Hanging Out or Checking Out?

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Lately, I’ve noticed some contrasting retail models that make me wonder which is working and which is just wishing they hadn’t launched their fledging retail concept in the biggest nosedive shopping season ever. 

Within the past 24 hours, I’ve observed a laid back ING Direct lounge and a Blockbuster ‘living room’, while nearby Gap and Bloomie’s scream Buy Me!!!  ING Direct, the darling of new age,online only, no fee banking has a lovely orange cafe in midtown Manhattan where people (account holders? out of work dancers?) chill while drinking coffee, surfing and chatting. No sign of transactions here, it’s all good Kash Karma, I guess. But when the banks are in a freefall,I would kind of like to see tellers at the alert, watching the vault, making sure no scam or devaluation is about to attack. Even giving out free toasters for new sign-ups would be reassuring. But kicking back in the pseudo bank salon? Feels a little off. 

Blockbuster, a chain in search of a reason for being in a TIVO and Netflix world, has converted its moribund store on Broadway to a living room meets cafeteria and playroom and oh yeah, video store. It looks like an idea that was hatched in 2007 to reinvent Blockbuster as a ‘destination entertainment’ store, but all I could see in the window were some punk-styled 18 year olds warming up to Guitar Hero and Wii. Rentals? Not so much. 

And then there were the retailers we know, doing what they do best; responding to the realities of the street. Gap was shouting 50% off whatever gloves and scarves were spilling off the shelves. “All Slippers $10!” And Bloomingdales was outdoing themselves with staff pointing out where to score the latest apparel happily priced at 40% off. Boxes? Ribbons? You bet. 

I’ve always enjoyed the latest ‘experiential store’ as much as the next marketer. But this holiday, I kind of think that most money-crunched women will respond to the sound of savings at the cash register rather than the hiss of the cappucino machine. Tricked out, all show-no sell stores may have to wait this one out.

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