Just Wanna Have Fun

July 1999


Just Wanna Have Fun

Consumers want more than just products from their shopping experiences

Retailing is coming to a fork in the road where companies will become either no-frills convenience outlets or full-throttle entertainment experiences. Internet e-commerce is already taking over quick and dirty retailing, says Michael J. Wolf in his book The Entertainment Economy– which means traditional retailers will need a unique song and dance to keep their customers, he says.

The lines are blurring between what people need and what they want, Wolf says. They expect entertainment in everything they do, even in chores and duties, and make their choices about where to shop accordingly. Grocery stores are trying to transform food shopping into a fun activity. At Stew Leonard's, a gourmet dairy and grocery store in Norwalk and Danbury, CT, employees dress as cows and ducks and roam the aisles, a robotic "rock band" of milk cartons and chickens sing about milk, and a petting zoo with live barnyard animals keeps children entertained.

Meanwhile, specialty stores re-create the experience of using their products to distinguish themselves from homogenous multibrand stores. Rockport shoe stores offer complimentary foot massages and reflexology, for example, and some Eastern Mountain Sports stores have indoor climbing walls.

The concept of "free time" is changing. Television's saturation of the culture causes people to think in blocks of time, and they divide their non-work hours in the same way, scheduling activities into each time-slot. Because time is precious, people will pay to get the most out of their experiences. Instead of riding a bicycle or gardening, people take bike tours or buy do-it-yourself rose kits. They see dull or tedious activities as a waste of time.

Consumer products and experiences are creating communities, Wolf says. With fewer two-parent families, more employees telecommuting or establishing home offices and less involvement in their neighborhoods and churches, people look for different ways to bond with others. They do so by following Oprah's book club, seeing the movie everybody's talking about or going to sporting events and concerts where everyone is a fan.

Once everybody jumps on the entertainment bandwagon, it's going to be harder for retailers to stand out in the crowd. A straightforward message about a product's quality may not cut it anymore. Retail stores need to intrigue and excite passersby so they'll spend the time to go inside.

– by Stacey King

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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