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Issue Date: November 2006 Issue

James Gilmore

Co-author, "The Experience Economy"

OK people, it’s time for today’s holiday shopping quiz: If two stores have the exact same Tickle Me Elmo, where do you buy it? “It depends, because today more than ever, shopping isn’t just about the product — it’s about having an experience,” says James Gil-more of Shaker Heights, co-author of “The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage,” a book that discusses how today’s successful retailers are finding new and innovative ways to get people to like them. “By the way,” he says, “they’re relaunching Tickle Me Elmo this year. Better get in line.”

So what exactly do you mean by an “experience?”
Being immersed in your environment. Places like Legacy Village and Crocker Park aren’t just stores, they’re themed amusement-shopping parks.

True. When my wife goes there, my head spins.
Do you know that the parking meters at Legacy have stickers that read, “These are real parking meters?” It’s not a real village. But it is a real experience.

Give an example of a store experience.
The piano player at Nordstrom. No store needs a piano player. But you can sit and listen, and get a respite from shopping.

Or husbands can fall asleep while their wives spend more money.
That’s entirely possible, yes.

It can’t all be experience. I mean, there are a lot of Wal-Marts out there.
True. People tend to find a balance between shopping certain items for price, and then taking the money they saved for a different experience.

Like buying underwear at the Dollar Store and then paying $4 for coffee at Starbucks.

You refer to stores as “theater.”
Stores need to look at how they do things, not what they do.

Singing cashiers and juggling stock boys?
I mean embracing the customer in a way no one else does.

Can’t you get in trouble for that?
A perfect case in point: I was at the Cedar Lee [Theater], and the guy selling concessions said, “Who needs to be refreshed?” That made my day.

Is being the first in line at 6 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving an experience?
Absolutely. The odd hours. The savings. The mass of humanity. It’s a very unique day.


Your three favorite “experience” stores.
Starbucks. The Apple Store. And I love those places where you can make your own pottery.

Your best holiday-shopping experience.
Last year for Christmas, I gave my wife a gift certificate for a cooking class on Valentine’s Day.

Two holidays with one gift? You’re a genius.
I have to admit, that was manliness at its finest.

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