The world is changing in profound ways right now. People are staying indoors and avoiding crowds. Job loss is a major concern and people are afraid to spend unless they’re buying essentials in bulk. There was already a trend toward online shopping before COVID-19 and, now that the masses have been forced into virtual stores even more, brick-and-mortar retailers have a hard road ahead. Moreover, experts say that even as things begin to reopen, things won’t return to the “normal” we knew right away. It’s going to take time, perseverance, and creativity to get people to visit brick-and-mortar again.
On the bright side, all this social distancing has shown us just how essential physical interactions are. Those who venture out, especially in the early days, are going to be craving experiences and human connections more than ever. While we’ve been fans of retail theatre for quite some time, coming out of COVID-19, it will be your gateway to delivering what your customers want the most. Now’s the time to strategise your debut.
What seems like a lifetime ago now, given how much has changed so fast, I had the pleasure of visiting New York City last year. Even still, the memory of my trip brings a smile to my face every time I think of it. Whilst there’s much to appreciate about the Big Apple, it was something quite simple that triggers my nostalgia—a slide in a new retail format store. Despite the industry I’m in and that I knew the slide was part of an attempt to boost sales, I was swept away by the experience and enamoured with their approach to retail theatre. I think your customers will be too. Take a look.
Exhibit 1: Aventura Mall
One success story from the States comes out of Florida. Although the Aventura Mall has lost some large retailers over the years due to closures, it focused on creating meaningful experiences and staying relevant to the times and boasts nearly a 100 percent occupancy rate. And, yes, they have a slide to thank for that. The Aventura Slide Tower is nine stories tall and offers two chutes to rocket down. Kids and grownups alike delight in the experience and this has made the mall an attraction in its own right. Yet, they’ve continuously developed the space to keep people engaged. There’s art tucked in every corner, much of which is functional, from whimsical benches through their “Gorillas in the Mist” fountain which serves as a cool water play escape for wee ones. These things come together to create a grand experience, and certainly required enormous amounts of planning as well as budgeting, they play into Aventura’s overall concept—cultivating a community space. The mall isn’t simply a mall. It’s where the Sunday farmer’s market is held, where people go find their next furry family member, where children can go to trade out a book at no cost, and so much more. Since people are drawn in with the ambiance and community, it’s also the most sensible place to shop. And, lucky for the customers, there just so happens to be lots of stores to serve them.
Exhibit 2: New Ground
When New Ground decided to pop up at the upscale Corner Shop on Oxford Street at Selfridges in London, they had a lot of great things going for them, like the location, foot traffic, and massive street-facing windows to entice people in. The question- what could possibly snap people out of their doldrums enough to come in and see what set New Ground apart? A vibrant yellow spiral slide placed right in front of the windows, of course! Mind you, this particular chute was not on scale with the previous. It was more like what you’d see in a children’s playground, although enticing to adults as well, and free for patrons to use as many times as they liked. Although it’s unclear how much use the slide got given the area and the fact that everyone who passed by the shop could see exactly who was reliving their childhood, it was this detail that got New Ground a whole lot of press when it opened, giving the pop up launch an extra a caffeinated boost of its own.
Exhibit 3: House of Showfields
House of Showfields was a fully immersive experience. They didn’t simply create a one-act version of retail theatre. They crafted an entire play. My co-founder and I were blown away when we left this experience and couldn't help thinking this is the future of experiential retail.
“Hidden behind a bookcase on the 3rd floor of SHOWFIELDS, the slide allows guests to travel between the floors in a unique way, immediately encouraging a real sense of playfulness and discovery,” says Showfields CEO & co-founder Tal Zvi Nathanel. “Riding down the slide takes guests back in time to when they were kids playing on playgrounds and exploring the world, and gets them ready for the adventure ahead.”
It was here that I had my experience. Showfields gave nothing away in advance; the slide only marked with the words “Your story starts now.” Where would it take us? Where would we land? We had no idea, but we were certain we wanted to find out.
As it tuned out, the pop up spanned across the entire second floor and was filled with artist-designed spaces to explore and actors, not trying to “sell” products, but telling the stories of the brands and products across various installations. “Miss Amelia Showfields,” for example, could be found in the bathroom, an obscure installation covered in 3D cartoonish water droplets and a leg wearing pink tights protruding from the toilet. The section is set up for the skincare company Nuria, which says that about half of all shoppers interact with their brand on the traditional Showfields floor, but thanks to Miss Ameilia, every single person coming through the exhibit tried their product.
Although no sales were closed amid the displays, “The Lab,” which functions as the concept’s retail space, saw four times more sales in the opening weekend compared to previous weekends. All 10,000 tickets to House of Showfields were claimed before opening and the main shop saw a 33 percent increase in foot traffic as well.