Retailing in the 21st Century
It's Not About Selling More "Things" but
Delivering a Shopping Experience

by Pam Danziger

Quite literally everything about the way people shop has changed - where they shop, the types of stores they patronize, what they buy, how often they shop, how much time they spend shopping, and why they shop. So it is a challenge for retailers to plan a marketing strategy that will deliver measurable results in the face of such market turmoil.

The single biggest challenge for retailers today is to understand how consumers' expectations of the shopping experience have changed and to develop strategies to deliver on those expectations. Today people spend a far greater share of their money buying things they don't need, while in the past shopping for necessities, i.e. food, clothing and shelter, dominated.

When people shop out of desire, they buy things to achieve a special feeling, a greater sense of well-being, to enhance their quality of life. In other words, the things they buy become a means to an end; that end is an experience. Americans spent $627.2 billion in 2002 on entertainment and recreation, a category of goods that is solely experiential and discretionary, and includes everything from books, CDs, videos and DVDs and the equipment to play them, toys, sporting goods, admissions to entertainment events. That is more money than Americans spend on clothing and apparel, and about 80% of total spending on household operations furniture, furnishings, utilities, telephone, services, etc.

Few retailers grasp this revolutionary idea that retailing is no longer about selling more things, but about delivering an experience. Retailers still believe they are in the business of selling things so they 'stack it high, watch it fly.' But consumers seek a shopping experience and retailers will be rewarded when they deliver shoppers a 'thrill.'

Bargain hunting, an experiential thrill

There is much hand wringing in retailing circles about shoppers' demand for sales and discounts. Having studied this passion for bargain hunting among luxury shoppers, i.e. those who can afford to pay full price, but are hesitant to do so, we find that discount shopping is at its heart part of the 'fun' of shopping. People feel good when they find a bargain. They get a thrill from beating the system and getting something for less. Retailers that want to get off of the discounting roller coaster need to put the fun back into shopping. They must enhance the shopping experience.

One retailer that is doing that is Build-A-Bear Workshop, a retail chain founded in St. Louis, MO, and spreading internationally. The Build-A-Bear Workshop concept is simple and immensely attractive to experience-seeking shoppers. At Build-A-Bear the shopper designs and creates their own teddy bear, from picking the unstuffed animal 'skins,' to choosing the thickness of the stuffing, and dressing the bear in the latest 'teddy bear' styles.

Build-A-Bear has transformed shopping for a plush toy into a memorable experience. A customer describes the Build-A-Bear shopping experience, 'The bears are free; you only pay for the fun of creating them.' That is innovative experiential retailing that can point retailers in the direction of delivering shoppers an experience.

Understanding the Shoppers Expectations Is Critical to Future Success

For retailers to transform their business to focus on the shopping experience, they must first connect with their customers by developing a two-way dialogue. Connecting with the consumer means talking less and listening more, giving more value, rather than taking more money, reaching out and getting involved with the customer and their community. And most important, it means creating your business around customer needs and expectations.

Market research that combines the qualitative and quantitative perspective on the customer is the best tool available to help retailers understand the experiential desires of customers. Unity Marketing focuses on establishing a dialogue with shoppers, on gathering and interpreting what they are concerned about most, and delivering actionable marketing strategies to create a special shopping experience at retail.

About Pam Danziger & Unity Marketing

Found in 1992, Unity Marketing ( is a marketing research and consulting firm that helps companies apply the concept of emotional marketing to corporate branding and marketing initiatives. Using its "why people buy" research strategy, Pam Danziger, company founder, president and author of Why People Buy Things They Don't Need (Ithaca, NY: Paramount Market Publishing, 2002), uncovers the motivations, desires and emotional needs that drive consumers to buy. This approach turns consumer insights into actionable marketing and brand strategies and gives executives "future vision" to plan the direction of their business. Unity produces market research studies that are essential business planning tools for executives competing in the luxury market, jewelry, art, home furnishing, gifts and collectibles, toys, personal care/cosmetics industries among others. Unity also publishes the Luxury Business and Gifts & Collectibles Business newsletters. Today Pam is at work on her next book, Let Them Eat Cake: Marketing Luxury to the Masses (as well as the Classes).

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