It was a Throwback Thursday on Facebook, and the picture that popped up was of my daughter’s seventh birthday.
That year, the jewelry and accessory store Charming Charlie’s had opened in a local shopping center and had captured her imagination. I swear she could hear angels singing when she walked into the store that a friend dubbed the “IKEA of jewelry,” for its low prices, overwhelming product selection, and color-coded simplicity.
So that year, my daughter made an unusual request. She wanted to hold her birthday party at Charming Charlie’s. This is not a birthday party location. They have no seating. No party rooms. No catering packages. It is a retail store. I tried to talk her out of it, but when she was persistent, I thought I’d call the local manager and see about possibilities.
The manager was enthusiastic (although not sure how it would all work), and we started planning the event. She set up a small table in a corner of the store to organize. I limited the guest list and invited some girlfriends to be grownup chaperones. We planned a scavenger hunt around the store, a fashion show (where the girls picked accessories after getting different prompts like “fashion designer” or “your mom”), and we took a lot of pictures.
The girls had fun spending their small gift cards before we headed across the parking lot to a restaurant where dessert was served and “Happy Birthday” was sung.
And the whole experience taught me something about retail and GenZ (which is the emerging generation of my children).
• Shopping is an experience. Retail is a place: My daughter did not understand at all why a retail location couldn’t be an amusement park. She was entertained there and liked the shopping experience so much, she wanted to do it with friends and call it a party. To her, Charming Charlie’s represented an experience. I think that is the future of brand retail. Not just to move product in a location (and trust me, the company benefitted from our party being there that day), but to create a lasting experience and build the brand.
• Shopping is personal and expresses the shopper. Retail is impersonal and reflects the brand: Sure, she is a strong-willed 7-year-old, but my daughter thought the store was there to serve her and her friends. The shopping experience she wanted was a social one. And with some creative maneuvering, that is what we achieved. The store, in fact, was not built for her. And certainly not built for her birthday party. But the shopping experience we orchestrated absolutely was.
Today’s options for shopping and product procurement have never been broader. There are stores you can go to, websites you can visit, apps you can browse, styles you can pin, there are stylists you can hire, pop-up stores to discover, showrooms to browse, appointments with designers to make, and programs you can subscribe to. The choices are endless, and we expect more to come once Uber and Lyft drivers or drones start making package deliveries.
This creates opportunities in retail that cross beyond the brick-and-mortar stores to the full range of customer engagement that is possible. This also creates opportunities for the retail stores to become more experiential, more visual, more engaging--the kind of experience that you can’t have online or on social media.
Perhaps it won’t be long before retailers start offering birthday parties, bridal showers, and other milestone events.