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‘Retailtainment’: Welcome to the future of shopping

A woman looking at a clothes rack while holding a tablet
As the retail industry undergoes a dramatic transformation — one which fuses shopping and entertainment under one roof — the focus is shifting to providing a fun, immersive and highly-personalised customer-first experience. Dubbed ‘retailtainment’, the new trend is a direct result of Millennial shopping habits and a new breed of shoppers who no longer merely look to purchase products, but expect an all-round unique and memorable in-store experience.

The Microsoft flagship store: An all-in-one destination

Unveiling its first European flagship store in London this month, Microsoft recently joined an ever-growing list of experiential retailers catering to the changing habits of shoppers worldwide. Described by UK CEO Cindy Rose as “a place not only for buying Microsoft products, but also taking part in new experiences and communal activities,” the Oxford Circus flagship is the latest retailer to offer London shoppers an unforgettable and immersive in-store experience. Split across three floors, the location features a Windows Mixed Reality area of AR experiences like the HoloLens, as well as an Xbox area with a real McLaren Senna supercar synced to Forza Motorsport 7 on a digital screen. There is also an entire floor dedicated to both professional and casual gamers, where Microsoft plans to hold gaming tournaments while introducing gaming to new audiences with Xbox One S and Minecraft. Last but not least, a classroom-style community theatre sits on the second floor and is designed to host workshops, training and special Microsoft events.

The retailtainment pioneers

According to Microsoft’s Senior Store Manager, John Carter, “This is more than a store, it’s a destination right in the heart of London.” With a mission to give people a high-tech, digital experience while offering a learning opportunity, Microsoft now joins the ranks of other destination stores dedicated to providing more than just an ordinary shopping experience.

1. Farfetch

According to its founder, José Neves, Farfetch represents a future in retail where technological advancements will lead to a more human customer experience. Providing an augmented retail solution that “links the online and offline worlds,” Farfetch connects its clothing racks, touch-screen-enhanced mirrors and sign-in stations to pool together data for a more convenient in-store experience. Shoppers can use a touch-screen when singing-in, which lets them search their purchase history and ultimately provides better customer insights for the sales assistants on hand. A smart mirror also lets shoppers request different sizes, alternative products and even gives the option of purchasing items directly from the dressing room. By also enabling customers to order shoes made from different fabrics and styles, Farfetch successfully marries bespoke boutique shopping with e-commerce convenience.

2. Vans

As one of the best examples of how experiential retail creates unforgettable experiences, the House of Vans is more than just a shopping destination — it’s a genuine fun day out. Living up to their ‘Off the wall’ motto, Vans’ destination store is where BMX, art, music, street culture and fashion come together to make this retailer like no other in its category. Vans even houses a cinema, café, live music venue and art gallery within its 30,000 square feet building, with a ground floor that holds a concrete ramp, a mini ramp and a street course. To add to the authenticity of the brand, its skatepark is designed for skaters by skaters, where even those as young as five are permitted to use the ramps. As a space for young people to enjoy themselves, to socialise and to have the opportunity to buy products all in one, Vans provides people with a unique no-pressure experience to immerse themselves in the brand.

3. Ikea

As though it’s ever a dull experience even on an ordinary day, Ikea introduced its Big Sleepover challenge and gave a hundred Facebook fans the chance to spend the night in the retailer’s Essex warehouse. Customers enjoyed massages and pampering, and were able to select their own mattress, sheets and pillows for a truly tailored experience. Ikea also provided an on-hand sleep expert armed with tips on how to get a good night’s sleep as well as how to find the perfect mattress according to individual sleeping styles. The hugely successful idea came as a result of social media insights, according to UK PR Manager, Lois Blenkinsop, who said “Listening to what [the customers] want is what we do best and the Big Sleepover is just one example of how we’re using such instant and open feedback to better inform our marketing activity.”

4. Tiffany & Co.

Tiffany’s ‘Style Studio’ in Covent Garden marks luxury’s step towards a more relaxed customer interaction, personalisation and performance. The 2,100+ square foot space features a perfume vending machine and a while-you-wait leather embossing and engraving service where shoppers can create their own monograms and designs on a screen before transferring it to jewellery or other items. Tiffany’s doesn’t just offer exclusive shopping events either — the retailer holds a space at the back of the store for special client events, parties and artwork exhibitions from young artists working with the international art fund, Outset. Tiffany’s is also transparent in the type of customer it targets — the store is open until 10 p.m. and tailors to younger consumers who often shop late, shop for themselves and look for personalisation as part of their shopping experience.

5. Lush

The motto at Lush is ‘Going the extra mile’ for customers — especially those who prefer interaction. With product demonstrations and valuable advice found throughout its stores, employees are put through extensive training to serve customers with the right tools and knowledge in order to make Lush the ultimate destination store. And it’s not just about people, it’s about the senses, too. Thanks to a wide combination of technology, the company gives customers the option to pay with tablets, while also housing a demonstration area that holds large sinks and baths. As a result, the Lush in-store experience is a high-sensory one that’s raised the bar in experiential shopping. Its Manchester location is now a package-free store doing its bit for the environment by letting customers use tech to find product information normally found on packaging. The ‘Lush Lense’ app uses machine learning to identify a product so shoppers can scan the ‘naked’ product for key information. Lush also opened a new Liverpool shop in March, with an in-store florist, perfume lab and even a spa.

The winning formula

With a strong focus on technology and a highly-personalised customer service, the future of retail is expected to be an amalgamation of both e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores allowing customers to move seamlessly between the two. Personalised interaction and immersive experiences will fuse together to cater to a new breed of shoppers not merely looking to buy products in the traditional sense, but to touch, see, hear, smell and taste them too.