Is the shoppable brand festival a viable retail trend?
These days the term ‘experiential’ seems to be tacked onto just about any retail idea – whether they deserve it or not. The shoppable brand festival does though.
These large-scale experiences come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but they all have the brand front and centre. They are a celebratory interpretation of the brand and what they stand for.
They provide a real-world opportunity to immerse yourself in the brand – beyond what a typical store can do. And of course, there is the opportunity to shop while in attendance.
But is the shoppable brand festival a growing retail trend? And is it a viable one?
Tommy Hilfiger was an early explorer of the shoppable festival with Tommyland. This 2017 event was a funfair, music festival and shoppable catwalk show that sold a perception of the brand over products.
While visitors were enjoying the fair, Tommy Hilfiger was always in the background. The signage, colour scheme and clothes worn by models and guests all evoked the brand.
A custom image recognition app made the most of our natural impulse to take photos. Guests could use the app to instantly shop the looks on the models at the catwalk show or in ads around the site. The shoppable element was so natural, and the setting so enjoyable, that Tommy Hilfiger reported that a third of the app users were first time customers.
Last October, Hypebeast ran a shoppable festival in Brooklyn called Hypefest. Customers paid $50 to enjoy a weekend of culture and entertainment with music, installations and special guests. The aim was to create an event that cemented Hypebeast’s position as a cultural authority.
The event also featured a large retail component. What was interesting is the physical stands from over 50 top brands from around the world including Puma, Rokit, Diesel, MCM and Rimowa were only a small part of that. The main focus was the ecommerce element.
Most of the available products were sold exclusively through the Hypefest app to then be sent to the customer at home after the event. The app store was geofenced so it could only be accessed by those on-site. You had to be at the festival to shop it.
This meant that not only did the brands not have to worry about running out of physical product, the visitors didn’t have to carry around bags of shopping. They were free to fully immerse themselves in the other activities.
Amazon’s Destination Denim
Amazon is also launching its first shoppable festival. Running for four days this October in Berlin, Destination Denim is all about promoting the wide range of denim available through Amazon.
Many of those products are available to buy there and then from big name brands like Levi’s, Wrangler, G-Star and Replay. There are also event exclusives from Tommy Jeans and Amazon’s own denim brand Find.
Given that the event is by Amazon, there’s a strong tech tie-in. This includes a digital catwalk which has 3D displays of the clothes being modelled. There’s also Alexa-enabled styling experience and a curated shoppable capsule collection.
Amazon is also creating an online event page with supporting content such as playlists, tutorials and denim edits that are curated by fashion influencers.
As well as shopping opportunities, the festival will offer educational events, workshops, product demonstrations and panels on all things denim. There are also live performances from various artists.
Aside from the invite-only launch party, the whole event is open to the public and is free to take part in. It’s about positioning Amazon as an expert in denim and encouraging customers to consider using it when they next look to buy some jeans.
This two-day Los Angeles event from Sephora recently returned for its second year. Designed as a House of Beauty, guests could explore 16 rooms with different experiences – from Instagrammable photo ops to beauty services to product education.
Sephoria is a place where people who love beauty can indulge that love. Masterclasses were in operation from top make-up artists, special guests were in attendance and of course a huge array of top beauty and skincare brands had a presence.
Visitors could buy products during their experience, including various limited-edition items and Sephoria merch. Some brands used the event to launch new products or to give beauty fans a sneak peek at upcoming releases. Visitors paid $80-$350 to attend depending on what tier of ticket they bought.
Over in Australia, Mecca Cosmetics holds an annual three-day beauty festival in Sydney called Meccaland. More than 15,000 people visited the 2019 edition, which was three times the size of the 2018 festival.
Forty-four brands stocked by Mecca Cosmetics were in attendance. Visitors could also enjoy a Ferris wheel, neon lights, prop bubble baths and more. They also had the opportunity to meet makeup artists and get insights from them on panels.
On a retail side, visitors could try, buy and even customise different Mecca-carried products throughout the event. There were new products launching at the festival, which meant attendees got their hands on them first. Exclusive and limited-edition products were also on offer.
The aim is to create an inclusive, entertaining space for beauty junkies to come together and celebrate what they love. Meccaland lets fans feel like they’re connected to the industry rather than just consuming products.
Lush is another hair and beauty company who has explored the shoppable brand festival. Its interactive Lush Showcase events were designed to let fans get hands-on with its products, explore new items and share in its values.
If you’ve ever visited a Lush store you can get a rough idea of what the event might have been like in terms of colour, smell and sound. Interactive installations, performers and live music elevated the showcases to another level.
Visitors were able to make their own versions of certain products, explore the full range, and of course shop them all. The brand also used the event to preview seasonal products ahead of time, as well as reveal new products.
Education has always been a major tentpole of Lush’s business and this was carried through to the showcase. There were speakers covering topics close to its heart like sustainability. Visitors could also learn more about the ingredients used by Lush and where they come from. Tickets were priced at £15-£35 depending on when booked and what tier.
Taobao Maker Festival
This year saw the fourth edition of Alibaba’s Taobao Maker Festival. The multi-day event is designed to celebrate young creative entrepreneurs in China and is one of the most watched events in the Alibaba calendar.
The most recent iteration is the biggest yet spanning two weeks (up on four days last year) and two venues. It was designed to be a real-life discovery opportunity for the wide array of products available from sellers on the Taobao online platform.
More than 1000 different products were on offer during the event, with many being launched for the first time exclusively at the festival. This adds to the must-visit nature of Taobao Maker Festival as it becomes a place to find new trends.
Taobao Maker Festival made use of Alibaba’s extensive tech expertise to make the festival shoppable for both those at the festival, and those at home. Featured items were empowered with ‘See Now, Buy Now’ technology making it easy for shoppers to buy them in a few taps.
This is a really important development as a large proportion of people watch the event from home. Using tech to unlock additional shopping opportunities means Taobao can capture as many sales as possible.
H&M’s immersive theatre
Earlier this year, H&M decided to forego Paris Fashion Week and instead opted to launch its SS19 Studio collection via an immersive theatrical experience in the Arizona desert.
While it wasn’t a brand festival in quite the same way – the guests were influencers and press only – it did show how brands are rethinking engagement. For a start, those who were invited were immersed in a theatrical performance where they had a role to play (somewhat like the Secret Cinema idea).
Actors took the visitors through the experience, where they got to wear the clothes rather than just watch them on a runway. There was even a fake radio station created especially for the event to add to the immersion.
The guests modelled the clothes and posted pictures from the experience online with the #HMStudio hashtag, which let customers follow along on the journey.
It raises a question about whether this could be the future of the shoppable brand festival. Imagine turning up to a secret location, being given clothes or a product to try, and then exploring a multi-sensory environment as part of the story – not someone watching it.
If that’s not a way to make you feel connected to the brand and the product, then we’re not sure what is? And of course, you’re more likely to want to buy the thing you’ve been on this journey with at the end.
Is it a growing trend?
On the one hand you could argue that this isn’t a sustainable trend. Afterall, a lot of the brands mentioned above haven’t re-run their festival on an annual basis. But maybe that’s the point?
There’s a question around how much the success of these events is based around their scarcity. Not everyone can be there. Not everyone gets to experience them. It’s the same logic that’s behind the rise in product drops.
Cost is another factor. It’s not cheap to put on a massive, interactive event over a number of days – even if you charge people to attend. While these events certainly have a marketing role, they’re not necessarily sustainable to do on a wider scale.
It is unlikely that they could become the way we shop in general. Nor is it always necessary – do you want an immersive theatre experience when you go to the supermarket or do you just want to buy and get out?
As marketing events though, there is certainly scope for the shoppable brand festival to continue and expand. Brands are increasingly needing to find ways to distinguish themselves from their competition. Many are doing this by trying to connect themselves to culture, communities and lifestyles.
A festival is a great way to do this, especially if the brand element of it is secondary to the other bits. If it’s just an exercise in brand pushing it will fail because customers don’t want to be sold to. They want you to give them a reason to buy.
There may be another way that we see some of the element of the shoppable brand festival come into play.
Showfields which calls itself ‘the most interesting store in the world’ is one of a number of companies giving physical space to direct to consumer brands in a twist on the department store idea.
Its latest idea is the immersive theatrical experience House of Showfields which invites customers to explore brands through exciting installations manned by actors. Customers can buy the products that they experience in a retail area at the end. The journey there is what entices them to buy as a multi-sensory exploration which changes the usual retail expectations.
It works almost in the same way as the H&M experience only on a smaller and store-contained scale. Elements of this could be a way for more brands to create their own mini festivals in their stores.
With it widely reported that certain demographics now spending more on experiences than products, and the rise of social media and the currency of sharing those experiences, the shoppable brand festival feels like a natural meeting point of the two.
They’re also a way to celebrate a brand’s biggest fans and/or target market. Create a good enough festival that appeals to a certain culture or community and you could win over a legion of new customers. Equally, the shoppable festival can serve to reinforce the connection you have with your most loyal and engaged customers – and that’s certainly a viable approach.
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