Sit back, relax and don’t shop

In the new retail landscape, loitering is strictly encouraged

Sit back, relax and don't shopBobby Ammar wants you to feel at home. Well, not at home, exactly. More like the lobby of a boutique hotel, or an art gallery. Which is extraordinary, really. Because Ammar operates in the dusty business of selling cars. When the new Ericksen Infiniti dealership in Edmonton opened in September, complete with plush leather chairs, wide-screen plasma TV and, says general manager Ammar, “the most expensive cappuccino machine in the city,” it offered a peek into an emerging retail phenomenon—lounging. “We wanted a place where people could pour a latte, sit back and relax.”

Lounging is a reversal of almost everything we’ve come to expect from retail. Over the years, stores perfected the quick sell. Transactions-per-minute became the measure of success, with customers viewed more as commodities than living, breathing souls. Get in, do your business, then get out. But now a host of businesses, like car dealerships, but also dental offices, malls and even banks, want you to stay, take off your jacket and unwind. In a hyper-competitive retail landscape decimated by the recession, businesses are going to remarkable lengths to make you feel comfortable. If the waiting room was once the purgatory of retail, today it’s becoming an indulgence all its own.

Nowhere is this shift more striking than in the staid banking sector. This week, TD Bank officially opened its new concept branch in Brampton, Ont. A key feature is the lounge, where clients and their kids can hang out in big leather chairs. There are computers with games and access to childrens’ websites as well as a beverage machine. The bank is also opening its meeting rooms to community groups. “Historically, it always was an anxious thing for customers to go to their bank,” says Tim Hockey, president and CEO of TD Canada Trust. “This makes you feel warm and comfortable as opposed to thinking ‘Eww, I’m going into a cold sterile bank.’ ”

It wasn’t long ago that banks were doing everything they could to get customers banking online. But when the financial crisis toppled some of the world’s biggest banks, Canadian financial institutions remained strong thanks to their intense focus on retail banking. TD wants to build on that, and is borrowing a page straight from Starbucks. “It’s the concept of the third place,” says Hockey, referring to an idea popularized by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. “You’ve got your home, your work; everyone should find a third place where everyone knows your name.”

The idea of spending any more time in a bank than you have to might sound absurd, but it fits with a push by retailers to overhaul their relationships with customers, says John Gustavson, a commercial and retail architect in Vancouver. “They’re trying to break down a lot of the corporate culture and hierarchy that has existed in the past,” he says. The changes also reflect a broader shift in society. The walls between our homes, our work and our shopping trips—even the very concepts of public and private spaces—are vanishing.

Which is why, on a sunny afternoon, you can find crowds hanging out at the Shops at Don Mills, an “outdoor urban village” in Toronto. Dubbed the “anti-mall” when it opened in April, it encompasses a large public area, with a fountain where families routinely gather to play, even if they don’t set foot in the shops. The mall even held several music festivals over the summer. “People want public spaces,” says Alan Gomez, marketing director at Don Mills. “This brings in the community feeling.” Of course, the more time people spend there, the more likely they’ll spend their money, too.

By encouraging people to loiter, retailers hope to foster a deep brand connection.McDonald’s perfected the fast-service model but is outfitting its outlets with TVs, fireplaces and wireless Internet. Burger King plans to do the same. Apple lets you play with its pricey gizmos in its stores (called “experience stores” in retail lingo) with no pressure to buy. Even dental offices have started offering spa treatments and massage chairs.

In some cases, the trend can’t come soon enough. This year Canadian Tire unveiled a new breed of store. In the past, its service garages were known for their dank waiting areas and stiff benches that screamed “get off your butt and buy something.” But David Hicks, vice-president of store design, says retailers now know it’s impossible to force customers to do something they don’t want to. If anything, the retail lounge today is “a decompression area from your shopping experience,” he says. The new Canadian Tire lounges have plush leather chairs, TVs, Internet stations and play areas for children, all surrounded by cultured stone walls and laminate flooring. “We’ve tried to make the waiting areas as comfortable as home,” he says. “[They] look better than my house.”




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Sit back, relax and don’t shop

  1. Encouraging children? Can't people leave their screaming, whining brats at home? This will make shopping even more ghastly than it already is.

    • But that would rob me of parenting's greatest joy: annonying the hell outta folks like you.

      • Parenting takes money out of the hands of innocent high school girls who would otherwise be being terrorized by a succession of children under ten. :p

        • Three boys, ten and under. We find we can only trick babysitters into taking the job once.

          • Well at least you're proud of your delinquence. I don't know why so many people think a) children are uncontrolable, b) they can't do anything about it, and c) that its actually at all humourous.

          • Boy if you don't have children of your own then that's one comment blowing hot and wide out of your posterior. If you do have children of your own and you do manage to make then behave like royalty by "controlling" them, then you're in for a huge surprise when they hit puberty.

          • There is a world of difference between "behaving like royalty" and just plain behaving.

          • Interpretation doesn't really matter. What does matter is whether you make them behave our if you help them behave.

            I don't think there's a single parent out there who deliberately make their children disruptive. A lot of them are well aware of the sneering attitude people like you have towards them and their children. A lot of them are self-conscious about it, adding pressure to their already troublesome situation. A lot of them misguidedly stress more about "controlling"(as you put it) their children, which ends up exacerbating the situation.

          • Or, there's always the possiblity that I've been having a little fun here, and that my children are in fact quite well behaved. But it is true I'm generally delinquent. For example, I keep imagining that you talk like Sam the Eagle from the Muppet Show, and cannot stop giggling as a result.

            As for kids annoying others, I find it true that kids are generally like farts, in that we can only tolerate our own.

        • What?

  2. Interesting article, and it makes sense, though a surprise if indeed this is spreading into so many sectors that typically don't want you around other than to buy and get out.

    What is described is something that book stores have practiced for some time. Making consumers (or potential consumers) comfortable, encouraging them to stay awhile. Now, these same locations serve as alternate workplaces (with or without pay) for the unemployed and underemployed and looking-for-employment, who still may purchase a book or two. Or at the very least, make the establishment appear to be thriving.

    Perhaps just the human antidote to recessionary angst that we need. And maybe not so bad for business, either.

  3. I never really took the time to notice it before but it is totally true.
    I work for a bank and we have a seating area with a customer use phone coffee, water and usually some kind of treat they can snack on.
    Interesting concept.

  4. I wonder, who exactly is saving all the time, that all these time saving machines are saving?
    I believe, there are a few billionaires, who have actually figured it out, and are taking i easy.
    Most of them – and all the rest of us – are running ever faster.

    And since shopping is only entertaining for those with the proper training, why not just forget all about it.
    It will put everyone out of work, who isn't DOING SOMETHING NECESSARY,
    but it'll sure give us time to think about how the world and its people are really doing.

    As long as we're just producing and consuming, we're a part of the problem,
    much rather than the solution. But if we start thinking, we WILL make a difference to the better.
    And at the same time annoy both the economic elite AND tre religious leaders,
    who are all messing with our minds.

  5. It is great to see a more 'customer centered' approach to sales and service. Who would not want to go to a store where they feel more comfortable and more welcomed?
    My work revolves around successful stress management and customer service. In essense I am all for this idea
    David
    http://www.TheWonderTechnique.com

  6. sometimes you get away from human interaction just to go back to it.

  7. This is definitely an interesting way of changing up how businesses appeal to customers and potential customers. They should have started this type of catering to customers years ago.

  8. Wow. I love the concept. It is indeed indulging in the fast-moving world of timelessness. ;)

  9. I guess it’s just as simple as asking yourself what kind of shop you’d personally like to spend your time, and your family’s time in.

  10. I always thought that if people enjoyed shopping more then they would worry more about quality than quantity. They'd spend the same amount of money as before but on less items. Improving the retail experience seems like a very adequate first step.

  11. A new way of shopping? Why not.
    We do need a change, and perhaps this one…

    Still..

    Shopping… What a way to go.
    Express your innermost love and highest potential
    by the dollar. I. e. your hard earned pay.

    What happened to existence as such?
    Did we all miss that?
    Are we too busy living up to standards set by our parents?
    Do we create a nice world for each other
    or for the same reason people speculate against the dollar – ?

    Sorry, just wondering.
    Shopping should be the least of our worries!
    Why is it so important for us all?
    Who is it, that wants this developement?

    It may be a very positive experience to shop
    in an environment such as the one described,
    but what about the full impact of our everyday actions combined?

    What about the ramifications of our life style?
    What are we really doing to the world and eachother?
    Isn't it important, what comes out of our way of life?
    Doesn't it in fact mean everything to the generations to come?
    Are we shopping delirious?
    What the shopping shell is the matter with us?

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