A successful experience is one that requires no explanation; the customer will put the pieces together and smile when they see a nod to it.
Four years ago I uttered a phrase that my colleagues at the time will never let me forget.
I was in the back of a cab with fellow business journalists at The Sunday Times. We had spent the afternoon at our team Christmas lunch and were looking for our next port of call but it was late December and every bar we tried was rammed.
It was suggested I ring Richard Caring – the retailer turned restaurant and clubs magnate – to see if he could help us out.
I called him, and in a lame attempt to disguise the fact we merely wanted to get into one of his members’ clubs gratis, I tendered vaguely: “Richard, we need an experience”.
My colleagues laughed but Richard delivered. Ten minutes later, we were in Soho House just as a “members” carol concert was beginning. The eight of us sang our hearts out and it did actually turn into an experience – a magical and memorable one at that.
What, you might wonder, does this have to do with retail? Well, it is at Christmas time that retailers, especially the department stores, embrace and deliver on ‘experience’.
Executed well, the theme will hatch on social media, manifest itself in the window displays, and – boom – come to life through the merchandising and product mix in-store.
“A successful experience is one that requires no explanation; the customer will put the pieces together themselves and smile when they see a nod to it”
Kate Walsh, Russell Reynolds
A successful experience is one that requires no explanation; the customer will put the pieces together themselves and smile when they see a nod to it.
It will not feel in any way transactional though ultimately the connection it creates with the shopper will benefit the bottom line.
This year Selfridges’ ‘Journey to the Stars’ theme is visually beautiful and consistently delivered across every channel. Online you can shop by star sign – why not?
In-store, take time out from your shopping in the Astrolounge where a team of “modern mystics” will advise you on the intersection between style and holistic wellbeing. (Clearly we don’t have to take this too seriously, though I imagine some do.)
The theme is seamlessly tied to the product where perennials such as the Selfridges Beauty Advent Calendar are sprinkled with cosmic dust.
Extending the experience
Selfridges has always been long on experience. In order to attract shoppers to the unfashionable end of Oxford Street in 1909, Harry Gordon Selfridge brought boatloads of showmanship to the store.
There was the orchestra in the Palm Court restaurant, a rifle range on the roof (replaced by an ice rink at this time of year) and, just because it was new, a ticker-tape in the windows for passers-by to read the news.
Lewis’s department store on Market Street in Manchester went even further when, in the 1960s, they flooded the basement and filled it with gondolas to recreate springtime in Venice. If that didn’t get the locals talking, nothing would.
Experience need not be confined to the department stores. Waitrose opened a cookery school, wine bar, juice and snack bar in its new store in King’s Cross in October.
This reinforces its brand credentials around food and is helping the top line: sales at its food service hospitality division were up 27% last year.
An appropriate reminder that experience is not just for Christmas.
Kate Walsh is an executive director at Russell Reynolds Associates where she focuses on retail