It’s All About the Experience

roughtradeThe Independent (via Influx) has a story about Rough Trade’s intention to open a 5,000 square foot music shop in London. This move by Rough Trade, the label that launched the Smiths, is a bet on a counter trend if ever there was one. With stories of declining CD sales in the press seemingly every day, punctuated by music store closings (e.g. Tower Records), a large physical store selling CDs seems to be a Sisyphean adventure. It’s more than a counter trend bet, however, as the shop will have live entertainment and try to become a hub for a vibrant independent music scene. This aspect of the project fits squarely into a relatively recent but already stable trend – shopping as an experience. We hear so much about creating a community online, but there is no community like flesh and blood community, and that is just what Rough Trade hopes to facilitate. If indie music lovers (and all other music lovers, for that matter) find like minded souls as customers, entertainers, and employees in the shop, they’ll come back for more and be happy to purchase physical CDs rather than download (legal or illegal) digital songs. Influx notes that Amoeba Music in San Francisco is the model for the new store. If that’s true, I hope it’s just the start of the plan because Amoeba isn’t quite the kind of experience I think Rough Trade will need to create. It’s harshly lit, jammed with CDs, but otherwise not particularly welcoming (just my opinion).

Creating experiences for consumers has been seen in many businesses now, initially manifesting itself in Nike Town stores which drew consumers in for the experience as much as for the products. A while back I wrote about Living Room Theaters, a Portland cinema that tried to create the experience of watching a movie in your living room. Service and luxury are the experience. Think of another supposedly dying business – high-end stationary. When you walk into a Papyrus or Kate’s Paperie, shopping for stationary becomes an experience. You’re with like-minded people, talking with clerks who love fine paper, surrounded by creative examples of how to do more with what you are about to purchase.

Online companies, too, create this experience. Amazon was an early example as they introduced Recommendations, Wish Lists, and reviews. eBay also played the experience card as the company not only found an efficient way to buy and sell, but provided a fun auction experience. Finally, what could be more boring than a corporate Web site, right? Well, take a look at Dyson’s, but only if you’re ready to spend several hundred dollars for one of their vacuums, because that’s what you’ll want to do after your visit. Visiting that Web site is an experience.

CDs, movie theaters, paper – all products or services that are presumed to be in trouble. Creating an experience around the product or service is how some forward looking businesses are fighting back. Unfortunately there are solid long-term trends beating these businesses down, trends that won’t be reversed simply by creating product experiences. These actions can, however, slow the decline of, or even temporarily grow, the market. You want to have a portfolio of products that cover where you’ve been as well as where you’re going. Just because a certain product type or segment seems to be in decline, doesn’t mean it’s no longer worth addressing.

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