Retailtainment gets customers cozy

At a Bell Aliant store in St. John's, Nfld., young consumers can square off against their buddies in a unique gaming space, visit their MySpace page in the Internet lounge, or sit back and watch their favourite program on TV.

At a Bell Aliant store in St. John’s, Nfld., young consumers can square off against their buddies in a unique gaming space, visit their MySpace page in the Internet lounge, or sit back and watch their favourite program on TV.

Dean Roebothan, director of distribution and channel management, says the goal with the refurbished shop, located in the Avalon Mall, was to ‘get interactive with our customers.’ He adds: ‘In a traditional store, you walked in, saw something on display, and if you wanted to buy it you asked somebody. We wanted to be interactive so people could actually be hands-on within the store.’

St. John’s-based Bell Aliant isn’t the only retailer that’s using in-store interactivity as a means to get shoppers to hang out. Eric Brouillet, director of brand experience at Vibrant Ideation & Marketing, a below-the-line shop in Montreal, says it’s a trend that first emerged about five years ago, but one that keeps getting stronger. ‘Consumers select stores not only by price point, but also by the experience they provide,’ says Brouillet, who worked at promo agency Mosaic before starting his own shop. ‘When they [have an] experience [with] a brand, 35% are more likely to consider that brand. And 57% are more likely to proceed to buy when they have a relevant experience at the retail touch point.’

That’s what Bell Aliant hoped for with its futuristic, interactive shop, but Roebothan also recognized that a revamp was simply necessary due to product innovation. ‘Technology in the wireless and high speed Internet world is constantly changing. Traditionally, it would be primarily a cellphone. Now you have interactive gaming, PDAs. Consumers will have a clearer understanding of what the products and services are if they try them, as opposed to reading about them.’

Since it opened in October 2005, both traffic and sales at the Avalon store (which won the ‘New Retail Store Design Concept Award’ from the Retail Council of Canada in June), has increased significantly, and the chain is retrofitting other locations based on the success of this model. The shop in the Halifax Shopping Centre has already been renovated, and Roebothan says he hopes to revamp all 20 Bell Aliant branded stores in Atlantic Canada. ‘It’s friendly, it’s open and it’s interactive, which is the key word.’

Like Bell Aliant, Markham, Ont.-based Golf Town aims to provide a friendly, enticing and interactive environment, geared at keeping its target, in this case both men and women, in the stores longer. But Stephen Bebis, president/CEO, of the chain, explains that getting the lighting right was also imperative. ‘Golf is played outside, and outside it’s sunny, it’s beautiful, that’s the ideal environment to play golf and we wanted the store to feel the same way. We didn’t want it dark and dingy or clubby, we wanted it bright.’

In the stores, golfers can try before they buy – they can test out a new driver on a putting surface and can even take golf lessons at an in-store teaching academy. Says Bebis: ‘When people come to our store, they want to improve their game. In order to be able to sell products that improve their game, they need to try them out. The feeling we want them to get is: ‘Hey this is a great store to buy from.’ It’s a series of textures, surfaces, lighting, fixtures, and sales people. It’s not one thing, it’s a recipe.’

To get the recipe right, Bebis studied the environments of retailers in other categories. For instance, he borrowed Home Depot’s steel and concrete look, and dressed it up to feel more upscale. (Bebis spent much of his career at the home improvement retail chain.)

More recently, the retailer has worked to create an in-store golf community. Shoppers can post their handicaps on a computer in store, and meet fellow players. In fact, they can even join a golf club organized by Golf Town, and compete against other customers at golf courses set up by the chain.

‘You can actually join our golf club for $79,’ says Bebis. ‘We consider ourselves the pro shop of the public player. Most golfers don’t have their own club to play at. If you’re a customer in Woodbridge, how do you find a game on a Thursday afternoon? You can just log onto our website and find other customers who are members of that store. We’ve created a community.’

The 28-store chain has also recently organized its own tour where customers play for prizes, such as gift certificates.

Adds Bebis: ‘Retail today is entertainment – we have fashion shows, clinics, product knowledge classes for our customers. It’s a fun place to be.’ But does it lead to sales? ‘Absolutely, the longer they stay, the more they spend.’

Meanwhile, Toronto-based Holt Renfrew has always viewed its store environment as a key pillar of the entire customer experience, says Mary Pompili, VP marketing. ‘We work very hard to ensure our customers feel engaged.’

Currently, the Montreal and Toronto stores are being renovated, she says, both to accommodate additional product (the Toronto store will have an extra 17,000 square feet) and to make more room for the special events Holt’s often hosts. ‘We think of retail as theatre. We create that theatre through visuals, and through personal appearances. We try to bring our customers into close quarters with designers.’

In September for instance, when Holt’s celebrated Burberry’s 150th anniversary, designer Christopher Bailey attended a party launching the month-long celebration. And of course, the retailer also tied into the Toronto International Film Festival, which Pompili says, ‘adds to the buzz, and further connects with the customer. We always ensure that there is activity happening in the store.’

According to Pompili, retail theatre starts with the windows, but the themes are carried throughout the store. For instance, September’s Burberry celebration was evident from the window displays, but as consumers walked through to the central atrium, they encountered a cascade of Burberry umbrellas. Says Pompili: ‘A reaction is created, and we’re connecting with the customer on an emotional level.’

The retailer also revamped its personal shopping suites this summer to ‘reflect the level of care and attention that we’re able to provide these customers.’ The suites are now 300 to 500 square feet and they include a dedicated elevator, a private entrance, a modern kitchen, full menu service from Holt’s Café, adjustable heating and more.

All of these elements, says Pompili, add to the experience and environment. ‘Our brand promise is to delight customers with beautiful fashions presented in style. We look at how every area of the business impacts the customer experience.’

Brouillet cautions that when it comes to ‘retailtainment,’ the strategy has to make sense for the brand and you need to make a resource commitment. ‘If you want to do it, you need to do it well, [but you also] need to make sure it’s relevant for the retailer, the brand and the consumer.’

Retailtainment spurs sales

You don’t have to be a retailer to cash in on retailtainment. This summer Frito-Lay and Pepsi teamed up with Loblaws to bring to life a promo based on the movie Superman Returns.

Eric Brouillet, director of brand experience at Montreal-based Vibrant Ideation & Marketing, was behind the effort, created specifically for the Loblaws grocery chain.

‘Our strategy was to be the first point of contact for the consumer,’ he says. ‘So when they entered the store, immediately our brand ambassador, who was dressed up as Superman, was interacting with them, and communicating the offer.’

This enabled the brands to get additional exposure, as merchandise was set up in the main entrance, as opposed to solely in the chips and pop aisle, says Brouillet, who adds that the program was also advertised two weeks prior via an in-store TV and POS campaign.

Customers were offered a free Superman T-shirt, which they received right away with the purchase of two Pepsi or Frito-Lay products. The instant gratification was key to the success of the program, according to Brouillet.

And it was indeed a success. Joint sales of Pepsi and Frito-Lay took off almost as quickly as Superman, increasing by 390% for the seven days the program was in store, versus the previous week. Talk about super.