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Retailers add entertainment to attract shoppers

With shoppers buying more online, bricks-and-mortar retailers are working harder to add interactive attractions to their mix.

December 15, 2012|By Joyce Smith
  • Retailers are offering entertainment to get customers in the door. Cliff Smith, left, a fudge maker at Chip's Chocolate Factory, flings the fudge while demonstrating how fudge is made.
Retailers are offering entertainment to get customers in the door. Cliff… (Jill Toyoshiba, The Kansas…)

Just putting a price on a product and sticking it on a shelf is so old school.

And with consumers buying more online each year, bricks-and-mortar retailers are working harder to add entertainment to their mix — from American Girl's scavenger hunts to the Art of Shaving's product demonstrations.

These experiences are something consumers can't get from online shopping.

"You can buy a product just about everywhere. They are trying to add a different element so it is not just about the product," said Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of WSL/Strategic Retail, a retail strategy firm in New York. "They are giving people a reason to play — like Converse, where you can customize your sneaker — making it worth it to go into the store. A sense of place and a place to stay."

Retailers have been using entertainment to attract shoppers for years, from mall carousels to the Mall of America's amusement park. But with advances in technology and growing pressure from online competition, more retailers are adding interactive attractions inside their stores.

Savvy retailers engage customers with entertainment options, from watching to fully participating.

Bass Pro Shops' attractions vary, but some offer free photos in Santa's Wonderland, aquariums that re-create local wildlife scenes, activity tables for kids and even laser arcade games.

"We're the Disney World of outdoor stores ... a natural history museum of the area they are in, an aquarium, an art gallery with all the beautiful murals, antiques and conservation education. And oh, by the way, we do retail," said Larry Whiteley, spokesman for Bass Pro Shops.

Outdoor retail rival Cabela's promotes its museum-quality animal displays and aquariums, along with special events and promotions each weekend.

Build-A-Bear Workshop was an innovator in "experiential" mall retailing 15 years ago, having children choose and name their bears — and later other animals — as the huggable toys were put together and stuffed. Now it is starting to roll out new designs with several new interactive experiences, including putting the stuffed animals at children's height so they can touch and play with them, and offering digital screens where children can add more personalized sounds and music to their stuffed toys. Five Build-A-Bear stores have been converted to the new concept, and one new store has opened.

American Girl stores also feature interactive experiences.

"In terms of the retail environment, it's what we've come to be known for," said Stephanie Spanos, spokeswoman for American Girl. "At American Girl, it doesn't just start and end with just a purchase."

The American Girl events — some free, others with a fee — are aimed at building brand loyalty with young customers.

On Jan. 1, for instance, it will have interactive events to introduce its 2013 Girl of the Year doll. Girls will get to go on a scavenger hunt through stores, doing free crafts and getting gifts to take home. Past gifts have included a doll poster.

A dozen American Girl stores have cafes where customers can dine with their dolls, which have their own seats.

Some Art of Shaving stores have barber spas for straight-razor shaves and haircuts. The shops' shaving experts take customers through the process for a "perfect shave."

"When they can see that shaving brush in action, the rich warm lather, the sensation of the after-shave balm, the aromas of the gloves, the peppers — it lends to the interactive experience as well," said Cari White, a regional director for the Art of Shaving.

Smith writes for the Kansas City Star.

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