BY ALISON CARDY, MANAGING DIRECTOR, AND COLIN MELIA, DIRECTOR, HMKM
Pop-up, omnichannel, immersive, destination, online, brick and clicks—today’s retail experiences are multi-dimensional. Incorporating taste, touch, smell and sound, they are also rich, tactile and exciting. This is the language today’s retail brands are speaking—a new vocabulary that unites art, design, commerce, digital technology, and consumer psychology. It is a very specific language, combining practical, aesthetic, and high-tech elements, and one that has evolved in response to a changing retail landscape and a more complex range of consumer expectations.
Shoppers’ desire for a remarkable branded shopping experience is revolutionizing the way retailers deliver brand propositions across all touchpoints. Gone are the days when shopping was a mundane chore to check off one’s to-do list. Today, consumers have an overwhelming array of options to consider when making a retail purchase, so it is paramount for brands to express the true essence of who they are and give customers a unique and memorable experience.
The evolving art of presentation
One word captures today’s retail zeitgeist: Theater. Itʼs whatʼs being sought after by all of our clients across the globe. More than ever, consumers are seeking a point of difference and are eager to become “fans” of a brand that makes a positive impression by inspiring them, engaging their imagination, and making them happy. Such a fan, of course, is much more likely to share his or her interest via social media or physically through conversations with friends, which is why brands, as many celebrities know these days, must engage audiences and cultivate a fan base.
Retail brands that provide the most novel, interesting, or convenient physical interaction are the ones that tend to win hearts and mindshare. These brands give people compelling reasons to leave the comfort of their homes (and the ease of online and, increasingly, mobile shopping) and venture into a brick and mortar retail space.
Theater—the art of dramatic presentation—is the key to creating a differentiating retail experience that whets the shopperʼs appetite, incites action, and keeps customers coming back for more. It is these spaces that generate word of mouth both pictorially and verbally via a plethora of social media platforms and also hit the design news in printed press. Some brands that have successfully managed this include Nike, Dover Street Market, Hermès, and H&M.
Igniting the imagination
Selfridges’ Festival Of The Imagination event, that ran in January and February earlier this year, invited customers to experience Selfridges not only as a store, but also as a “portal into the creative mind.” From its “No Noise” logo-free retail experiment in 2013 to the interactive style and fit digital table featured in our Denim Studio concept, Selfridges has long sought to innovate and reinvent the shopping experience. And it’s not just Selfridges that’s creating a connected world.
Burberry is leading the pack by being the first retailer (and a heritage one at that) to be recognized today as a forerunner in digital experimentation—consider the brand’s amazing holographic catwalk presentation in Beijing in 2011—and digital implementation, as seen at the recently revamped Regent Street flagship in London. Further, their F/W 2014 collection was streamed live and customers were able to select and shop straight from the catwalk, with the added bonus of gleaning free shopper insights by crowdsourcing reactions to filter through to the commercial buy. Clever stuff!
One-of-a-kind social experiences
While social media platforms, home entertainment systems, and online shopping keep many of us entertained and socially engaged indoors, even when weʼre alone retailers are finding creative ways to get us out the door and into the store by connecting to others who share similar interests. We are, after all, social creatures by nature.
Counteracting any tendencies toward isolation in this high-tech world we live in, more retailers are responding with community-driven experiences hosted by their stores. NikeTown offers fitness classes in Berlin and running clubs around the globe. Reebokʼs Fifth Avenue store in New York has a CrossFit studio. Lululemon stores worldwide have long offered yoga classes.
Beyond sport retailers, hybrid retail concepts are creating communal spaces to bring their brands to life. Shed, a sustainable “food community” and kitchen/garden retail space in Healdsburg, California, offers a fabulous café, workshops, talks and gathering areas in addition to its unique merchandise.
In China, K11 “art malls” in Hong Kong and Shanghai are bringing “art, people and nature together in harmony” to create a truly unique shopping and dining destination. With creative architecture, high-end boutiques, and displays of local artistsʼ work at every turn, engaging food options—some sourced from organic produce grown inside the mall—are also a big attraction.
Breuninger, the aspirational German department store, also differentiates itself through its Stuttgart dining offer, (karls) kitchen, an upscale food court that is as glamorous as it is convenient. A trio of seating areas features luxurious materials and stylish décor, each with its own distinct character. Open kitchens feature large fridges stacked with fresh produce, which double as display cases. The kitchen and bar areas serve sandwiches, juices, and pastries alongside made-to-order local, Asian, and European specialties. There is even a private space for events, parties, and workshops.
Itʼs a smart strategy because shoppers don’t always venture into a dining area simply because their stomachs are growling—their souls are hungry, too. They come because they want to be social, soak up the ambiance, linger over coffee, and be part of something special.
At the top end of the spectrum, luxury retailers are reinventing what true luxury shopping should be about. As emerging markets become increasingly brand savvy and quicker to embrace affordable designer brands, the Kering- and LVMH-owned brands are losing out to newer kids on the block such as Michael Kors, Tory Burch, Furla, and Isabel Marant to name a few.
The new luxury leadership
Today, true luxury brands are adding value through impeccable service and delivering all the frills a hefty price tag implies. But we believe that to remain relevant, luxury brands should also pave the way for the next-generation retailing experience. Augmented Reality, 3D printing, digital presentation, bespoke detailing, limited edition collaborative product lines—much of this technology is still too expensive for many retailers to fully integrate and realize, leaving room for luxury retailers to innovate and pioneer with high tech.
Luxe brands have a window of opportunity to create spaces that truly reflect their brand ethos across all platforms in a connected seamless manner. By creating the kinds of experiences others feel moved to blog, tweet, and spread the word about, luxury brands can benefit in a big way, even as they reward their high-spending customers with unique interactions.
From boutiques to malls, from department stores to meta-luxury brands, the leading retail brands today are casting magical spells within the theaters of their physical stores. If a brand sets the stage right, ordinary happenings can be transformed into extraordinary ones that captivate customers, influencing them to keep choosing your brand from among so many others, again and again.