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3 Steps to a Successful Themed Retail Experience

Themed Retail Tips

Photo by Le District.

Le District was launched with great fanfare in New York City. After experiencing Eataly, the Italian grocery and restaurant phenomenon in the city, we had high hopes for this French version.  Sadly, we were disappointed.  Where Eataly soared, Le District sank. They were unable to create the fabulous total customer experience that defines Eataly.  To create a successful themed retail experience, retailers should follow these three steps.

1. Get the right product.

Category management is critical to the customer experience.  In order to effectively and convincingly create a theme, you must understand the specific products that need to come together. While you can play with the product, it needs to come from an understanding of what is critical. You cannot merely repackage existing product and assume that consumers will believe you.

Eataly does an excellent job curating the products they offer. While they have some North American Italian foods, they have expanded their selection in very specific areas that demonstrate their understanding of their customers. For example, the olive oil section is composed of four 4-foot sections.  Product offered includes brands from across Italy, many of which are not usually available in North America.

The opposite was true at Le District. Macarons are a product recognized as French. While they did offer macarons, the selection was very limited, which was not enough to meet customer demand, and therefore failed to deliver on providing a uniquely “French”-inspired customer experience.

2. When it’s not unique, make it unique!

While it is critical to have good category management, it is also critical to showcase your point of differentiation. Good customer experience means that you need to offer these products to satisfy your consumer’s need for convenience, but also to create uniqueness. This could be done by launching a private brand product offering better value, by adding a unique product attribute or using your merchandising to display the product in an innovative way that is still consistent with your overall branding.

Europeans shop daily, buying fresh flowers, perishables and produce. At Le District, the flower section was small and outsourced to a company focused on corporate sales. Where was the joie de vivre that we associate with the French?  The produce section was small and, other than the French words above the sections, uninspiring.

Contrast this with Eataly: while the produce section was small, their products were attractively displayed and local, with seasonal produce highlighted.

3. Use a story to bring your theme to life.

Creating a themed environment to enhance the customer experience means satisfying five consumer shopping needs: convenience, value, transparency, discovery and connection. The best way to satisfy these needs is to tell a compelling brand story. This story needs to be told in all elements of your execution, and none more critical than by your employees. Customer facing associates must be well trained to enhance the experience for the customer.  It is very frustrating for your customers to need assistance to satisfy their needs only to have associates untrained or providing misinformation.  The result is usually a lost sale.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Why not have some fun with uniforms or signage?  Bring services often hidden behind a wall onto the selling floor and let your associates demonstrate their skills.  At Le District, there were lots of associates in the store and many had stepped from behind the till. But we did not see any interaction with customers, which was a missed opportunity to increase customer engagement by going above and beyond, answering questions or demonstrating their skills and knowledge.

On the other hand, at Eataly, we watched chefs making pasta and talking with customers about the different shapes and fillings. When we were confused about choosing balsamic vinegar, they took us to a display and talked with us, using the signage designed to educate consumers, about the different product flavours and origins.  This really enhanced our process of discovery and brought us closer to the Eataly brand.

It takes execution across the store environment, product and associates to sell your theme and increase sales.  However, with a commitment to your theme and ensuring that it is executed consistently across the store environment, you can ensure that you are well on your way to themed retail success.


To learn more about how we can help your retail business achieve success, visit our retail services page or contact us for further information.