More retailers are serving cocktails in stores

Saks, Tommy Bahama and other retailers are adding alcohol to their locations, hoping that shopping under the influence helps their bottom lines.

By MSN Money Partner Dec 6, 2013 6:09PM
Woman holding martini cocktail at a bar (© mediaphotos/E+/Getty Images)
License: RFBy Kelli B. Grant, CNBC

Endless lines. Pushy crowds. Hearing "The Twelve Days of Christmas" for the umpteenth time in a matter of hours. Spend a little time shopping this holiday season, and odds are good you'll want a good stiff drink.

Not that you need to abandon your basket to grab one. More clothing retailers are branching out into the cocktail scene, offering customers the opportunity to pause mid-shopping trip for a drink and small plates of food.

Just hang a right at menswear and walk past women's shoes to the in-store bar.

Saks, Urban Outfitters (URBN) and Brooks Brothers are among the brands that have recently announced plans to build out bar and restaurant spaces in stores. Old hats at the restaurant-retail combo are expanding, too.

Over the past year, Nordstrom (JWN) has doubled its food-service operations that include a full bar, opening six new lounges and restaurants. Handcrafted, seasonal cocktails at new lounge Habitant -- situated in the middle of the shopping floor in Seattle's Bellevue Square -- proved so popular that Nordstrom made them available at all locations serving alcohol, said Vincent Rossetti, national director of restaurant division operations.

Tommy Bahama, which already has restaurants in 14 stores, began testing a new bar and café space in Hong Kong earlier this year. "We think that's a format that would do well in the U.S. and other parts of the world," at those stores that don't have a restaurant, said Rob Goldberg, senior vice president of marketing and restaurants.

The brand's year-old flagship in New York City has a separate bar a floor below its restaurant, where shoppers can sip on house-made barrel-aged cocktails. And in recent years, Tommy Bahama stores have introduced a holiday program to greet shoppers with a free drink or appetizer, such as coconut hot chocolate or egg nog martini. "That in and of itself really communicates a welcoming feeling," Goldberg said. "People feel like they can linger, so they tend to dwell a little longer. Their guard comes down."

Shopping under the influence isn't a new concept, said Noah Rothbaum, editor-in-chief of Liquor.com. It's long been common for visitors to designer's ateliers and bridal salons to be offered a glass of Champagne or a cocktail. But the trend has been expanding in recent years to small boutiques and now, larger stores. "It's almost trickling up," he said.

The key difference: In big stores, the drinks are less likely to be free. Devoting space to bars and restaurants is somewhat more risky, said Paco Underhill, founder of consumer behavior research firm Envirosell. A store may not generate as much revenue from a bar then if it had extra racks of merchandise in that space.

Yet it's more of a moneymaker than common areas with just comfy couches and a TV, while achieving the same aim: Get shoppers to stick around. "If you can get someone to sit and gather their thoughts, it gives them a second wind," he said.

Bars also make the wait more tolerable for tag-alongs, (especially husbands.) "It's often a very convenient place to park your two-legged pet while shopping," said Underhill, who is also the author of "What Women Want: The Science of Female Shopping." "Think of it as a male crèche."

The catch, of course, for shoppers is that getting buzzed makes them less disciplined, said April Benson, a New York psychologist who specializes in compulsive buying disorders. They can lose track of spending, and be more easily influenced by friends and salespeople to buy items they otherwise wouldn't.

"For people on a budget, it's not so good to have your inhibitions minimized," said Benson, who is also the author of "To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop." Her suggestion is to keep shopping and drinking separate, or at least, wait to drink and dine until after you've shopped.

Perhaps for that reason, not all forays are successful. Urban Outfitters this fall applied for a liquor license for its proposed three-story center in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, only to be turned down by the local community board's liquor license committee. (Neither Urban Outfitters nor the community board responded to requests for comment.)

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Tags: JWNURBN
13Comments
Dec 6, 2013 8:00PM
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Oh yeah, $24 for two cocktails which is what Dutchman Peter Minuit paid for the island of Manhattan in 1626 in guilders. 
Dec 6, 2013 7:00PM
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Still not enough incentive for me to go shopping with the wife.  If you throw in some college girls dressed in lingerie serving me chicken wings in front of a big screen with a game on, I might be persuaded.
Dec 11, 2013 1:54PM
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I bought a really ugly pair of shoes while under the influence once.

 

Dec 13, 2013 10:50AM
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IF bars can sell merchandise, then why not just turn stores into bars?

 

Dec 6, 2013 7:58PM
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Good point, but just a wee bit of whiskey would be fine with me.

Game being on would be okay...

But probably wouldn't want to be distracted by college chicks.

Dec 13, 2013 10:52AM
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If I have to go shopping with my wife, I will be much more pleasant if I can hang out at the bar and tell her "no, that dress doesn't make you look fat" than if I have to do it from the "man chair".
Dec 9, 2013 4:45PM
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Although our local Whole Foods has a bar the liquor companies were out in every aisle offering free shots. Not my idea of the non GMO organic products they supposedly carry. And their prices were astronomical and selection poor. The store is a joke!!!

 

Dec 9, 2013 5:01PM
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I'm mapping out the Whole Foods locations now....As we speak.

Do they do Happy Hours too.....You know, like Two-Fers..?

Dec 13, 2013 11:34PM
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It does work and doctors are doing it now too.  My dermatologist throws parties with alcohol where if you sign up for appointments you get a discount.  Once bought a beautiful and expensive suede chair when furniture store had a champagne reception.  I'm a cheapskate you only buys when something is severely reduced, so the alcohol did the job for them.
Dec 9, 2013 10:03AM
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Pop open the Veuve Clicquot if you want to get my attention :)
Dec 13, 2013 8:16PM
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relaxing, drink a beer and watch the butts, boobs booble by.
Dec 6, 2013 10:27PM
Dec 9, 2013 9:28AM
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Had this dream....


A little White Dog who had a few Martinis, was driving his Prius home....And ran over some guy from Hollywood that thought he could host the Oscars...

Think they might need a different host next year....??

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