Online retail sales in the U.S. keep rising, reaching nearly $93 billion in the year’s first quarter, as the Department of Commerce reported this month. Their annual growth has outpaced that of in-store retail by a rate of at least 15 percent to 3 percent since 2010, Marketplace reports.
But consumers sometimes want an immersive shopping experience. Keyboard clicks can’t deliver the sweet immediacy of a fudge sample, the rousing “ack-ack” of a duck call or the thrill of a free-standing elevator rocketing up 28 stories to a restaurant and river-view observation deck.
Those are among the options at Bass Pro Shops’ Outdoor World at the Pyramid, a massive specialty store on the east bank of the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee. The Southern city is better known for Elvis Presley’s Graceland and bluesy Beale Street.
Not exactly a souk by the Nile, this riverside pyramid nonetheless holds a bounty of attractions for outdoor enthusiasts or wanna-bes. Merchandise ranges from hip boots to camouflage-upholstered recliners to Beretta firearms to bass boats lining lagoons where trout swim. There are live alligators, stuffed grizzlies, restaurants, a hotel, bowling alley and Ducks Unlimited Heritage Center.
The stand-alone site, part of a chain headquartered in Springfield, Missouri, falls in the category of destination shopping. It’s not on the scale of Minnesota’s Mall of America or Dubai’s Mall of Emirates, which represent numerous retailers and draw international crowds. Instead, it’s comparable to Cabela’s, another U.S. chain specializing in outdoor equipment, or Ohio grocer Jungle Jim’s International Market, both with a singular focus and at least regional appeal.
“Somebody would make a concerted effort to get there,” explains Jesse Tron, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). He added, “This is a niche component within the industry.”
Bass Pro Shops launched Outdoor World in April 2015 in the Pyramid, a giant structure that opened in 1991 as a sports and entertainment complex but sat vacant from 2004. The company got tax breaks from Memphis to redevelop the site.
In its first year, it drew 3 million people from all 50 states and at least a dozen countries, manager David Hagel said.
Spectacle and sales bring people in
Chris Horsley and Emily Haaland brought their four children from Texarkana, Texas, testing their skills at the Bass Pro shooting arcade and later taking the elevator – at $10 for adults and $5 for kids – to The Lookout restaurant. “It’s a little vacation,” Haaland said during their [February] visit.
Cody Cox of Paragould, Arkansas, drove two hours with a couple of buddies, lured by a sale on outdoor sporting equipment. He left with a Rich N Tone duck call. His pal Joe Whitman found a carbon rod and reel marked at half price.
Sites like Outdoor World are likely to get repeat business, though infrequent, Tron said. But customers “spend significantly more time and money because of the effort to get there.”
To draw crowds, Bass Pro Shops also organizes special events, such as the World’s Hunting and Waterfowl Expo last October or the upcoming U.S. Open Bowfishing Championship in July.
They can stay at the elegantly rustic Big Cypress Lodge, with some “treetop” cabins and 103 rooms. Many have porches, and rockers, overlooking the surreal landscape of fake 100-foot cypress trees in an eerie twilight. At least lodgers don’t need sunscreen or bug spray.
Perhaps the biggest hit has been the ground-floor General Store. As of late April, its fudge counter had dispensed 27 tons of fudge.