Agathe Barbier our marketing manager looks at how retail is reinventing itself in the face of a much more resourceful and savvy, but demanding customer.
With large portfolios of properties, some brands are seeking new ways to best utilise their spaces. Many have functional spaces but with dated aesthetics that can leave consumers uninspired by the shopping experience. In response the customer’s approach to physical retailing has changed: shifting from simply accessing purchases to desiring an engaging experience.
Post-recession there is a new generation emerging of online savvy shoppers who are increasingly resourceful and considered about how and where they spend their time and money. Added to that retailers are now competing for consumer’s money not only in the retail landscape but with leisure experiences too. It’s about enjoyment as a real tangible added value, sharing memorable times with friends, social interaction, or simply getting better guidance for a purchase.
When markets tighten, it opens up space for innovation and fosters entrepreneurs with ideas that better fit a new consumer ideology. Bricks-and-mortar experiences still directly impact a brand’s online sales, so we have looked at some examples of where this future innovation is coming from, both within large corporations and emerging retailers.
Zara recently opened a glass, steel and concrete flagship on New Oxford St with a special edit of womenswear and menswear in an industrial feel environment. The minimalist layout allows lifestyle stories to be merchandised in a more complete way than at other stores where the emphasis is more on the number of SKU’s. In the trending context of gender-neutrality, the floors catering for women and men look quite similar. This store, on the north-eastern side of Soho, has been designed to respond to its neighbourhood, showing how a big chain has created a site-specific environment, reinforcing a sense of place. It adds a new dimension to the previous cookie-cutter store fits of a global brand and make things more interesting for customers.
The independent store and menswear brand Huntergather markets itself as a new concept where customers ‘buy into’ a lifestyle: its first Marylebone outpost houses a café, gallery and store. Opened more recently is their second store on Redchurch st – a hub for retail creativity in Shoreditch – that focuses on menswear, café/juice bar and a gallery space. While the men were browsing for clothes, the women coming with them didn’t have much to discover, making for a missed retail opportunity. Then, following their own-store debut at BoxPark, the smartly edited beauty products proposition BeautyMart appeared at Huntergather filling this gap and catering for women with a tailored offer.
Wanting a piece of the East London hipster cake, the established brand Ted Baker opened a new format store near Spitalfields Market called Ted Baker & Moore. It sells clothing and a wide offer of other products from its extended licence range (footwear, audio, eyewear, jewellery, gifts, even a bicycle range). The customer experience includes grooming for men and beauty treatments for women. And of course, a mini Everbean coffee shop is part of the mix. The look and feel inside is industrial warehouse, while a floor-to-ceiling digital window display makes the outside look more modern. In a move to spread their brand tentacles even further, Ted Baker announced the introduction of branded apartments and hotels, for those who don’t want to just dress like Ted, but also live and stay in a Ted space.
Making a store the ‘showroom’, offering new and exciting experiences to ever loyal or prospective customers seems to have been the mission behind the new Lush ‘superstore’ flagship on Oxford Street. The space spans 3 carefully crafted floors of total, colourful brand immersion, over 10 times larger than the average Lush store. It has been used to display extensive ranges of existing products, showcase an entire new line of cosmetics, limited editions, spa treatment rooms and even a space that can be rented for private events. The friendly enthusiastic service, along with the special experiential features, compels customer immersion in the brand and creates a buzz.
The debate about e-commerce taking sales away from bricks-and-mortar stores has evolved over the years thanks to retailers bringing forward innovative formats and ‘big picture’ business models. Now it’s all about omni-channel distribution, focusing on the customer experience and an increased interaction between all the touch points.
Before setting a new standard for online-meets-offline, the US menswear brand Bonobos studied very carefully their target audience: time-poor male ‘millennial’ who think shopping is a hassle. Therefore the e-commerce platform was enriched with Guideshops: now 10+ US-based stores that don’t sell per se, but where customers try on clothes and order online for a home or work delivery. The sales assistants encourage the booking of an initial one-hour appointment so the relationship can start on strong foundations in the quest of the perfect fit – also an opportunity for personalised data-centric marketing. Since there isn’t any stock, the square footage and overheads are reduced. A deal with the department store Nordstrom made the clothes available offline to a new audience. With a strong brand identity, relevant proposition for their target audience and an appetite for delivering top customer experience, the business model has proved efficient.
Another example of a pure player opening a physical retail space is the cosmetic subscription box service Birchbox, which last year opened its first bricks-and-mortar store in New York designed as an immersion into their website. While some of the latest groundbreaking retail models come from across the pond, a new offline/online model is about to be introduced in the UK.
The concept behind WildeRooms, to launch in September, is designed to reconcile online and offline fashion purchases with a premium personal delivery service. With some high-spec dressing rooms located in key high-footfall areas, the cash-rich and time-poor consumer can choose clothing online from selected retailers using the WildeRooms’ special basket, schedule a time and location to go and try on their selection at one of their luxurious lounges. This will give a prime role to the often-overlooked fitting room area, proposing spacious personal spaces, with flattering lighting, seating areas for the plus ones and a host of refreshments. Stylists will even offer valuable fashion advice. Once a selection has been made customers only pay for what they want. The main aim of this premium service is to increase the online conversion rates and reduce the amount of returns, but most of all make it a new kind of personalised, premium shopping experience.
Shopping can be a form of entertainment for some, a moment for social interaction, or a basic practicality for others. The challenge for brands is how to cater for all these consumers, whose expectations towards an entertaining and effortless shopping experience have risen considerably in the past few years.