Stores Provide 'Shopatainment'

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The only entertainment found at most retail stores is mind-numbing Muzak and the hum of fluorescent lights.

But "shopatainment," the word one boutique owner used to describe singing and dancing at retail stores, is increasingly being used to lure in customers and sell more products.

"Retail stores have for a long time been exceedingly, exceedingly boring," said Kurt Barnard, president of Retail Forecasting LLC (search). "What you are seeing is the beginning of a move toward making shopping more interesting, more entertaining."

Cold Stone Creamery (search), a national ice-cream chain, trains employees at its "Ice Cream University" to sing songs about scooping and sprinkling — to the tune of songs like "If You're Happy and You Know It" and "The Hokey-Pokey." Ice-cream servers also regularly "bust a move" on the job.

"It really brings up the energy level. We've had people say they come here just for entertainment," said Cold Stone spokeswoman Lisa Levi. "Kids get a kick out of it. We're not just a scoop and a cone."

New York City boutique Lounge, a lifestyle emporium featuring everything from clothing, shoes and lingerie to music, food and alcohol, also offers more than just merchandise.

On weekends, when shoppers and tourists are out in force in the store's trendy SoHo neighborhood, Lounge populates its windows with professional dancers, jugglers and even body painters.

"I offer some kind of entertainment outside — it's shopatainment," said owner Jack Menashe. "People go crazy, they love it. Sometimes we have 200 to 300 people outside."

Another business known for using show-biz tactics is Old Navy (search), where staffers greet shoppers personally at the door and upbeat pop music by artists like Madonna blares in the aisles.

"At the flagship store in Manhattan, one greeter takes it over the top and sings the greeting ['Welcome to Old Navy'] to customers. It's the whole idea behind the store ... a really fun and happy experience," said spokeswoman Alexandra Cohan.

But shopatainment is not limited to the performance arts. Supermarkets are also cashing in on the trend by offering on-site demonstrations on food and cooking, Barnard said.

"Why not provide performances and lectures, whether or not they're connected to the product? If a clothing store put out 20 to 30 chairs and explained how a scarf put to good use could change a woman's entire wardrobe, it would be jammed."

As for the roots of shopatainment, Barnard said the addition of cafés to stores like Barnes & Noble (search) was an early sign of the trend.

"Stores are beginning to become what they should be, which is community centers," he said. "Stores today almost all carry the same merchandise, and the economy is increasingly competitive. So every store now has to do something that's different from the gang."

On-site entertainment can also make working more fun — and lucrative — for the staff. As Cold Stone employees say in one of their songs, they "come to work and sing all day, and have fun even more," which they sing to the tune of "Finniculi, Finnicula."

"It definitely makes work easier," said ice cream server Tahbir Ahmed, 23. "We get more tips because of the singing."

In fact, one Cold Stone song contains the lyrics "tip, tip, tip your crew" — to the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."

Software engineer Mike Mercieca, 27, said entertainment outside of stores or in the windows is just advertising, and probably works to draw people in. He also said the fun and games could be good for kids.

But sometimes Mercieca just wants service without a smile.

"I don't want anyone to sing while they're making my ice cream," he said. "If they're going to start singing to me, I'd probably just leave."