Plenty of shoppers walk into a store looking for one thing — a scarf, a pair of loafers — and walk out with something unintended, such as a new fall sweater.
Or how about a tattoo?
That’s an extra offered to customers visiting Shinola in downtown Los Angeles, a store usually known for its watches, bikes and leather goods. The store is also home to a shop owned by renowned tattoo artist Scott Campbell.
Such retail mashups are becoming more common as stores strive to incorporate unexpected experiences to entice customers who otherwise might be content to shop online. Surprising activities could get them off the couch and walking into an actual store.
“It is vital that retailers make it worthwhile for consumers to visit their stores,” says Neil Saunders, managing director of the retail consultancy GlobalData. “This means making stores about more than just a place to sell product but also to inspire, engage, educate and excite.”
Shinola isn’t alone:
•Kohler. Starting last month, customers visiting the Kohler Experience Center in New York could sample the faucets, showerheads and sinks by taking a shower or bath on site.
•Patagonia. The outdoor clothing chain has offered free yoga classes, environmental discussions and even sewing workshops at its locations.
•Nordstrom. The department store chain will open Nordstrom Local in West Hollywood, on Oct. 3. More of a service hub than a traditional store, Nordstrom Local will not stock clothes, but it will have personal stylists who can grab outfits from other locations, alteration services, and even on-site manicurists. Customers can also go there to pick up online orders and to return items.
•American Eagle Outfitters. Best known for its trendy T-shirts and jeans, American Eagle Outfitters features a non-alcoholic beverage bar called DRINK at its Times Square flagship store that has become a favorite on Instagram.
“It’s one of those unexpected surprises folks see when they visit that retail flagship,” says Jim Kepple, operations leader for Cleveland Avenue, a company that collaborates with food and beverage start-ups and worked on the partnership between American Eagle Outfitters and the beverage bar. “And hopefully, consumers stick around a little bit longer and spend a little bit more.”
Shinola has joined with businesses to roll out a series of events at many of its 23 U.S.-based stores. In April, it dedicated a day to rapper J Dilla, who died in 2006, debuting his posthumously released album at several locations including those in Chicago, San Francisco and J Dilla’s hometown of Detroit.
Made Floral, a flower shop, is housed inside Shinola’s Detroit headquarters. When Shinola opened an outpost in downtown Los Angeles in November, Campbell’s tattoo parlor was part of the package, along with The Smile’s Di Alba cafe.
“A customer can come into the Shinola store, purchase a leather bag or a watch or a turntable, go into Scott’s studio to have a tattoo done, and then go over to the … cafe and have a sandwich and a coffee,” Shinola President Jacques Panis says.
Campbell, who has a free-standing studio in Brooklyn, says it’s likely some Shinola customers learned about his business by visiting the Los Angeles store.
“I definitely have clients of mine who have bought Shinola watches,” he says. “It’s fun, and you get to see this whole romantic world of Shinola and stumble on my little weirdo studio in the back. Any physical retail store has to be more than filling a need at this point; otherwise, people just stay in their house.”
Though a difficult retail environment has ramped up the urgency for stores to offer shoppers more than product displays, Patagonia says it has always believed retailers should interact with the surrounding community.
“A lot of times, we look at it with the opposite intention,” Joy Lewis, Patagonia’s director of retail, said of the chain’s events, which include panel discussions. The stores think about “how can we take our familiar customers and expose them to new things, like environmental actions in their backyard?”
“I do think that hosting events creates a personal relationship with our customers that may inspire a purchase from us directly,” she says.
Whatever the experience, Saunders says, the matchup needs to make sense, or it risks backfiring and turning off shoppers.
“The watchword is relevance,” he says. “To work, add-ons have to be appropriate for the shopper, have to add genuine value and must be commercially focused. If they’re not, they end up being expensive distractions and, at worst, irritating for customers.”