Merchant Innovation

B&M Jumps The Retail-Tainment Shark

Retailers Go Big On Entertainment

By now, it's a well-accepted fact that brick-and-mortar retailers will do just about anything to turn uncommitted buyers both online and on the sidewalk into in-store conversions. How far each merchant will go to win the hearts and minds of these fickle consumers varies from brand to brand, but if the last few weeks in B&M retail-tainment news serve as any indication, what was beyond the pale for brands a few years ago is fair game now.

Look no further than Barnes & Noble's attempt to win book-readers away from Amazon's increasingly prevalent digital reading empire. Come 2017, CEO Ron Boire is committing the bookseller to opening at least four new concept stores complete with expanded cafe areas, full menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a fully-stocked selection of beer and wine.

The idea, according to Boire, is to add another layer of texture on top of the in-store shopping experience, but not one that comes at too steep a price for the casual shopper to enjoy.

“We’re going to offer good food, and because we’re Barnes & Noble, it’s going to be affordable, not $50 dinner entrees,” Boire said during a recent investors' conference.

Regardless of Barnes & Noble's culinary expertise, it's hard to begrudge Boire and the brand for their efforts. In a world where convenience can be a click away, maybe sometimes it takes an unexpected offering from a brick-and-mortar retailer to pry shoppers' eyes away from their ever-present mobile screens.

That's the philosophy of Walmart and chief marketing officer Tony Rogers as the merchant embarks on its own new journey down the B&M retail-tainment path. Instead of using food, beer and wine to turn book browsers into readers, though, Walmart is bringing live bulls and professional bull riders to 40 of its stores this year and 200 the next. The bulls will be shown off within cages, though the human riders from the Professional Bull Riders tour will be free to move about and sign autographs with shoppers as they please.

However, while the sight of a caged bull in a Walmart parking lot will certainly be enough to garner a second look from uncommitted shoppers, retailers run the risk of moving further away from their core propositions the more bells and whistles they tack onto their base in-store experience. As Rogers told Advertising Age, though, sometimes retailers don't have a choice when it comes to driving in-store traffic at any cost.

"We never want to be a distraction from the core mission of having the lowest price on the right stuff," Rogers said of Walmart's upcoming bull promotion. "But once we get to that point, come talk to us."

Few will stand on their heads to defend expanded in-store menus and in-store animal shows as the cure to brick-and-mortar retail's woes with driving traffic, but the alternative of waiting for shoppers to stroll in off the street on their own seems just as, if not more, misguided in the modern, crowded world of retail offerings, both physical and digital.

In fact, over-the-top retail-tainment stunts like Walmart's bull-riding promotion might be the saving grace that B&M merchants need when digital brands come knocking on their traditional turf in a way they haven't seen before. As online merchants come to turn more and more in-person events like award shows and trade conferences into instantly shoppable experiences, it only makes sense that B&M stores would fight fire with fire to deliver "a more physical, real experience, and a live retail experience."

Or, in this case, they'll fight digital savvy with bulls.

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