Souvenirs, Get Your Souvenirs! A Review of Special Event Retailing

It’s summer, the season of travel and visits to theme parks, attractions and special events. Often, as a way to cherish the memories from these special visits, we head over to the gift shop to pick up a souvenir. Maybe a hat, t-shirt, water bottle, etc. While as a customer this may seem to be just a souvenir, for the venue, it is a way to engage further with the visitor – not to mention the opportunity to drive revenue!

Making a buzz this summer for Canada and the city of Toronto was the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games. The games were host to more than 6,000 athletes, as well as thousands of visitors and spectators.

At first, it seemed that the much anticipated Pan Am Games would see low attendance with initial poor ticket sales, but the results revealed a different picture. Canadians did in fact come through in support of the Games as thousands of event goers showed up and witnessed Canada’s stellar performance on the podium. Unfortunately, the retail program didn’t have quite the same result.

No Medals for the Pan Am Retail Program

With six years to prepare, the retail program could have been a bit more exciting. There were some elements of the program that were done well, including two Superstores and a pop-up shop with tremendous visibility in Toronto’s Eaton Centre. Pachi, the games mascot, and a solid selection of merchandise was sold through multiple venues well in advance of the games to build momentum. The retail program also included an online store.

Here are a few snapshots of Pan Am’s retail program.

Pop-up Shop at Toronto Eaton Centre

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Online Store 

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Superstore at Nathan Phillips Square and Exhibition Place

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A t-shirt for every sport
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Variety of collectibles
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Imagery of sport for ambiance in store

Our Thoughts

In a city that is attracting world-class retail, with some of the most iconic brands opening stores this year, the Pan Am/Parapan Am retail program seemed to lack in excitement, creativity or a ‘wow’ factor – not to mention, sell LOTS of product – remember the iconic Olympic red mitts?

The stores were simple with pleasant staff but offered no sense of engagement with customers. And while there was a robust online offering, it was not integrated in any way to provide today’s standards for an omni-channel experience. Although there were two Superstores centrally located, many event venues had only small product offerings where kiosks and digital could have supported retail. Moreover, there was very little representation in local shops (with the exception of Pachi), and in some cases merchandise was poorly presented.

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Small display of merchandise with poor customer visibility
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Small assortment but with no signage to grab attention

Retail is in the detail

Retail in venues, such as tourism, is an opportunity to keep the feeling of the event and brand alive well after the games – and not to mention create revenue. At the same time, it requires a fine balance of trying to provide a great assortment throughout the event while also not having an abundance of irrelevant inventory remaining after the crowds go home.

Whether a pop-up shop or long-lease store, retail is all about the detail and must include some of the key elements for outstanding retail today.

Here are a few tips for retail success at a special event:

  • Make it entertaining and engaging – customers are at the event to participate and be engaged and this should include the retail program. Make it exciting and memorable.
  • Make it social – engage and encourage customers to post themselves on social media wearing product. Utilize social media in ways to drive traffic to the retail program. Disney theme parks are the experts at this as they drive customers through the gift shops as they exit rides.
  • Kid friendly – don’t forget the kids. Ensure that the experience includes fun stuff for the kids, not just the product.
  • Don’t forget the impulse area –pick up items that are easy to carry are a great way to drive additional sales.

Written by: Lisa Hutcheson, Senior Advisor, Non-traditional and Campus Retail at J.C. Williams Group


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