The exact meaning of the term, however, seems to vary greatly from person to person and organization to organization.
What everyone seems to agree upon is that there’s a clear need to deliver a new buying experience if we expect to have any hope of saving physical retail from its fast-approaching and seemingly inevitable doom.
With the rise of online shopping and delivery convenience…same day shipping on so many itmes, groceries on your doorstep within the hour, everything you could possibly want or need only as far away as your mobile device…it’s hard to imagine a future where a brick-and-mortar retailer can stand a fighting chance.
It could be said that clothing might have the best survival advantage in this digital evolution due to the need to try on your items to ensure a good fit, but some augmented reality applications are starting to take the guesswork out of even something as complicated as fit-and-measure tailoring; so, I would think, given that trajectory, the days are numbered for even the most fashionable boutiques.
So, what do we do as designers? How do we deliver a future that encourages people to get out of their homes and engage with the spaces we create? One clear and obvious answer seems to be this notion of “retailtainment.”
We’re going to fight convenience with community and expedited shipping with engaging interaction. If we can solve the magical equation that makes the act of buying as or more rewarding than the object being purchased, everybody wins.
Guests will go home with not only the item they intended or needed to but also a wonderful memory that they can forever associate with that item and hopefully a desire to repeat or share that memorable experience with friends and family down the line.
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. For those of us who are investigating the issue from the perspective of entertainment, sure, it makes total sense to overlay a unique experience into a retail venue.
Who wouldn’t want to interact, personalize, or otherwise connect with the items they’re bringing into their lives? In the context of theme parks and attractions, retail has always been integrated and associated with the fun and excitement of the ride or the fantastical world you’re visiting.
For the standard retailer, it’s a bit of a tougher problem and requires us as designers to look beyond what would make for simply a fun shopping experience and begin to solve for how that experience can generate increased revenue, return visitation, and overall positive brand association.
When the guest experience begins to influence buying patterns independently from item quality or item necessity, then we’ve truly entered the next era of physical retail.
Looking back only a decade or so, we can see the first real steps in the shift toward experience and quality over convenience and abundance. Chain stores and restaurants began to trend toward appearing as if they were eclectic, single-location establishments. The concept of “craft” began to show up in coffee shops, clothiers, and eateries almost to the point of entirely losing the meaning of the word itself.
The engineered consequence of these subtle adjustments has been the steady re-education of the shopping public to understand that spending a few extra minutes and a few extra dollars to be in a nicer environment and receive a better product was not only acceptable but, in most cases, preferable. We can build on that simple idea as we look to create the next generation of buying experiences.
What does it all really boil down to? In short, we must ensure that what we deliver in a physical retail space is so extraordinarily different to the at-home routine that buyers can’t help but get out and experience it.
Through our development of incredible architectural spaces, interactive and personalized merchandise, custom and repeatable engagement, and memorable communal experiences, I think we’re headed in the right direction to get there. After all, why wouldn’t we want to add a little fun and excitement everywhere we possibly can?
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Mike leads the diverse and incredibly talented team of concept artists, technical and scenic designers, digital modelers, storytellers, and art directors as they continue to push the boundaries of innovation to deliver fresh guest experiences.