The continuing consumer appetite for transparency, inclusivity and insider insights is spurring a new wave of fan-ready store designs rooted in an open, revealing and even democratic sensibility. At the same time layering technologies that optimise the shopping experience both in and out of the store, are helping brands create seamless and increasingly intimate retail interactions.
We asked Dr Antonia Ward from Stylus to give us their take on retail experiences. They track these trends, covering exposed production processes, corporate-commercial ‘HQ-stores’, apartment boutiques, edutainment environments and data-driven retail guidance.
Familiarity Rules & the Generosity Factor
Developing a sense of familiarity that runs deeper than allowing consumers to observe production processes, is also growing in value. With over 50% of people globally feeling more cynical towards brands compared to five years ago (Sense London, 2016),the key lies with concepts that infer generosity or offer an insight into businesses’ personal worlds.
- Inside Their World – the Apartment Stores: For two months in late 2015, Dutch fashion brand Scotch & Soda rented out the Amsterdam apartment where its last character-driven ad campaign was shot. Available via home-sharing service Airbnb, the apartment came with a Scotch & Soda wardrobe, customised for each guest.
Similarly, US luxury fashion brand The Row’s NYC store is packaged as a fully furnished, traditional 20th century townhouse that its famous founders – actresses and sisters Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen – might reside in. Meanwhile, Diesel’s latest NYC store, even referred to as The Apartment, features huge rugs, wooden ceiling and leather couches to create a more “intimate, premium experience”. All opened in 2016.
Store Labs: Democracy Flavoured Store Design
Over 50% of Fortune 500 companies have made co-creation an integral part of their innovation strategy (WPP, 2015). With participatory retail experiences booming, ‘inclusive’ store designs that trade on allowing consumers into the heart of a brand’s machinations have major mileage.
- Local Brand Ecosystem: Canadian athleisure label Lululemon’s 2,900 sq ft NoHo, NY boutique is part store, part brand incubator. It carries limited collections designed for, and only available to, its New York clientele, and features a sample-making area with sewing machines in the store. Especially successful products are filtered into its global line.
- Collaborative Sourcing & VM: NYC-based # (Hashtag),a spin-off store from cult US beauty brand Ricky’s, stocks its shop floor directly from its fan base. It only sells items that gain traction on Instagram, or that are recommended by customers in-store, making it a live hub that both prompts and echoes beauty activity on social media.
- Beta Beauty, Focus Group Retail: During weekly ‘Summer Fridays’ sessions in summer 2015, US cosmetics brand Glossier invited its customers to visit its NY offices to test, assess and purchase new collections, merging research and development with traditional retail.
Edutainment & Lifestyle-first Merchandising
US department store Macy’s has remodelled a 240,000 sq ft, two-storey store in Columbus, Ohio, as a prototype for future upgrades to its top 150 stores. Based on incremental changes rather than radical reinvention, the concept aims to help reverse a consistent sales decline over the past five quarters.
- Edutainment: Trading on edutainment – retail entertainment with an enriching educational spin – a prominently positioned first-floor events space hosts masterclasses run by beauty brands and well-known make-up artists.
- Wellness: A new first-floor section dubbed Restore, Nourish and Strengthen includes activewear, yoga products, a juice bar and cookbooks. An expert in nutrition and sports science trains all sales staff and oversees the department.
- Merchandising Reboot: Central to the first floor is a runway showcasing key fashion trends, while home products are now grouped by the more lifestyle-centric cues of colour and type rather than brand.
- Personalised Service: Central to the main floor, the My Stylist @ Macy’s personal shopping service gains greater prominence. Couples will also be able to design their own engagement rings in a fine jewellery area.
Context & Data for Smarter Retail
Shoppers now expect the retail experience to offer added layers of contextual content. Correlating with this behaviour, the global shipment of BLE Beacons is due to reach 400 million units ($1bn) in 2020, according to London-based ABI Research.
With this in mind American sportswear brand Under Armour has created a data-fuelled personalised shopping app – UA Shop – tapping into consumers’ growing willingness to trade personal data for individualised retail experiences. In fact, 60% of US consumers are comfortable having their shopping behaviours analysed if it means more relevant offers or recommendations (Magnetic/MyBuys, 2015).
- Data-Driven Product Suggestions: The UA Shop app uses data including location, exercise details and purchase history pooled from the brand’s Connected Fitness platform. The result is product recommendations best suited to consumers’ lifestyles – for example, a user in a warm climate might see UA’s CoolSwitch clothing in sizes matching recent purchases. The platform currently has 170 million users (FitBit has 29 million),and generated $53.4m in 2015 from subscriptions and digital ad revenues.
- Swift Payments: UA Shop also offers Apple Pay one-touch technology, so that users can make transactions through Touch ID within the app.