Retailing in the UK part #1: the role of theatre

Topics: Channel / Retail, E-Bulletins / Newsletters, FMCG, Point of Purchase

ShopAbility’s Lee McAllistair recently went on a retail tour of the UK. Part #1 in this series looks at how UK retailers are enticing and exciting shoppers with theatre in store.

“All the world’s a stage!” Except for mainstream retail in Australia, which is singularly boring compared to its counterpart in the UK and Europe.

Shoppers are being entertained, engaged and inspired by larger-than-life in store theming, creative merchandising and display. And whilst it’s Harrods that inevitably takes the cake for most magnificent in-store theatre, there were still massive wall murals in Marks & Spencer, interactive TV screens in Sainsbury’s and large lightbox displays in Boots and Superdrug.

We’ll look at grocery / mass and pharmacy in particular next time around, but for today, let us feast our eyes on the shopper experience in UK department stores Harrods and Harvey Nichols.

Food Glorious Food !

Harrods Food Halls are internationally acclaimed – for good reason. Check out the market fresh presentation using baskets, mirrors, good lighting and extra plants weaving in and out of the displays for added fresh appeal.


Centre store excitement is created with large display fixtures that are not standard.  The large cart brings an old-world market fresh charm to the display.
Theatrical props: life-size fake slit pigs in the game section, fish tanks and fresh oysters being served in the seafood section



Willy Wonka-style sweets display – a children’s paradise

Liquor retailing in Harrods: category managed, organized, easy to shop, with large themed displays to add the theatre.
Here’s my favourite part. No space is wasted. Every space is used to create excitement and aspiration – every wall, lift well, escalator well, corridor – you name it. Here is are a couple of lift wells in Harrods:
And a couple of escalator wells in Harvey Nichols (very creative use of space and lighting here!):

Fashion in Harrods – complete with moving images of catwalk parades. There were larger-than-life lightbox displays everywhere, never just a boring mannequin dressed in something (manniquins were generally part of bigger lightbox displays). And again, no wall is wasted.

Magnificent retailing!

Some key take outs:

  • Theatre is about big, bold, larger than life. It is not about point of sale clutter. Ultimately the retailer needs to have a broad vision. In Australia, as long as retailers are expecting suppliers to create the theatre in their categories instead of the retailer taking a larger view of the whole store, we’ll never have a true theatre.
  • Theatre also supports the shopper experience by helping shoppers find what they are looking for more quickly. Those large fake slit pigs said very clearly and quickly that this is where fresh meat can be found.
  • Space in stores in Australia is underutilised from a theatre perspective. When is the last time you saw a creative display in an escalator well, aspirational advertising on lift doors, lightbox displays in corridors or large-scale props hanging from the ceiling? Even Marks & Spencer had massive promotional wall murals in their grocery stores.
  • Why is food shopping so boring here? Some strides are being made, with market-fresh sections in some of the new format supermarkets etc. But much more is yet to be achieved. Food can be no less exciting than fashion – we need to be making shoppers’ mouths water!

So, come on Australia, time to get on the international ‘stage!’.