has a particularly strong niche – a self-renewing target customer base.  The merchandise in a Disney Store is targeted at a narrow age range, which is susceptible both to the brands on sale, and the theatrical presentation and service the stores offer.  For parents, Disney does the job, selling exactly the toys, plush and costumes that their children want – and the kids can let off steam a little too.

However, you will soon tire of the Disney Store if you’re outside the target customer range*.  Imagine having to shop there, once a month for the rest of your life.  But for Disney, its customer base churns at a rate of, what, 20% a year?  And providing the studios carry on delivering the hits, Disney is a good business.  (Imagine it in the days before Beauty & the Beast, Lion King and Pixar.  Not so good.)

No one else has achieved this, because no one else has the intellectual property.  Remember Warner Bros Studio Stores, with their more ironic take on their aged cartoon characters?  For one season, Daffy Duck and Yosemite Sam teeshirts were as ubiquitous as Superdry is today, and then, pooph! the dream was over.

The article wheels out further usuasl suspects – Anthropologie (living wall!!), Abercrombie (topless men!!), Apple (customer service!!) and Nike (tailor made shoes!!).  Three of those four brands are suited only to major cities with strong tourist traffic; Abercrombie’s over-branding could yet take them the same way as Bugs Bunny, and Anthropologie sells different and interesting clothes and homewares in exciting store spaces – but you only need to see a living wall once, and so the stores are as good as this season’s collection.  [Apple is only the top brand in the world – and they happen to run very good stores.]

Reader, I know whereof I speak, for once I too was in retailtainment.  We provided range and service in a quality environment, selling a products everyone wanted – books, CDs, videos etc.  Then history overtook us; we couldn’t format out of products customers didn’t want to buy any more, couldn’t afford to pay big store rents and charge Amazon prices.  Average dwell time was 45 minutes, but average spend was too low.  We piled on the retailtainment, but the novelty had faded, and the customers drifted away.  Curtain.

I always try to shop at places that give me a little extra in terms of range, ambience and service.  I try not to be ultra-picky about price – I’d rather buy less, and spend more per item, but that’s my choice.  All good retailers understand the balance they have to achieve in order to satisfy their target demographic.  TJ Hughes and Habitat (not exactly targeting the same customers) couldn’t do it any more.  But the argument is about retail first principles, not retailtainment.

*I speak here of the general public – as a retailer myself, of course I find it endlessly fascinating.

Photo: Disney Store –