Retail is about much more than providing a place to show and sell products. From the moment they step into McDonald's PlayPlace, consumers learn that shopping is experiential. But McDonalds has figured out that kids outgrow the PlayPlace and move on to Shotzky's and Burger King for different kinds of experiences.
Retail has become shoppertainment, but we're not a one-experience-fits-all-world.
Stores have become theaters, sales associates the actors and merchandise the sets. Merchants that don't have a story to tell, a theme, or a well-defined, well-executed niche, have a difficult time capturing the imagination of today's savvy consumer.
To be good, retailers have to meet their customers' expectations. To be great, they have to exceed them, one buyer at a time.
The latest Victoria's Secret fashion show was a great retail teaser. It was well hyped, titillating and very successful. Its target audience? Men. And not kinky men, but men who could be convinced to buy expensive slinky underwear for their wives and girlfriends for the holidays. The same men we target to buy audio gear and home-theater systems.
Those same premium buyers might not expect scantily clad women roaming around in showrooms when they come in to consumer electronics stores. But they do expect some kind of sizzle. They won't relate well to the youthful associate hired just for the Christmas rush or to the audiophile rattling off an endless list of features.
How about the young family just returning from a trip to Disney World? What kind of experience would entice them to buy?
If they got to see the Lutron home theater display at Epcot, they will want a concise easy-to-understand presentation with pre-packaged systems that sensibly step up from the simplest to the most feature-laden products.
And how do retailers relate to the Generation-Y buyer with baggy pants and piercings in unmentionable places? This group will soon be the heir to the greatest mass of wealth imaginable as their baby-boomer parents start gifting to them.
By 2010 there will be over 81 million members of Gen-X and Gen-Y, also referred to as Echo Boomers. Born after 1965, these "about-to-bes" spend about $310 billion a year on clothing, entertainment and food. They shun brand names like Levis in favor of smaller more trendy names like Soap and Vans.
Teens today differ in that all they've ever known is the new economy. They're the first group brought up on television and the Internet. They expect unflagging customer service, speed-of-light e-commerce, just-in-time delivery, generous return policies, and deep discounts. Simply put, they're the toughest, most demanding and most fickle customers in the world.
Dealers will have to be creative to reach them and gain their attention. Once you capture their attention, though, they'll wear your t-shirt, refer their friends and come back over and over.
If this makes your retail head spin, we haven't even begun to scratch the surface! Women want experiences that show them exactly how their purchases will look in their homes and fit in with their décor and enhance their lives.
And seniors are moving into lush resort communities instead of downsizing. Now able to finally spend their money on themselves and not their kids, they're eager to make a statement and wow their friends.
The product you now sell may be more sophisticated and more complex, but customers will still buy where they feel at home, from people like them, who speak their language and understand their needs. Tomorrow's retail winners will be those best able to reach the most customers — one unique buyer at a time.