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How retail theatre can drive consumers offline and in store

How retail theatre can drive consumers offline and in store

By Nick Gray, MD, Live & Breathe.

Online shopping is a bit like watching a play on a television screen. You’ll see the same thing as you would in the theatre, but it will not be the same experience.

A total of £4.7bn was spent online last year, according to accounting and consulting firm Deloitte. Quite simply, online shopping is here to stay and more popular than ever. So how should real life shopping co-exist alongside its digital sibling?

It’s a given that consumers slip between online and High Street shopping depending on their needs. A bit of online research here, a visit to the physical store to test out the product there and perhaps a return visit online to order.

But the leading question is what sort of experience should physical stores be offering? The key lies in complementing online by focusing on ‘retail theatre.’

Retail theatre provides an interactive and exciting alternative to the convenience and functionality of online shopping. Retailers can offer consumers something the internet cannot by presenting their products via a shopping experience that is truly engaging and depending on the brand in question anything from flamboyant, to provocative, to sexy to energetic to Zen. Think about how a theatre company might present its latest production and you get the idea.

So, how best to grab some of this theatre action? Part of the answer lies in the use of retail atmospherics – designing buying environments to produce specific emotional reactions that mean the probability of customers making a purchase is increased. This includes the use of layout, colour, scents, music, lighting and POP to create an atmosphere.

Retail atmospherics can boost and define brand equity; relax customers, put them in a buying mood and enrich their shopping experience. It is the trump card offline retailers hold to differentiate what they can offer from the experience of shopping online.

Creating powerfully emotive and engaging retail environments is both a science and an art. As a creative retail marketing agency involved with developing atmospherics to create engaging shopping environments, Live & Breathe has identified five scales that a shopping experience must register on.

The first is affinity – the closeness a customer feels to the values and attributes that the retail environment projects. The second is pleasure: what degree of enjoyment do customers attain in a particular retail environment?

Third is arousal, or the level of stimulation experienced by shoppers. Dominance – whether or not customers feel like they are in control when they are shopping – is fourth. Last is flow – do customers remain engaged and can they move with ease around the retail environment?

The shopping environments that best enrich customer experience are those that register on these five scales. The Westfield shopping centre in London is a good example of a retail space that has focused on enriching customer experience, from the way it is designed to the services it offers.

It bills itself as being ‘as much a meeting hub as a place to shop and eat’. Now that it is fully operational, the complex hosts a full calendar of arts and educational events beneath a spectacular glass roof. A gym, spa and 14-screen state-of-the-art and a new library also serve the local community.

Westfield uses variations in textures and colours of materials for its walls, floors and ceilings, as well as a variety of shop frontages and eye-lines to keep customers engaged. Its airy, ambient interior and imposing entrances fill customers with anticipation and a definite ‘wow factor’.

A testament to the effectiveness of retail atmospherics is the footfall the Westfield has enjoyed since it opened. The shopping centre had nearly 12 million visitors in its first six months of operating, all of this despite the economic downturn, according to its management company.

Another example of a brand that is taking atmospherics to the next level is US retailer Anthropologie. In late October, it opened its luscious Regent Street store to huge fanfare. The experience is a sensory treat, the like of which represents a revolution on the UK High Street.

Everything has been designed to inspire wonderment and dwell time. From the amazing windows with art installation style herbal tea bag constructs to the feature wall made of living plants, it all feels like a fairy tale come to life.

Yet at the same time, the products on sale - a mix of clothing, jewellery and pretty household goods –  never have to vie for attention to be seen and heard. They fit effortlessly into this carefully considered Bohemian milieu and appear very much at home.

The use of gentle lighting and warm, welcoming organic materials combined with open spaces and comfortable, rustic objects ensure that the shopper is compelled to explore and linger in this colourful retail paradise.

So what can retailers learn from all of this? Quite simply, if they are to define and secure a distinctive future, retail spaces need to communicate with customers through all their senses in a way that online retailers cannot. Retailers are starting to pull apart their stores and design environments around the opportunities presented by audio visual and other new technologies to offer integrated multimedia shopping experiences.

And there is a new chapter in the growing discipline of shopper marketing. More recently offline shopping has started to add a further weapon to its arsenal with the increasingly sophisticated use of data. Combined with the theatre of retail atmospherics it makes for a potent pairing by enhancing the shopper experience and driving more considered sales.

Live & Breathe’s recent partnership with data experts HS&P represents a true multi-channel approach; the closing of the gap between traditional retail marketing skills and hard edged data expertise. The partnership has already secured below the line work for the next three years from Sony’s Consumer Electronics division.

There are exciting times ahead. Watch this space.

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