Last week I had the chance to visit Beijings’ most popular theme park Happy Valley. The park opened in 2006 as the 2nd of the 6 Happy Valley parks in China operated by OCT. Happy Valley has its own metro station ‘Happy Valley Scenic Area’ which creates the opportunity to start the experience from here, like Disneyland Hong Kong and Paris do with special Mickey trains towards the park. However the station just looked like an ordinary metro station in Beijing. I have missed the clear routing within the station to the nearest exit to the park. The entrance does not matched the experience of the (Chinese) website however in front of the entrance there is a kind of a ‘monument’ which is colorful and includes the characters of the park (would be better to place something similar to this on top of the entrance). So the start was not really inspiring but I was curious to understand the commercial strategy of the park. Though the right experience will increase impulse purchases.
Retail in Happy Valley Beijing
What surprised me in a positive way were the mobile ‘shops’ in front of the entrance selling generic products: hats, headbands and play material.
Nothing interesting for a theme park visitor but later in the park I realized that the Chinese love these items or was it just a lack of product offer. Despite the fact I have seen 80% of the products sold in the park being generic I would rather see branded items being sold by the park. Not only from a guest experience point of view but also to differentiate your assortment from the markets outside especially in a region as Asia where you can buy fake iPhones on every corner of the street for $60. Branded and bespoke products are adding value to the products which enables you to increase prices and raise spends. With the visitor volume of the Happy Valley chain there must be a way to get a great margin on branded products. All shops were selling the same products and theming was far from good.
The mobile shops employees are using headsets and speakers to talk you to their shop what can be positive but in case of Happy Valley it had a negative effect on experience. The largest shop at the exit was close to 500m2 using white fixtures (which are just too small to navigate you through the shop or VM products properly).
I could see a kind of product zoning but there was a lot of repeating indicating the shop is too large for the assortment and not because these products were best selling items. Which brings me to the following point: visitor mix and behavior. 90% of the visitors that day were teens spending their money in the KFC outlet within the park, arcades (Chinese love arcades) and painting their faces with tribals or whatsoever. I haven’t seen anybody buying other products than headbands or F&B (confirmed by the plush with dirty spots on it and toys of which packaging is broken) which make you think how profitable Retail in this park is.
What I must admit is the great job Happy Valley did during the rain: there were staff members selling ponchos everywhere and restaurant managers were inviting you to come inside. However shops were not displaying ponchos or umbrellas widely during rain. I am sure there are major opportunities for the park in Retail if looking at product assortment, shop theming and Visual Merchandising.
Queueing: on purpose or lack of operations
Another thing what surprised me was the queuing time. It was normal to queue up for 2 hours for a ride which was caused by slow working operators and park policy? Example: trains were not always fully occupied, when a train arrived passengers getting of need to queue at the exit of the ride till all passengers were out of the train before leaving the station. The following group enters the train when all other passengers left the station. The operator does the safety check in a kind of ‘mañana’ way. Increasing the queue time with at least 100%. I am not sure what the reason is: speeding up enables visitors to ride more rides, spending more time in the shops or would they think visitors will leave the park early because they can? Happy Valley uses some queues for commercial opportunities like selling fruit and smoothies. Hosts walking by several times to actively offer you products.
First time you won’t buy, second time you will look again and see other guests buying fruit. The third time you will purchase purely because waiting is boring and others are buying as well. Good example of don’t take no for an answer, put effort in sales!
After riding the 3 major coasters (which are great by the way) I was looking for the photo opportunities at each coaster. Staff were yelling by script (probably telling us to look at the photos in Chinese so I am not 100% sure but it was a familiar sound). Looking at the photos I was shocked, the quality was poor due timing, lighting and probably equipment. At 1 ride photos were made by hand during the elevation of the train! Across the park there are several photo sets which are free of charge which or not great but still can affect photo sales. Besides this I am sure photo can be improved easily.
As mentioned Arcades were crowded but Midway Games (counted at least 20 outlets) in general were not successful that day. Not because of staff (operating with a sound system like most of the parks in the US do to attract visitors, the flip side of this is that a cluster of 5 Midway Games were staffed with 5 employees all using a headset and trying to attract guests to their game at the same time ending up in market situations since the mobile shops are also using headsets. Again I like the idea but execution can be improved. On the other hand prizes were not attractive, small and no one in the park was walking with prizes. If you are operating Midway Games you must make sure most of the prizes are won in the morning indicating to other guests there is a real chance to win. Of course prizes should match your visitor mix!
Absolutely a plus for the commercial team: the will to sell is there. All sales hosts were actively approaching guests (well almost all hosts) There is just 1 thing I don’t understand: staff planning. From my point of view commercial areas are overstaffed, I have seen several shops of 5m2 including 3 employees and no guests! Despite the fact salaries are low(compared to the entrance fee of $38) in China doesn’t mean you just need to overstaff outlets.
Staff is getting lazy and your outlets are less profitable unless the ROI per employee will increase due more guests can be helped. Anyway this wasn’t the case in Happy Valley. Looking at hygiene and replenishment of the shops staff could use a boost as well.
What we can learn from Happy Valley:
- Use of commercial activities in the queues
- Attract guests by speakers and headsets (be careful not to end up like Happy Valley)
- At peak season use the rain or sun to drive sales: ponchos, umbrellas or fans.
The opportunities for Happy Valley:
- Product assortment: create exclusivity by branding or bespoke products, develop product ranges which can be displayed as a story and matches the visitor mix. Drinkware should be highlighted especially water bottles since every Chinese is using a water bottle. Same for umbrellas and ponchos.
- Return on investment of the team: currently overstaffing the outlets, save costs for extreme days.
- Photography: quality of the photos and number of photo opportunities can be easily improved.
- Games: prizes and strategy.
- Theming: the park is themed ok (despite the different signage used) however there is zero experience the shop.