The Gift Shop Phenomenon

We’ve all seen that old retail trick. In order to exit the building, all customers must walk through the gift shop. But as audiences get more savvy and recognise when they are being force-fed marketing, is this ‘Exit through the gift shop’ model still worthwhile?

Gift Shop

There is nothing that normal people (i.e. non-marketers) hate more than the feeling that they are being targeted by marketing opportunities. Whether this is the obvious flyering, more disguised interactive brand activations or the gift shop exit strategy, it can severely ruin a customer’s experience with that brand.

No doubt this has happened to you at some point. You know where you want to go or what you want to do and standing in the way is a marketing barrier. YouTube is a great example. There is nothing wrong with monetising your service but the buffer advertising before you can watch a video can completely change viewers’ attitudes by the time they get to the video they want to watch – especially if it is one of those 30 second ads without the SKIP button!

So, knowing what we do about marketing-savvy audiences, is it still worth using the old-hat ‘Exit through the gift shop’ service design?

Some would say yes. If the customer is leaving your experience high on excitement and joy, surely that is the time they are most subjective to a hit of extra marketing to rake in some more of their dollars. And they aren’t wrong. This strategy works for attraction-based experiences across the world. From Disneyland and MovieWorld to Aquariums and Zoos, all these companies make a lot of money off merchandise sales and encouraging customers to walk through a gift shop makes them much more likely to buy something. But what comes next . . .

At the time, those purchases seemed like a good idea. ‘I am totally going to use a Bugs Bunny keychain’. ‘I am only one plush orang-utan away from pure happiness’. But looming just beyond the exit gates is the post-purchase guilt. The cold hard truth sets in that you didn’t really need the overpriced stubby holder, you are never going to use the magnet photo frame and it is going to take a lot more than purchasing the entire Disney collection of stuffed toys to achieve life fulfilment. And this results in a constant negative reminder which will counteract the positive experience you had before you spend every cent you own in the gift shop.

What’s the alternative?

You get your audience to actively seek out the gift shop by making the experience so memorable that they must purchase something tactile as a physical reminder of this amazing time.

I don’t mean hiding the gift shop away, keep it prominent, but don’t make potential customers walk through it while peaking on an excitement high. If your experience is so mind-blowingly good, then the audience will want to purchase something – and chances are they will be in a much better frame of mind purchasing a memento which will actually add value to their life and be used in the future to remind them of their fantastic experience.