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Are You Experiential?

The Walt Disney Co. renewed its retail strategy in late June with the first of what it says will be 300 redesigned stores. The new World of Disney locations are designed in the mold of Apple Stores. They are set up to provide visitors with more than a place to buy goods. The locations are equally about the experiences visitors will have.

The new Disney stores, for example, will have “magic mirrors” inside castles that children can climb around where they can summon princesses from Disney movies to tell stories.

This seems very much like the right move for Disney. In fact, it's a wonder that they didn't get here sooner. Making stores as fun as possible would seem natural for a company that thrives on children's entertainment and building wondrous theme parks.

Getting more creative with its stores enables Disney to make use of its vast catalogue of movie and television properties. And it has the potential to really immerse children into the fantastical worlds highlighted in the Disney universe.

By doing this, Disney becomes just the latest retailer to embrace the concept of “experiential” retail. Besides Apple, American Girl Place, REI, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela's and Build-A-Bear — just to name a few — all jump to mind as retailers that have found great success in creating environments that engage people's senses and allow them to participate on a much higher level than your typical store.

At all of these stores customers can touch, taste and feel things, whether it's testing out a fishing rod, personalizing your own doll or teddy bear or getting a chance to really play with an iPhone or iPad before deciding to buy one.

What all these retailers are doing is essential for the future of retail real estate.

As Internet retailing continues to take a bigger piece of the pie and mobile devices give people yet another channel on which to navigate the shopping world, experiential retail emphasizes a key advantage that stores will always have and something those other avenues simply cannot recreate.

Experiential retail takes full advantage of the fact that stores exist in the physical world. Web sites may be able to sell you books. You can even customize things you are buying on Web sites, just as you can in stores. But you cannot have the pleasure of picking out pieces and customizing your own toy car — just one of the things that children can do at the new World of Disney stores.

You cannot test out camping gear the way you can at Bass Pro. You cannot grapple on a climbing wall the way you can at REI's retail locations.

Increasingly, these kinds of experiences are what will make shopping centers vital and help generate traffic for all tenants at a property. It is retail as entertainment rather than simply as commerce.

We can only hope more retailers follow this trend and continue to enrich retail environments — for the good of the entire industry.

TAGS: Retail
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