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Three-Pod Might: What Nordstrom’s Festival Tour Means For Retail

Nordstrom’s return to the festival circuit with a series of pop-up retail experiences is an endorsement of temporary events for engaging consumers long-term. A look into the appeal of festivals for retail, and three acts for ensuring a harmonious experience.


 

There may not be a grand piano at the Beale Street Music Festival, but that won’t prevent Nordstrom from creating resonance with its shoppers.

The department store chain, known as much for its high-touch service as its piano players, is en route to Beale Street in what one can call its second annual Pop-upalooza – a series of retail experiences that are popping up at major outdoor entertainment events this spring.

Nordstrom is traveling to four events – it launched the tour at South by Southwest (SXSW) – with several retail “pods,” each of which houses a distinct experience. Visitors can have their personal auras photographed and interpreted; they can refresh their looks in the beauty pod, equipped with dry shampoo, cosmetics and fragrance; or they can have their photos taken in trendy settings such as New York or Palm Springs, Calif., in the GIF photo booth.

That Nordstrom is returning to the road is an endorsement of the viability of short-term events for engaging consumers in different, unexpected settings. However, the service-attentive chain is not the first to identify the benefits of festivals for pop-up engagement and loyalty. Other merchants have been using events to create emotional ties for years.

But retailers,be warned: Aiming to meet that impulse comes with the risk of overstepping your welcome.

“We Buy With Emotion”

Since the creation of glow sticks and tour posters, music events have proved fertile ground for commerce. It’s logical – the concert is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and those who attend want to commemorate it.

Transferring that desire to larger festivals is therefore natural, but execution should be in tune with the vibe. In short, set promotions aside – it’s better to attend in an experiential setting that festivalgoers remember and relate to the brand.

Some of the best examples are presented by those longest in the field, including Montreal-based Intellitix. A leader in technology-based engagement for live events, Intellitix provides RFID wristbands and works with sponsors to reach attendees through experiences, not advertising. The philosophy: Sentiment is more effective than bargaining when it comes to encouraging desired behavior.

“We don’t buy with objects, we buy with emotion,” Intellitix CEO and founder Serge Grimaux told COLLOQUY in 2014.

At the 2012 Bonnaroo Musical & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., for example, Ford Motor Co. and Intellitix collaborated on a drawing for a Ford Escape. Entry information was stored on participants’ wristbands, which they could click at one of 22 stations to increase their chances of winning. (The stations were all located near stages, so as not to distract from the concerts.) Of the roughly 70,000 attendees who entered the contest, almost 5,000 gave Ford permission to send email communications after the event.

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Annual Festival has for years hosted pop-up retailers, including Lacoste, Guess and H&M, the latter of which has partnered with Coachella on a co-branded fashion collection. In 2015, Pandora jewelry hosted runway fashion shows that featured specially created pieces.

Nordstrom is not hosting fashion shows per se, but it is inviting festival attendees to create their own personal fashion shoots, activities that not only are fun and therefore more memorable, but also shareable.

“By providing a relevant Nordstrom experience at these festivals, we hope to connect with customers in the festival environment and add to her festival experience,” Nordstrom spokeswoman Pamela Lopez told Luxury Daily.

Nordstrom’s next stop, Beale Street Music Festival, is the last weekend of April. Then it travels on to Shaky Knees in Atlanta and BottleRock in Napa.

Aiming For An Encore, With Three Acts

Many merchants get shaky knees at the thought of investing in such short-term events. The logistics can be daunting and the payoff, not only in terms of profit but long-term engagement, is not guaranteed. How can consumers commit long-term when the event lasts just days?

To ask such questions means one has not reckoned with the increasingly immediate nature of retail, and the importance of emotional experiences. Following are three acts for giving a festival pop-up staying power.

Be community-minded: People drawn to festivals are part of a limited-time community, but they likely have a hard-wired sense of solidarity. Retailers can become part of this community by investing in festival activities that visibly benefit attendees. They can, for instance, sponsor litter clean-up or first aid stations. Visitors will likely remember such efforts, leading to brand affinity.

Recruit festive people: Ideally, a retailer can populate its festival events with existing employees who understand its mission and brand promise. If not, it should recruit its best associates to help vet the candidates. Note, employees are motivated in similar ways as customers – through memorable experiences and time-relevant perks. Retailers can award bonuses or merchant credits to those who hit event goals, such as increasing traffic at slow times.

Let the activities inform the future: The memory of relevant moments can remain with consumers for years. Likewise, a consumer’s activities can help retailers remain more engaging for months to come. Merchants that gather data from events, through a wristband, loyalty program or other opted-in customer-identifying tool, can use the insights to modify in-store events and to shape future festival attractions.

Lastly, be surprising. Nordstrom’s high-end reputation may not make it a predictable fit for music festivals, but this alone could make its presence enough of a curiosity to draw attention, and delight.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com, where Bryan serves as a retail contributor. You can view the original story here.

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