The new rules of retail

July 29, 2017 / Insights / min read

Senior Team Leader, Retail

I vividly remember the first time I went with my dad to buy my first record. It was 1979 and we got a copy of The Specials’ Too Much Too Young on a vinyl 45.
By the time the ’80’s rolled around, I was making mix tapes on blank cassettes and recording the charts off the radio! It didn’t take long before it was all I spent my allowance on was music tapes.

I bought Queen’s album The Game on CD in 1980 and passed on my Sony Walkman to my sister when I got an upgrade to a swanky Discman. Now I was all about the CDs.

Until along came Napster in 1999 and I figured out I could download pretty much anything I wanted for free. I saved a lot of music until 2001 when the site was shut down.

So I began paying for music again, this time downloading mp3 files and storing them on my new iPod.Fast forward another 15 years and after getting sick of Spotify’s “free-ium” model, I decided to pay the $9.99 a month to have a subscription to Apple Music. Its algorithm knows me better than I do, introducing me to new artists constantly. I love it.

So having gone from records to tapes to CDs, I now essentially rent all my music and have nothing tangible or physical to show for it. It’s incredibly convenient and I can (and do) listen to my music more than I ever did.

I don’t ever have a reason to go to a physical store to buy music. And my relationship with shopping as a whole is the same.
I can order almost everything I need from the comfort of my couch or tell my Amazon Echo that I need more coffee capsules.

But there is one thing this music lover can’t get at home that he’s more than willing to pay good money and leave the house for.

And that’s live music.

I love going to gigs. I love travelling half way around the world to music festivals. I love seeing bands play at iconic venues.

I’m not alone. Year-on-year growth for live music has been climbing steadily; if bands want to make money it’s non-negotiable that they have to perform live.

I believe it’s time for bricks and mortar retailers to think more like rock and roll.

From where I’m sitting, there are three things that retailers and brands can straight up steal from live music.


Stir Emotions

“A concert is not a live rendition of our album. It’s a theatrical event” – Freddie Mercury

The late, great Freddie was absolutely right with this observation. Why on earth would you pay to get the same experience at a gig as on a recorded album?

And why on earth would you want the same online experience when you go into a physical store?

I love gigs. That feeling when the bass is pounding through your chest and you’re losing your voice from singing your heart out. It’s the very definition of multi-sensory.

What’s the equivalent at the average store? The queue for the cash register?

Brands and retailers have an opportunity to capitalise on the collective power of their customers. We need to mobilise people and drive their desire to experience the products in the flesh.

For example; the way Nike use their runners club to emotionally and physically connect people to their Nike Town stores. Or Sonos who opened their first flagship store in New York with six house-shaped ‘listening rooms’ that let visitors experience their own music.

Think Venues, Not Formats
Retailers need to think more about their stores as an ongoing performance space and make their metrics more about time spent within the environment and frequency of return. Let’s start to care less about SKU’s per square foot and density of merch.

You want a good example? I’ve got one. Burberry’s London Flagship. During the day the heritage building presents an elegant, sophisticated expression of the brand with seamlessly integrated digital screens as mirrors.

At night, the store becomes an incredible venue for live music and fashion shows without an hint of in-your-face-branding.

What about bringing in some of that festival vibe to the bricks and mortar world? Every festival has its own personality. Glastonbury is different to Coachella and retailers have a chance to immerse customers in a holistic experience.

Hamleys Toyshop opened a flagship in Moscow that brilliantly blends retail, hospitality and live entertainment. It’s a feast for the senses. The results are impressive: it was the most visited store in Moscow in 2015, 2 million customers walked through the doors in the first two months and it racked up more visits than the Kremlin!

Create Memories

“Take me back to the nights I felt alive”

The genius of live music is that they truly deliver on the overused phrase “an unforgettable experience”.

But how?

The set list is the key tool to how bands mold and shape the crowd’s energy over 90 minutes.

It’s a combination of a powerful start, some banging crowd pleasers, the experimental new tracks and the surprise collaboration with another artist.

And of course, a great set always finishes with a crescendo of lights, smoke and fireworks and the all important encore.

It’s a roller coaster of emotions that’s sculpted and shaped. And it’s something retailers can and should do in store. Modulate and fluctuate energy levels to change the pace and the tempo.

But how?

Brands and retailers need to develop both big emotional high points in the shopping experience and have a strong, defined ending.

This proven strategy is called “peak-end rule”

Shoppers regularly report their check-out experience is the least enjoyable. Unfortunately, that’s likely to be the lasting memory they carry with them.

So why ruin a great in-store experience with a poor payment process? New technologies now let customers check out anywhere; when and how they like.

Let them leave the store feeling like they’ve just had a memorable experience instead of a frustrating ordeal.

So if retailers and brands are going to steal a page from the rock and roll playbook, how can retail designers help? We can act as:


Audio-visual artist




We need new rules for our new reality. Stop thinking consumers; start thinking people. Less targeting; more targeted behaviours. Don’t count on loyalty; start earning gratitude. Don’t perfect slowly; do experiment quickly.

And most of all…ROCK ON!

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