Great retail is like theatre.
Opening the door and stepping inside a store, is like the curtain going up on stage.
Shopping is a play we all participate in. Even those who say they don’t like it. Great stores entertain us, share new ideas, make political statements, express our values, and then send us home with more stuff than we intended to buy.
A great play starts out with a great story. Just reading that story on stage doesn’t make great theatre. There are many other elements that make a story into a dramatic production.
In retail, the story is the product.
You might have the best product since the ipod, but just putting it on a shelf doesn’t mean people will buy it. To
successfully sell a product today you need to create a shopping experience for consumers that they enjoy. If they don’t like it, they’ll go somewhere else.
In theatre and retail, drama and entertainment are created with the same elements. You need:
a great setting, great lighting and great talent.
A great setting creates a mood, an image. A place for the action to happen. The setting is integral to the story.
A setting can be created on stage with all the trimmings and details – a complete re-creation of another place. Or it can
be a mere suggestion of a place – a single chair, painted backdrops. The audience still gets the picture. Their
imagination fills in the rest.
The same is true in retail. Some stores are very elaborate in their design and merchandising, with every tiny aspect considered. Others
use paint and a few carefully chosen pieces of furniture to suggest an atmosphere.
If you get the setting wrong for the story, the audience is confused. In retail, this is like selling designer clothes in
a discount store. Linoleum tile, garish signs and crowded aisles won’t interest someone who wants to buy a suit by
That shopper wants to see a small boutique, lots of floor space, maybe a couple of armchairs and a coffee table. The
floor might be hardwood, or perhaps decorative stone tile. It would be crazy for Walmart or Zellers to try to create an upscale mood like this. Their customers would immediately assume the products were too expensive, without even setting foot inside.
An important part of creating an effective and dramatic setting is lighting. A professional theatre production would never be done without proper lighting. However, many retailers do not understand the role of lighting in their stores.
I saw a high-end theatre production that used only minimal props, and created scenes with pantomimed actions and clever lighting. A powerful scene that I will never forget was created with absolutely no props. A rectangle of light on the stage floor suggested a grave. As actors went through the motions of throwing shovelfuls of dirt onto the grave, the light gradually dimmed. The scene ended when the light had faded leaving the stage was completely black.
Retail lighting can be equally powerful. The price range of the stores products are suggested by the levels of light. Discount stores are lit with bright fluorescent bulbs, giving an even level of light throughout the store.
The overall level of light in the store is called ‘ambient’ lighting. It is the lighting that sets the mood for the store.
Expensive boutiques have a lower level of ambient lighting. They use accent lighting to highlight merchandise and important areas of the
store. These are usually spotlights, used to draw your attention to displays. Because your eye is drawn to light, you will naturally move through the store to these ‘pools’ of light.
A mid-priced shop with use a combination of these two types of lighting.
Unconsciously, as a shopper, you will get a message about the value of the products because of how they are lit.
For example, an expensive product lit the wrong way, will cause a shopper to assume the product is poor quality and overpriced.
A successful retailer needs to make sure that the lighting is consistent with the setting and the story.
A great theatre production also has the right talent. Only the right person can create a believable character. An actor’s build, appearance, ability and experience are all part of what makes him or her the right choice for a role.
A successful theatre production needs a strong team of people. Each one needs to be able to create a convincing and powerful character. They also need to work well together as a group.
In retail you also need great talent. What would happen if retailers thought of their staff as the cast of a production? Maybe they would be more careful in hiring just the right people. Retail staff need to clearly understand their role. They need to know the story. They need to work well as a team.
Both in theatre and in retail, a cast member who comes across as phony or insincere will ruin an otherwise great
A successful theatrical or retail production needs to have all three of these elements working together – a great setting, great lighting and great talent.
If any one of them is out of tune with the others, the audience leaves disappointed – and may not ever come back.
What are you doing to create a great retail production?
Please share your comments.