The term “experiential retail” has been much discussed of late. Frankly, it’s not new. Nike opened its first Niketown store in Portland, Oregon in November 1991, and American Girl debuted its first American Girl Place in Chicago in 1998. Both are packed with unique experiences that engage and involve customers in brand culture and storytelling.
The secret sauce behind both breakthrough concepts was deconstructed in the seminal 1999 book The Experience Economy. Authors B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore schooled us in the four stages of the “progression of economic value” from commodities to experiences that lie at the core of both of these retail concepts.
In today’s post-pandemic era, retailers and shopping center owners alike are actively seeking to reengage with their consumers. And, in the era of unified commerce (aka omnichannel, blended retail, or phygital retail, take-your-pick) retailers and brands must up the ante to get us off our couches and into their stores or malls.
This has led to a new level of “immersive experiences” being installed within or adjacent to major retail venues. Most support product brand positioning and sales, but some do not. The latter, sales-free venues, are considered destinations in and of themselves. They are dedicated to a higher level of immersive engagement that brings added dimension to a retail venue while extending the visitor’s stay.
Wink and Nod to MOA
Two world class, mind bending examples, will soon debut at Bloomington, Minnesota’s Mall of America. The first, “Wink World,” is billed as an immersive art exhibit, where “psychedelic art house meets carnival funhouse.” Its founder, Chris Wink launched the concept at Las Vegas’s Area 15 in 2021, and it has been drawing 100,000 attendees annually. Wink is one of three co-founders and the Chief Creative Officer of Blue Man Group, so he is no stranger to designing memorable experiences.
MOA’s Wink World will feature seven unique rooms that each showcase a different combination of light, color, sound, technology, and motion. Those sensory descriptors are more fully illustrated on the @winkworldofficial Instagram site. The website also describes its creator as an innovative experience designer, a music composer, and purveyor of high-impact multimedia entertainment. Think Cirque du Soleil meets George Lucas, with a little Ringling Brothers thrown in for good measure.
When referencing the new MOA collaboration Wink stated, “We are so excited about joining the legendary Mall of America family. They were the first to get it right, by creating super fun reasons for people to visit besides just shopping opportunities.” Agreed!
Staging Amazing Retail
Wink’s “getting it right” comment goes to the core of what has made Mall of America so unique since its 1992 opening. MOA is much more than big. Beyond the 500 stores and an endless list of great eateries and services the mall is known for its themed experiences that have helped make it an international destination for 40 million annual visitors.
Its “experiential anchor” is the seven-acre indoor Nickelodeon Universe theme park. It is complemented by the Crayola Experience, M&M’s, FlyOver America flight simulator and the Sea Life Aquarium, among many other flagship destinations.
According to Wink, the MOA Wink World version will one-up their Las Vegas venue by adding an additional exhibit room and a new lobby installation. Fees for the experience have not yet been posted. However, the Las Vegas website reveals that tickets for adults (13+) are $22.00, while children, seniors, and military are $18.00. Add-ons include special 3D glasses and 3D art classes.
In addition to Wink World, MOA is also putting the finishing touches on another destination experience. The Museum of Illusions, a 6,600-square-foot museum featuring over 70 “mind-bending “exhibits with interactive components will also debut this summer. The Museum of Illusions was launched in Zagreb, Croatia in 2015, and is now part of an international group of over 30 installations around the globe. Ten are currently operating in the U.S., and many more will soon open.
MOA has always been a risk-taker and rule-breaker when it comes to capturing the public’s imagination and driving foot traffic. Expect an explosion of Instagram and TikTok posts once these two venues launch.