In the World of Retailtainment

While the concept of retailtainment is not new, nowadays, it is an increasingly important strategy for business growth and development, which puts the customer experience at the center. George Ritzer, the author of Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of Consumption, referred to retailtainment, or entertaining retail, as the use of ambiance, emotion, sound and activity to get customers interested in merchandise and in a mood to buy.

Those parts of the shopping experience, however, have long been considered a side dish, as some professionals fairly put it. But today, entertainment is no longer a side dish: it’s the main course. As explained by the Chain Store Age, Entertainment introduces a social element that gives a center status as a destination. It gives people reasons to come and reasons to stay, presenting a new and different range of engaging activities and memorable experiences.

As simple as that, retailtainment represents a shift in the model of building a retail business – moving from a heavy emphasis on a purchase itself to the customer experience and journey that leads to the purchase of a product. And that experience includes opening Lucky Strikes in shopping malls, indoor skydiving, food courts, in-store shows and contests, movie theaters, installing mind blowing aquariums, underwater zoos or taxidermy wildlife like Cabela’s.

One of the prominent players heavily applying the concept is Walmart, which earlier this year teamed up with the Professional Bull Riders league to bring bulls and their riders to stores in Sioux Falls, S.D., Little Rock, Ark., and Las Vegas, as reported by Fortune.

There are couple factors driving the emphasis on entertaining events in stores, according to AdAge:

  • According to Walmart Chief Marketing Officer Tony Rogers’ research-based estimates, 94% of shoppers say their decisions are more likely to be influenced by in-store demos than ads.
  • People want an enjoyable store experience. As Rogers shared with the addition, "There's an interesting little paradox we're seeing in our research. Just as the world is becoming more digital, a lot of our customers are craving for a more physical, real experience, and a live retail experience."

Disney is another interesting case. As James D. Fielding, a former president of Disney Stores Worldwide, shared years ago, The world does not need another place to sell Disney merchandise – this only works if it’s an experience.

Shawn Turner, Senior Manager of Communications at Disney, added, It’s about making this an experience rather than just picking up a toy. We want them [customers] to leave feeling like they had the full Disney experience. They don’t necessarily need to go to the park to have that experience, they can get it at the local mall.

It's not just a product shopping that's been pumped up by retailtainment – the restaurant business has picked up the idea and turned dining into something more than eating. The Dining Club took a fresh approach with its fully immersive ‘Do-It-Yourself’ restaurant. Members of the public can book to host a brunch, lunch or dinner party for up to 20 friends and family, supported by their very own Ikea sous chef and maître d’.

Nowadays, the list of examples is infinite. In fact, no shopping experience now is built without the entertaining anchors. Those anchors, however, are evolving with the advancements in technology and transitions in consumer habits. One of the most interesting modern elements of building a retailtainment business is VR technology.

Headsets like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and Google Cardboard will not only be defining the future way to browse through offerings and to shop but are an entertaining experience by themselves. With stores reminding showrooms rather than warehouses, VR installations could become the centerpiece of a ‘digitally physical,’ if we may call it so, experience.

Not necessarily tailored to allow a virtual crusade through products, VR technology within stores is a way to apply the good ol’ product placement or simply a pastime in a particular store while just offering to play a game or take a virtual tour to Paris. It's not as much shopping as a joyful experience of a modern technology for the customer.

As Deborah Weinswig, the Managing Director of Fung Global Retail & Technology, recently commented, Stores of the future will be tech-enabled with mobile apps improving in-store execution, virtual reality headsets that recreate live fashion shows, and even robots that assist in product selection. Indeed, the technology is believed to influence eight out of top ten retail trends in 2016.