As more of us shop online, retailers are use quirky events and experiences to lure us back to the High Street. But will it run?
To many, the idea of spending a night in an empty store will conjure visions of hell. After all, how would you entertain yourself, and wouldn’t it be eerily quiet?
But UK department store John Lewis believes that a good number of us suppose the opposite, and has been offering the opportunity to customers at its Liverpool, Cambridge and London Oxford Street stores.
In each case, an applicant chosen at random gets to stay the night at “The Residence”, a plush apartment based right in the middle of the shop.
They can bring friends, try out products and clothes, watch films, and go on a private shopping tour. They are also served dinner and breakfast by a concierge.
John Lewis hopes the Residence will create a buzz in its stores, at a time when growing number of us are shopping online and shunning the High Street. But outside John Lewis’s Oxford Street store some shoppers are sceptical.
“It merely smackings of desperation, ” says customer Fiona, “it’s so materialistic it’s sad.”
Another, Shereen, says she procures the idea of sleeping in a store “cold and impersonal”, although Robin says he would happily give it a go.
“It’s a weird idea but it’s quite fun … I think that sort of thing is good for the High Street.”
From yoga classes to guest lectures, and celebrity appearances to schemed cycle rides, retailers around the world are increasingly offering “experiences” on their premises to reel us in and get us expending.
In fact, according to research from Barclaycard Payment Solutions, more than a third of UK retailers now host such events, while 19% plan to start doing so in the next three years.
It comes at a time when online shopping has left High Street sales under pressure, contributing to big brands such as Jaeger going into administration, and American Apparel, Marks& Spencer and Macy’s shutting many outlets.
John Lewis wouldn’t let us speak to anyone who’d stayed at its store, but customer experience director Peter Cross says that “thousands” applied for the opportunity.
He also points to a long listing of quirky client experiences now offered in John Lewis stores, including boxing classes, a personal styling service for men, product training workshops, and fingernail and eyebrow bars.
“I think it comes from the recognition that the role of stores has to change, and they have to be more than a route to sell things, ” he says. “Retailers have to think of new reasons set out above customers might want to come into physical spaces.”
Some believe offering novel experiences in shops drives footfall, encourages people to stay in stores for longer, and constructs customer allegiance – all of which lifts sales.
In September, Barclaycard surveyed 250 UK business, and found that those who hosted events and amusement watched annual turnover increase by 14% – although it admits it couldn’t definitively prove that the experiences were the cause.
One advocate of the trend is Evans Cycles, the high-end bike marketer. It began running group bike rides from its stores this year, and plans to expand the initiative in 2018.
“Cycling can be fairly male dominated, but the rides attracted more females than we expected, and cyclists who were just getting the glitch, ” says James Backhouse, marketing director at the UK firm.
In addition, more than half of those who took portion spent money in the stores straight after the event.
“If you have an average looking shop with average products this sort of thing won’t save you, ” adds Mr Backhouse.
“But if you are doing everything else well then this will help. Renting space on the High Street is expensive, but the one thing you can’t do online is meet people.”
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