Who doesn’t love a bit of shopping? It’s a pastime that’s been embedded in the culture of the human race for a very long time. For the first ever shopping centre, said to be Trajan’s Market in Rome, was most likely built somewhere between 100-110 AD – nearly 2,000 years ago.
But what is it about the act of shopping that has been so tied to our shared history? And, more importantly, what is it about shopping in a communal space that caters for all? More than just something to solve a problem or meet a need, the act of shopping over the last two millennia, whether at a shopping centre, department store or on the high street, has generally been something of an all-encompassing experience, a day out, a process shared with others.
These days, of course, that is not quite the case. In the age of immediacy and one-click purchases, it’s both easier and, more often than not, cheaper to do your shopping online. Retailers are scrambling to convert their business models from the high street to online in the hope of saving themselves from going under and, if things pan out well, hopefully following a somewhat similar path to online retail specialists Amazon, who famously morphed from a humble online bookstore into only the second company in the world to be valued at $1 trillion.
Britain’s retailers suffered the sharpest drop in business in more than two decades earlier this year, with traditional heavyweight department stores like House of Fraser collapsing into administration and Debenhams posting record annual losses while having to close vast amounts of stores. The landscape across Europe and the United States is not much different.
But while traditional retailers clearly cannot compete with the convenience of online shopping, some are coming to realise that they can tap into those near-2,000 years of shared shopping experiences by making the process more of an experiential event, a happening, an experience in itself. Something that’s been lost with the transition to online.
Take Paris department store Le Bon Marché, for example, which welcomed a skate park into its halls one evening last month, complete with a skateboarder on a bright pink ramp suspended from the ceiling showing off his moves. The stunt was to launch Le Bon Marché’s Los Angeles Rive Gauche exhibition, in which the department store was given a West Coast makeover to celebrate all things LA. Think pop-up stores and American brands in fashion, food, beauty and home all being invited to join the party. A tattoo parlour and yoga studio were even assimilated to be part of the experience for customers – something you won’t come across as you check out with Amazon.
Such a climate has impacted our work here at ALTER: from in-store photo booths with fashion bloggers at Havaianas to create a buzz, to in-store virtual reality experiences with Alcatel to promote new handsets. Experiential is key for any store or brand hoping for consistent footfall.
So whether it’s Le Bon Marché or your local shop on the high street, all are required these days to give punters another reason beyond just shopping to ensure of their custom. All are having to rewrite the traditional rulebook of retail in order to stay afloat in the rat race.