Have we got wines to entertain you...

Sorry. Have I missed something? Who are you trying to entertain and why?

Well, it might take more than a one liner to get you off your seat, but look around and everyone on the high street, on the interweb, or bouncing around on social media are all trying to catch our attention by not just selling or telling us stuff, but looking to entertain and offer us an experience as well.

You mean turning the high street into the equivalent of It Ain't Half Hot Mum?

Now you're getting it. Yes, it's like all our retail chiefs have picked up on that famous “meet the gang cos the boys are here, the boys to entertain you, with music and laughter” line and are doing their very best to turn an afternoon down the shops in to an experience in its own right. Welcome to the world of “shoppertainment” which increasingly is as much about show business as it is selling you a pound of carrots, a bottle of Pinot Grigio, or a lifetime of insurance.

 

Gon then, give me some examples.

How about this. All the serving staff at John Lewis' new flagship store in Oxford's Westgate shopping complex have been taking acting and performance lessons at the local Oxford Playhouse. The idea is to give them personal confidence skills in how they talk and what their body language is like when serving customers. It's about the chain's ambition to “reinvent the department store for the 21st century” including dedicating a fifth of the store to 21 “services and experiences” areas offering haircare and styling advice, to helping you buy your Christmas decorations.

Anything else?

This week's Halloween saw as many ghouls, ghosts and contortionists on restaurant and retail floors as sommeliers and store staff. All trying to shock and awe to attract customers in. Martin Williams refers to his M Restaurants as being like a stage on which he can use his training from drama school to perform and project himself as head of house. Debenhams' stock room is even known as the “backstage” and there are signs for staff heading on to the sales floor that say, “Smile, You're On”. It's a different spin on the kind of welcome Bet Lynch would give you in the Rovers Return.

So why are retailers and restaurants behaving this way?

Just look at how you are reading this. Chances are you're glancing at this on your smartphone whilst doing a host of other things, be it downloading music, following a route on Google Maps, or taking part in a Twitter exchange. Getting someone's full attention is hard. Even if they are actually in your place of business looking to buy what you sell. Simply putting goods on a shelf, or writing out a carefully crafted menu, won't wash with the modern consumer who has probably downloaded your range on an app and done a SWOT analysis on your prices.

So good experiences are good for profits too?

Absolutely. Get the whole shopper experience right and not only are consumers happy to pay a lot more for the basic item in question, they are likely to come back for more and bring some friends and family with them.

Is that why more wine tastings are taking place in grungy nightclubs and underground bunkers?

You have been paying attention. Yes, the traditional wine tasting is slowly being transformed away from silent, oak panelled, soulless rooms, full of pin striped suits pouring wine. If all you have to offer is trestle tables and a cold buffet then it does not matter how cool climate your wines are. You run the risk of your wines being unloved and unbought.

But surely we don't have the time or money to be turning tastings in to “winetainments”?

Why not? It's about changing our collective mindset about how we as an industry are talking and promoting wine to the end consumer. To get that right we have to start with ourselves and how we talk and sell wine to each other. It does not need to cost any more money, it just needs more creative thinking, and risk taking to do things differently that are genuinely as memorable and exciting as you claim your wines to be.

What about retailers and restaurants?

Again you don't need to be hiring Billy Smarts Circus to sell a few more bottles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. But you need to start offering more than a plate of salami and cheese to get people to turn up for a tasting. Look at last month's Wines of Argentina Barullo event which started off as a normal tasting and ended up as a full on rave with DJs from Shoreditch House. We've come a long way from expecting to be entertained It Ain't Half Hot Mum-style, but we still need to find new and fresh ways to “raise the rafters” and put a “hey, hey, hey” in to everything we do.