The show must go on
Retailers need to give people a reason to come into their stores and an experience that will keep them there for longer, and learn from the stores that are doing it right, says Daniel Todaro, MD of field marketing agency Gekko
In these challenging times, in-store theatre is possibly the retailer’s most powerful and effective way to attract more customers and convert more sales.
Some may argue that Maplin was a great loss to the high street, and I agree, as it served a niche exceptionally well. For the casual passer-by, however, it didn’t entice them in to browse and spend. It lacked theatre that appealed to a wider audience by not defining its ranging to demonstrate that it was a category expert – the place to go.
So what could Maplin have done better to attract a more diverse customer base and stand a chance of surviving? Perhaps translating the customer journey seamlessly through all of its marketing to entice a customer in to purchase through the power of in-store theatre?
When any kind of advertising is used, print, online or broadcast, the stock needs to be in place and the display easily understood, with the message clear to passers-by to remind them of what they saw in the advert. This should culminate in a working display that engages the consumer, backed by knowledgeable sales assistants to guide the customer through the brand experience and close the sale.
Up to 77 per cent of consumers say they research products before buying from a retailer in-store. For electronics, 52 per cent of those turn up in-store to see it, feel it and hear it with a view to then go and buy it online. This need not be so if the customer experience is exemplary and the interaction insightful. The shopper will more often than not be converted and buy on the day, because the item was in stock and the ‘considered’ sale was made easier with the help of knowledgeable sales staff and associated in-store theatre.
A recent above-the-line brand campaign we ran achieved 47 per cent of all sales within 21 per cent of a retailer’s estate by using retail theatre. Bringing the product to life in a real-world environment enabled consumers to understand the product and how they could use it in their connected home.
John Lewis recently invested £33 million in its new store at Westfield, London – and it is a beautiful store. It is laid out exceptionally well, but what makes it different from other stores is its theatre. They really get the concept of retail as theatre, as does the luxury sector, which cossets you in the brand.
While the luxury sector appeals to a narrow demographic, John Lewis appeals to a wider and, in some instances, very specific and aspirational audience.
In the CE category, this retailer appeals to the tech-savvy generation that are no longer having to take advice from the kids as they are wiser and more digitally active. Its approach is all-encompassing with an entrance that draws you in, with staff greeting you as you ascend through the store, and pointing you in the right direction should you find yourself getting lost.
The customer journey continues with a well laid-out and working display with a ‘partner’ on hand, should you need one, to guide you through the sale and down to the customer collection point. All strategically choreographed so you can carry on shopping or enjoy the catering on each level – all designed to keep you in-store for longer.
On the flip side, House of Fraser is considering closing 45 of its 59 stores, and Debenhams has reported an 85 per cent drop in profits and put part of the blame on the weather. That’s embarrassing.
Don’t just blame the weather, look at your stores. Where’s the theatre, where are the staff, where’s the customer journey that achieves a sale and entices the new shopper to come back again? Strip lighting, staff that daren’t make eye contact, clutter and constant ‘offers’ aren’t conducive to theatre and a positive customer experience.
There are independents that do theatre well, because they know the value of this investment in increasing footfall and converting sales. Take last year’s ERT Awards Turning Point panellists – Purewell, Moss of Bath and Avensys. They all evidently appreciate the value that theatre has added to their businesses to ease the shopper into a sale. Moss of Bath has seen custom installation grow beyond all recognition from what it was 10 years ago because it brought theatre into its showroom.
Owner Tim Moss has encouraged retailers to “make your showroom less about boxes and more about theatre – show customers something they haven’t experienced before”.
Avensys head of retail Martin Jukes adds: “The smart home is the dream for a lot of our customers and that’s where we see our future. If you don’t do it now, you’re going to get left behind.”
Purewell operations manager Ed Griffiths says: “It’s very easy and churlish to think that your customers wouldn’t want the smart home – show it to them. Seeing is believing – people will want it.”
Some top brands also know the power of retail theatre – Apple, Dyson and rather interestingly the four UK mobile carriers EE, Vodafone, 3 and O2. They have become retailers and have decided to sell direct – and are successful at it. This dynamic industry spends proportionately more than others on refits to make sure it stays in vogue. The commodity is turned into a desire, because we always must have a device in our pocket, and the network we choose is not only driven by service and perceived value for money, but also a reflection of our personality. With more than 1,800 outlets across the UK, they are often anchor stores in a high street and offer retail theatre, so increasing footfall on the high street generally.
Coffee shops are a good cue to learn from, too, as their success depends on the way in which the space is used for social engagement, work or as an office. An office where your rent each day is the coffee you’ll order first, then the snack – and so it goes on, with no pressure to leave. Most chains continue to make a profit and are the one retail sector on the increase on our embattled high streets. It’s retail theatre disguised as leisure.
The merger of Carphone Warehouse and Dixons has developed theatre to great effect by borrowing from their respective expertise to blend something quite special. An engaging environment that evolves the proposition to appeal to those with the spending power in line with trends and the consumer zeitgeist. Pulling on all its brands as ‘partners’ to come along on the journey enables both the retailer, and the brands, to succeed together.
Investing in theatre that enhances the experience can bring brands closer to the right people, and the right people closer to the brand.