A couple of years ago I was at the opening day of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Orlando. As one might expect, the buildings, the sets, everything was designed to reflect the sets used in the movies with a level of detail that defies description. But the real genius of the experience doesn’t set in until you actually begin to interact with the various themed spaces. It all begins when you enter the wand shop. After waiting in line for a very, very long time, 15 or so people are ushered into a small mock shop and the scene from the original movie is acted out word for word with a member of the shopping audience. Ollivander’s Wand Shop springs to life. You’re then ushered through a door into the retail space, crowded with delighted fans happily handing over a small fortune to buy the same products they can buy online for a fraction of the price.
The store is indicative of a theater. Not only is the environment an exact duplicate of the movie set, but the interactions themselves draw the buyer directly into the story line. By the time one leaves The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, loaded down with bags of magical souvenirs, they’re already making plans for the next visit. And this is the sort of reaction every retailer wants. Even without the direct associations with the movies the retail space would still conform to some very basic principles. Namely, escape, fantasy, and inclusion. The total experience speaks to cultural and psychological archetypes.
Human actions are dependent upon time, place, and audience. In other words, the self is a sense of who one is, a dramatic effect emerging from the immediate scene being presented. What a person “really is” is not only undiscoverable, but also arbitrary in its nature insofar as it is shaped by context rather than some fixed, innate sense of being. The individual’s identity is performed through role(s), and consensus between the actor and the audience. A person’s identity is constantly remade as the person interacts with others and the stage on which they collectively engage. People are actors who must convey their personal characteristics and their intentions to others through performances. As on the stage, people in their everyday lives manage settings, clothing, words, and nonverbal actions to give a particular impression to others. The more a setting helps facilitate this, the more engrossed in the storyline they become.
So what does it mean in the context of shopping? Customers need experiences, not just things. More people are shopping online for convenience and deals, which means that the in-store experience becomes an incredibly important differentiator. People are more satisfied by unique experiences than they are by commoditized objects.