Those of a certain vintage may know of a Jimi Hendrix album entitled Are You Experienced, and for the past five or more years this might have been the theme for any retail conference anywhere.

Retailers have fallen over themselves to show how fantastic the experience of visiting one of their stores is.

Lately, however, the ground has shifted and in place of ‘the experience economy’ comes ‘emotional engagement’. The latter is, according to a good number of those who talk about such matters, one of the things that will save retail from plummeting over the brink and into the arms of the receiver.

“What is emotional engagement and how do you know when it’s happening to you?”

The question is, what is emotional engagement and how do you know when it’s happening to you?

Way back, things used to be pretty straightforward. Shoppers might pause outside a shop and, liking what they saw in the window, head indoors. What confronted them within might vary from a few halfway decent displays to the occasional demonstration if they happened to be in, say, a toyshop or a DIY outpost.

My fave example of a demonstration was watching a beefy-looking type in a cap-sleeve T-shirt waving around power tools and chopping and cutting to an ACDC soundtrack.

The crowd, mostly female, were clearly emotionally engaged, and if you want to see something of the kind, visit the Brico Dépôt store in Le Havre on a weekend – you might get lucky.

More of the same

More to the point, it doesn’t really matter whether this is an experience or a bit of emotional engagement, it’s about getting the shopper interested in something that’s not just about trawling the power tool aisle with a smartphone as a shopping guide.

“If you are a lacklustre outfit and heading for bankruptcy, it’s probably because you’re not very good”

On this reckoning, both emotional engagement and experience have about them a whiff of ‘same old, same old’ and what is really being talked about is nothing more than your old mate Good Retailing and giving shoppers reasons to return.

There is nothing new about any of this, and along with ‘a point of difference’ and ‘retail theatre’ (both very 90s), they are another way of saying the same thing.

Beware, therefore, emotional engagement. If you are a lacklustre outfit and heading for bankruptcy, it’s probably because you’re not very good. If things look OK, then you are certainly emotionally engaging your customers, but then you always have done…