Retail: Live and unplugged

When Australian fashion brand Country Road decided to partner with the Australian Open in 2018, it didn’t expect the overwhelming consumer response. The retailer sold out of many of the items designed specifically for the event within the first ten days and had to bring in more items to keep up with demand.

This year, Country Road has once again partnered with the Australian Open as the official lifestyle fashion partner of the event. It spent 10 months planning a “proper pop-up shop” where customers can purchase a range of co-branded clothes and accessories and personalise them with stitching. And it supplied the uniforms for on-court officials, including the chair and line umpires, along with the event’s operations staff.

Why go to all this effort to partner with a sporting event that lasts a mere two weeks?

“It gave us an opportunity to put Country Road on an international and a local platform,” Country Road managing director Elle Roseby tells IRW.

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For Country Road, the Australian Open is an opportunity to place the brand front and centre at an event that draws hundreds of thousands of people, many of them from around the world, and arguably all of them having a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

According to Tennis Australia president and chair Jayne Hrdlicka, more than 80,000 attendees – approximately 11 per cent – at the 2017 Australian Open were from overseas, primarily from the US, New Zealand, Japan, China and UK.

Melbourne-based bag brand Crumpler has also identified the Australian Open as a prime opportunity to introduce the brand to a broad range of international tourists.

“It’s a Melbourne-based event that has a global reach these days,” Crumpler chief executive Adam Wilkinson tells IRW.

“We launched a new range and a new logo last year, and we wanted to take the opportunity to showcase this to the world.”

This trend isn’t limited to Australia, or even to tennis. Retailers worldwide are taking the opportunity to partner with events and festivals to connect more deeply with their core audience, and to place themselves in front of a whole new set of customers.

Something to remember

Event retail draws from the same well as experiential retail. It’s about giving customers a memorable shopping experience that is more than simply a way to purchase goods.

By creating meaningful, unique experiences for shoppers, brands can transcend their role as service providers and become something more – a topic of conversation, a shareable moment, something to remember.

There is a significant opportunity for retailers to attract and retain customers by doing so.
According to Deloitte’s Meaningful Brands report, consumers put factors such as experience and social impact above traditional drivers such as price and convenience.

The best example of this may be Coachella, the annual music festival in the US that brings in over 100,000 people per day and is talked about the world over. Besides the usual partnerships with sponsors like Google, Heineken and Absolut, Coachella over the years has included several retail partnerships that go well beyond the pop-up.

In 2018, for example, cosmetics company Sephora had a tent where event-goers could get free makeovers and snap pictures with friends to share on social media, expanding the brand’s reach beyond the festival itself. The hashtag #sephoracoachella racked up approximately 3900 posts on Instagram, many of which were user generated.

“Festivals in general provide an experience-rich environment,” Sephora collection vice president of merchandising Elizabeth Hayes told Mobile Marketer.

“Ticket holders are coming to them with the mindset that they are a rule-free realm and they are going to have fun.”

In pursuit of cool

Retailers shouldn’t underestimate the ‘fun factor’ when partnering with an event or festival. For instance, when The Iconic partnered with Falls Festival over the holiday period, it installed an on-site club disguised as a laundromat. Festival-goers had to crawl through an open washing-machine door to get to the music.

“We recognised that Falls Festival is a dynamic and expressive event that would give us the opportunity to emotionally connect with our customers in new and exciting ways,” The Iconic’s chief marketing officer Alexander Meyer tells IRW.

“We know that the Laundromat was a huge success given it saw over 12,000 people – out of 20,000 festival attendees – climb through the infamous washing machine and into The Iconic’s secret club.”

However, Meyer notes the retailer’s strategy was not to drive sales, but to gain a better understanding of how to interact with customers in an offline environment.

“We actively seek brand partners that are known for doing ‘cool’ things, but at the same time we’re very pragmatic about the opportunities that arise and committed to the north star of our purpose and strategy, which all centre around the customer,” Meyer says.

“At the end of the day, it’s fundamental that all partners play off each other’s strengths in order to create culturally relevant experiences for the audience they wish to target.”

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