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Retail Shoppers Want Theatrical Experiences That Delight And Excite

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Whether you haul out pennies, dollars or plastic, chances are you will be buying gifts in the next days and weeks. But where will you buy, and why? We reached analyst Liz Dunn to discuss current retail trends. Thank you for joining us.

LIZ DUNN: Thank you for having me.

WERTHEIMER: We always seem to start the holiday shopping season with a little uneasiness, especially the last few years. Do you think this is going to be a better year for retail?

DUNN: I don't think it's going to be a particularly good year for retail. I think the consumer's in decent shape, but they just really aren't voting for stuff. They're looking to buy experiences - travel, restaurants, you know, Broadway shows. And so I think it will be a difficult holiday season for retailers.

WERTHEIMER: So what would your advice be to department stores and other retailers? What should they do if that's the trend?

DUNN: I think the most important thing that retailers can do right now is really try to capture some sort of, you know, theatrical experience, almost, inside their four walls. Try to do things that delight and excite the consumer and make shopping more fun. I think consumers are focused on anything that they can Instagram, anything that they can sort of report back to their networks of social media. And so the more exciting shopping experience the better and the more likely that consumers will end up in your store to spend those limited holiday dollars.

WERTHEIMER: Do you have any idea what these people are thinking about when they think theatrical experience? What is that?

DUNN: It's the store environment - obviously all the decorations, but it's bringing more drama into the store environment and changing that environment as you go through the season. And so it's no longer enough to set the store with one holiday look and then leave that for the entire duration of the season. I think any kind of appearances by celebrities or appearances by designers, all of that really kind of contributes to the drama and the theater of retail.

WERTHEIMER: You know, my favorite shopping experience is finding someone to wait on me.

DUNN: Service is definitely a big factor for consumers this year. And I think that what we're seeing many retailers do is cut down on the number of associates but really highlight the best associates. And so we saw that with Victoria's Secret and L Brands recently this year, where they say they're going to be paying fewer people more money, really emphasizing the best sales associates to deliver that best service.

WERTHEIMER: One trend that seems to be getting some pushback this year is stores being open on Thanksgiving. REI got a lot of attention for announcing that they would close not only on the holiday, but on Black Friday as well. Does this mean we're headed back for noncommercial, traditional Thanksgiving?

DUNN: Unfortunately, no. There's definitely been some backlash about the Thanksgiving openings, but for the most part, it looks to be here to stay. The openings play really well with the millennial consumer. They want to eat dinner and then, you know, leave.

WERTHEIMER: Skip washing the dishes somehow (Laughter).

DUNN: Yeah, get out of washing the dishes, exactly. And every retailer is trying to capture that younger consumer. There's a little bit of nostalgia to it, as well, that's not completely lost on the millennial consumer. Something about going to a mall is a little bit tongue-in-cheek interesting because, you know, we don't really shop that way anymore. So I think there are two parts of it. But I also think that consumer is likely wanting to get away from the Thanksgiving table and have another activity to do after dinner.

WERTHEIMER: Liz Dunn, thank you very much for joining us, and happy Thanksgiving.

DUNN: Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

WERTHEIMER: Liz Dunn is a brand analyst, and her consulting firm is Talmage Advisors. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.