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Comment: How immersive are retail interiors this Christmas asks Richard Steel of The Delta Group


It’s not even December yet, but the Festive Season is firmly in full swing in the nation’s stores. We’ve already had the launch of this year’s John Lewis ad, and its backlash, and a full dissection of various supermarket offerings. The overriding theme – forming the backbone of much of the creative so far beyond standard winter wonderland scenes – is space. John Lewis, Selfridges and jewellery brand Pandora’s sponsorship of the Oxford Street Christmas lights all look to the stars for inspiration this year.

As Black Friday approaches, heralding the start to the seasonal spending frenzy this week, the battle increases for retailers to attract and engage shoppers who are obsessively seeking bargains. But, beyond the glitz and the glitter of tinsel-filled shop windows and the glamour of the big budget TV ads, how much Christmas sparkle actually makes it through to the shop floor? Are customers finding the experience translates from the TV screen to the store?

John Lewis, perhaps unsurprisingly, is at the forefront of extending experiences. The brand has, over the past few years, built an astonishing profile as the herald of Christmas with its TV advertising: this has evolved into a multi-platform experience as the brand tested and learned from previous approaches and added new ways to engage year-on-year.

Christmas 2014 saw Monty the Penguin spread from digital creative launch to TV spot showcase, with the brand ready to back this up with a digital store offering and in-store experiential to bring the creative to life. Monty had his own branded range, from £95 cuddly toys to branded umbrellas and pyjamas, and almost all 39 allied products proved to be huge hits.

This year, the Man on the Moon creative has been rolled out in a similar fashion, with a dedicated microsite animation of the creative and a full suite of ‘from and inspired by the advert’ products. In the flagship Oxford St store, they’ve taken things one step further with the Lunar Lookout, complete with cosy cabins and moonwatching platforms.

But what about brands which haven’t built up a ‘close to the heart of Christmas’ role? Often the in-store experience can be a frustrating one, from lengthy queues and near-mythical quests to find the elusive last ‘must-have toy’ on the shelf, to mammoth, multi-trolley supermarket stock-ups to cater for extended family feeds.

From our field research, most of the grocery giants have chosen to celebrate the festive season in-store with varied executions of graphic-based creative, with only Morrisons directly referencing its TV ad creative font and style. The Yorkshire retailer has taken the experience through to the self-scan tills with a nice piece of thinking to extend the festive feel: shoppers will now hear Festive Fred greet them with a cheery ‘Don’t get your tinsel in a tangle’. But, realistically, we all know the supermarket is not necessarily where shoppers dwell to soak up the festive ambiance.

So far, few retailers of any type are living up to the immersive John Lewis promise of linking advertising creative to in-store experience. There are some easy ways to rectify this and close the loop for the UK’s shoppers in the run up to the holiday. Thinking digital, and thinking outside of the box like Morrisons in terms of tweaking existing in-store technology, can provide a festive twist to the traditional experience.

‘Archway’ creative that arcs over the aisles, which shoppers pass through on their journey, can be an inexpensive but immersive gateway to creating a more festive feel. And, crucially, linking the creative theatre of the ad-spot to a tangible experience in-store can tie the creative executions together during the Christmas season. From simply using the creative in point of sale displays through to floor graphics or a more experiential and immersive pop-up creation, the possibilities for retailers to make shoppers more actively involved in the shopping journey are limited only by retailer’s imaginations.

Richard Steel is head of review at The Delta Group