Recently, I spent the afternoon at the cinema with a couple of friends. We bought some popcorn, grabbed our drinks and sat down to a couple of hours of feel-good comedy gold – a standard trip to the movies.

As we were leaving, we overheard a group of teenagers agree that it had been a ‘disappointing experience’ and that they couldn’t ‘connect’ with the characters because they hadn’t felt ‘immersed’ in the film. What a let-down.

Admittedly, I was discombobulated (not least because they sounded like they had been transported directly from US teen drama, Dawson’s Creek) because I couldn’t figure out what they were expecting that their cinema ‘experience’ didn’t deliver? What would have lured them back for another visit? What would have made them feel like their £10 ticket price was money well spent?

Of course, I am not the only person to ask this question – retailers are continually asking what they can do to draw people away from their tablets and into store. Food operators are looking for the secret ingredient that will have people queuing for a table and leisure operators are exploring how to make their offer that bit more exciting and vibrant.

Just a few years ago, securing a cinema or a bowling alley for a shopping centre (or retail park, or mixed-use development) was enough. They ticked the ‘leisure’ box, helped drive footfall and more importantly, maximised sales and encouraged repeat visits.

Now, though, a standard cinema offer doesn’t necessarily provide enough of a draw – the focus is on providing an ‘extra special’ experience. For example, we are seeing savvy operators deliver restaurant quality food straight to customers’ seats, offer a well stocked bar and literally allowing people to put their feet up as they recline on their super padded VIP thrones.

Of course, it is not just cinemas which are evolving their offer – all retail and leisure operators are looking at how they can ‘consumerise’ their brand, improve their current service, appeal to a wider audience and, at the same time, compete with new entrants to the market. Case in point is IMAX, which agreed to open Europe’s first virtual reality cinema in Manchester at the end of last year – how does a standard picture house match that? And does it need to, or is there space for everyone?

The key question is – what will be next? I don’t have a crystal ball, but it seems to me that the answer lies with the teenagers I overheard recently – the millennials who are willing to pay for on-demand, personalised experiences that marry both a smart physical offer and advanced digital technology to offer true next-gen customer service. This appears to be the best way to create brand champions, which will encourage customer loyalty and help ensure operators remain relevant and secure within the market.