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Retail Experience Now Includes Food, Drink & Socialising

When was the last time you went shopping just to buy something? Whereas in the past, shopping was about necessity, today it is a lifestyle activity inextricably linked to entertainment and socialising. Groups of teenagers bustling around your local town centre may not have the disposable income to buy the latest shoes in the window, but they will contribute by spending their cash in an on-trend juice bar or café. The link between eating, drinking and retail has boomed in the last decade, with shopping centres harbouring food courts, cinemas, bowling alleys and even, in the case of London, ice rinks in the winter and markets in the summer. 

According to a survey of British consumers conducted by the Office for National Statistics, households now spend more than £45 ($58) per week on restaurants and hotels. This represents the highest spend rate in five years, fuelled largely by rising disposable income and higher rates of employment. 

As reported in the Guardian newspaper, experts at market research company Mintel have put this hike in spending down to customers “shunning ‘stuff’ in favour of experiences”. Toby Clark, director of research for Europe at Mintel, told the paper: “There is a limit to the amount of stuff people can accumulate. People are spending money on experiences — holidays, seeing new exotic places, going to music festivals, eating out — rather than accumulating more things.”

For the average retailer, this may ring alarm bells. By its very nature, jewellery is an unnecessary luxury; it is something we want rather than something we need. For retailers in 2017, the challenge will be harnessing the popularity of experiences and bringing this in-store. I can almost hear you saying, ‘my store already offers a great experience through highly-skilled customer service’. You are undoubtedly right, but the contemporary customer’s desire for experience goes beyond customer sales skills. Many retailers start with the introduction of a bar area, serving champagne to select VIPs. This has now been extended to include kitchen areas, designed to support evening events and VIP client parties. In some areas of the UK, retail spaces now include chill-out zones with games consoles and flat-screen televisions, gourmet kitchens and cigar smoking areas.

Step outside of the jewellery industry and this trend is even more pronounced. British leisure-wear brand Sweaty Betty holds fitness classes in its boutiques, while the John Lewis department store in Birmingham’s Grand Central station incorporates a beauty spa. Elsewhere, lifestyle brand White Stuff has experimented with a range of initiatives in its stores, such as mini-libraries and book groups. 

Augmented reality solutions are also adding to the boom in experiential retailing, with the likes of Tatler magazine, fine jewellery brand Boucheron and Charlotte Tilbury cosmetics using ‘virtual try-on’ technology to aid their customers’ decisions. When stripped back, this is simply another way to tempt the customer into spending their money, but it adds a refreshing and ultimately different dimension to the shopping experience. 

Even iconic department store Harrods isn’t resting on its gold-gilded laurels. The infamous store partnered with fine jewellery brand Bulgari in 2015 to offer an interactive ‘Diva Salon’, allowing customers to have their picture taken dripping in fine diamonds. The deceptively simple solution involved mounting a camera in a stylish vanity — essentially a Hollywood dressing room set, a camera and some beautiful jewellery. The result was lots of very happy customers and an experience to remember. 

The good news is that UK retailers are catching up and turning their attention to innovative forms of experiential retailing, especially when it comes to capturing that all important desire for dining out. And while a change is necessary, installing an industrial sized kitchen most certainly is not. Small changes within your means are a great place to start, and may involve minimal investment when done cleverly. Better still, use what you are already paying for – your physical bricks-and-mortar premises – as an event space, welcoming your most loyal clients for a night of champagne, canapés and tempting discounts. If you are prepared to start slow, but show commitment, a focus on experiences really will pay dividends.

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