“We are the controllers of the funfair, of the rabbit hole … of the dreams,” cries an eccentrically costumed showman as a 3-dimensional kaleidoscope whirls into life.
The experience is likely one of the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-themed theatrical “experiences” designed to inject some pizzazz into the opening of Westgate Oxford, the £440m buying centre that has changed town’s rundown 1970s scheme.
The spinning wall of colored mirrors has a dizzying impact; when the experience ends, you stumble out blinking like a modern-day Alice. It’s not Wonderland – the massive John Lewis in entrance of you confirms that. Rather, you could have entered the realm of “shoppertainment”, a courageous new world the place retailers aren’t simply within the enterprise of making an attempt to promote stuff – they’re additionally in showbusiness.
The greater than 300 employees at Westgate’s John Lewis have been put by means of their paces by the Oxford Playhouse theatre. The appearing classes, which included voice teaching and physique language abilities, are a part of new John Lewis boss Paula Nickolds’ daring plan to “reinvent the department store for the 21st century”.
Simon Tavener, secretary of the Oxford Theatre Guild, says it’s helpful for retail employees to search out their “character”, including: “You must placed on a face and regulate your efficiency to swimsuit [the customers’] wants and needs.
‘‘Selling requires you to have a type of script in your head,” Tavener says. “Not one you recite, but one you tailor to your own voice … a form of improv, if you like.”
John Lewis’s new Oxford store is “more than a route to selling things”, in response to Nickolds, who has turned over a 5th of the 120,000 sq ft promoting house to 21 “services and experiences”, starting from model recommendation to personalised Christmas baubles. The retail theatre is stage-managed through an “experience desk” the place consumers can plan their itinerary. One possibility packs private buying, a manicure, a light-weight lunch at Benugo and a Charlotte Tilbury makeover right into a five-hour spree. Given the shop’s £18m value, the final entry on the agenda is, in fact, “Head to customer collections to collect your purchases”.
Shoppers hungry for experiences have loads of different choices. In the close by Nespresso retailer, followers of its pod espresso machines are invited to sit down down and actually odor the espresso. Staff are espresso specialists who ship the “ultimate coffee experience”, and the shop’s props embody an atelier desk the place consumers can take masterclasses.
Westgate Oxford took almost 20 years and 3 units of builders to finish, although main retailers had been determined for contemporary items slightly than the extra conventional model of store the historic centre of Oxford is legendary for. The 800,000 sq ft mall, a three way partnership between Landsec and the Crown Estate, is now 93% let.
Despite the uncertainty created by Brexit, Landsec’s Scott Parsons says there was nonetheless loads of curiosity from retailers. But he admits that “getting some deals across the line took a bit more time. Retailers were being a bit more cautious and going back to their boards for approval.”
On Thursday, the CBI’s month-to-month retail survey supplied a grim snapshot of excessive road buying and selling, with gross sales falling at their quickest fee because the peak of the monetary disaster. On the identical day, Debenhams reported a 44% slide in pre-tax income to £59m, dragged down by £36.2m of exceptionals because it marked down the worth of its worst performing shops.
All the key division retailer chains are attempting to provide their shops a raison d’être within the web age. Retail theatre was pioneered by well-known London shops resembling Selfridges, though its efforts reached parody ranges earlier this yr when it ran potato peeling workshops to assist stressed-out customers “reconnect” with themselves.
The chief government of Debenhams, Sergio Bucher, has coined the time period “social shopping” and is making an attempt to make visits to shops a “fun leisure activity”. Bucher, who joined from Amazon final yr, needs to show purposeful journeys to select up web orders into experiences by combining the gathering with a session with a private shopper and a glass of prosecco.
Bucher can also be making an attempt to inject some showbiz into shops through X Factor-style auditions for employees at Debenhams’ just lately opened retail park retailer in Stevenage, Hertfordshire. The store’s inventory room is called “backstage” and an indication by the door resulting in the store ground says “Smile, you are on”. “We want to have people on the sales floor who love working there,” says Bucher. “We don’t want to harass customers, but want to be part of this fun activity called shopping.”
The GlobalData analyst Maureen Hinton says these retailer funding programmes are a guess on the experience economy as Britons spend extra on leisure, journey and leisure pursuits.
“The beauty industry is also benefiting from consumers’ greater interest in how they look – you’ve got to look good in selfies – as well as health and wellbeing,” she says. “This is a method of tapping into that and getting them to return to your retailer and hopefully spend on different merchandise. However, I do marvel how worthwhile that is for retailers.
“In a method, shops are returning to the previous model of themselves, the place you could possibly go to a hair salon, magnificence room and the restaurant and have stuff delivered to your house,” provides Hinton. “This is what the original Selfridges, Harrods, and probably Dickins & Jones were like.”
Back in John Lewis’s Christmas store, Joyce is deciding whether or not to splash out on an £8 plastic unicorn for her tree. She is steering away from the expertise desk, however has already purchased an oven and a laptop computer, persuaded by the chain’s “never knowingly undersold” pledge. With a decent funds, she has no plans to splash out on a magnificence therapy. “Oh, no,” she says. “I only buy cheap Rimmels in Superdrug.”
But downstairs, a row of ladies with beatific expressions on their faces are having their nails buffed and polished in full view of passing consumers. One is sipping prosecco. They reside the 21st-century division retailer dream.