Retail Puts On Its Own Show At Coachella

Retail Puts On Its Own Show At Music Festivals

Summer is coming, and that means more than just baseball (happy Opening Day!). It also means big outdoor music festivals – and all the retail that comes along with them.

Yeah, yeah, we know: It’s supposed to be about the music, man. Well, it’s not, and probably never really has been. Even the famous Woodstock concert – the first one, in 1969, one of the anchor points of Baby Boomer nostalgia – was as much about the party and the scene (and the mud and the drugs) than it was about the music and the performers (who were probably too far away for many attendees to see in the days before gigantic video screens).

Now, the trick for music festivals is not really to hide their underpinnings in commerce – how so, given all the obvious sponsorship? – but to do retail in a way that feels organic and interesting, and somehow fits the vibes of a particular event and its brand. The stakes? A big, nearly captive audience – about 33 million people or more attended at least one music festival each year in the U.S., depending on what estimate you believe. (In the U.K., the figure is closer to 14 million or so).

Not only that, but not all festival-goers are there just for the music, or even for the music. Never underestimate the power of a scene to draw in younger consumers with money to spend.

Amazon Fest Presence

Amazon is taking its shot at fitting into the festival scene.

It has opened a curated store for the 2019 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, one of the largest, best-known and most influential ongoing music festivals in the world. The festival runs for two weekends: April 12-14 and April 19-21. The store, available online at, will feature what Amazon calls “festival essentials,” items like sunscreen, cameras, earrings and Pedialyte. The goods will be delivered to an Amazon locker inside the festival grounds, or customers can order items in advance for delivery to their homes or pickup points.

The recently concluded SXSW (formally known just as South by Southwest) music, tech, film and cultural festival in Austin has become a retail hotspot over the last decade or more (much to the annoyance of purists, but hey, a successful fest attracts merchants and brands). The fest has proven especially attractive to online brands that want to make what amounts to a face-to-face connection with consumers.

This year, according to one report, the group of retailers included “luggage maker Away, clothing rental service Rent the Runway, apparel companies Revolve and Outdoor Voices and online marketplace StockX.” The report quoted Away’s Senior Director of Retail Will Williams as saying that “there’s been so much change in the industry in the last few years and a lot of people who have said that retail is dying. (But) there’s still appetite for interacting in real life. I’m excited that [SXSW] gives us a platform to share with other industry peers and thought leaders why physical retail still matters.”

Fashion’s Role

Fashion and fashion retail are big presences at big summer outdoor music festivals (we’ve come a long way, perhaps, from the nude-is-groovy ethos of the original Woodstock concert back in the late ‘60s). “Festivals are huge moments in the cultural calendar,” said Deborah Yeh, senior vice president of marketing at Sephora, in an interview with Business of Fashion. “[They’ve become] to fashion and beauty brands what the Super Bowl is to other consumer product categories.”

That report goes on to note that “to tap the marketing opportunity presented by festivals, fashion brands are rolling out interactive experiences inside the festival grounds, as well as off-site, digital influencer-driven events, to create content that engages both festival-goers and the audience watching from home.”

By all means, enjoy the music this summer, and enjoy the scene. But give back some love to the commerce players who are a firm part of festival culture. After all, a new retail experiment, or a new brand, might find its footing at one of these events.