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Stores we love – January 18

For the first stores we love of 2018, we’re spotlighting recent openings with innovative enhanced digital and tech-enabled experiences. From Zara’s new click and collect space to Appear Here’s retail venture, The Edit, in New York and Amazon Go’s cashless convenience store. Plus we take a look at three omnichannel initiatives from Alibaba, Tencent Holdings and JD.com in China.

Amazon Go

After trialling the first shop for employees last year, Amazon Go is now available to the public in Seattle.

Amazon Go in Seattle

What we love

Its ‘just walk out’ tech. The Amazon Go strapline is ‘No lines, No checkout’. In order to access the store customers need the Amazon Go app that’s synched to their payment details. On entering the store they need to scan their phones at the electronic gates and once inside all the products have radio frequency tags that synch to the app. Payments are taken from the app a few minutes after leaving the store. Has Amazon just created the ultimate convenience shopping journey?

It’s still staffed. The hero features of this store may revolve around tech, however, it is also staffed with knowledgeable sales assistants. We love that Amazon has not forgotten that face-to-face interactions and a human connection are essential to good retail. Read more about the human touch here.

It pretty much eliminates shoplifting. Once inside the shop, customers’ movements and shopping behaviours are tracked by the app (enabling Amazon to collect some unprecedented consumer data). But even if a customer turned off their phone while inside the store, there are a plethora of cameras tracking their every move, also they would need to jump over the electric gate at the entrance, which is unlikely to go unnoticed!

It’s positioning. Liberal Seattlites will find plenty of product to their liking at Amazon Go. The small store (1,800 sq ft) is stocked with a number of vegan and paleo items, as well as healthy meal kits and the sort of fresh produce (gourmet cheese, cured meats) you’re likely to find at an upmarket deli. Amazon Go does a good job of repositioning the convenience store as a more premium offer and feels a world away from the usual 7 – elevens or bodegas.

The Edit By Appear Here

This venture by Appear Here aims to provide a platform for young designers by giving them a space ‘The Edit’ at the Roosevelt Mall in Long Island, New York.

The Edit by Appear Here

What we love

It has a defined purpose. With the rent in New York being some of the most expensive in the world, this space gives young and emerging talent the physical retail environment they so desperately need. Appear Here believes the mall format is underexploited by new designers and with its heavy footfall, it’s a natural fit for little-known brands. Furthermore, each brand’s modular space thoughtfully has tech-enabled walls that allow them to showcase more product, campaign imagery or even a social feed.

It’s seasonal. Each season the designers showcased will rotate, ensuring the space remains fresh and somewhere customers will make a point of revisiting. The first theme for the store centres around gifting and the brands chosen for the space include Raden, Rhone, Jars by Dani, KOIO and Skinny Dip London amongst many more.

It’s a smart move. By investing in innovative retail talent now, Appear Here is positioning itself to reap the benefits in the future. If those brands chose to open shop, put on a showcase or rent a space for any other reason, they are likely to turn to Appear Here.

Zara click and collect store

Zara debuts a new click and collect format in Westfield Stratford. A store with a difference – there’s no changing room, none of the clothes displayed are available to buy and purchases have to be made from the online store. Click here for a deeper delve into the store. 

Zara's click and collect store

What we love

The tech. The space is designed to showcase the new collection as well as be a pick-up point for online orders and a place where online purchases can be made with the help of sales assistants with iPads. These purchases can be picked up in the same store of arranged for delivery. Overal it’s a step forward in Zara’s omnichannel retail offer. There’s a magic mirror feature that picks up radio frequency tags of garments bringing up a lookbook image – the idea is great but the tech doesn’t quite deliver. Firstly it’s too slow, meaning that most shoppers didn’t notice it and secondly it wasn’t informative enough. It would have been good if a few more images of the items in different views were shown – or maybe even a video?

The curated edit. The store only stocks the brand’s most premium new collection and is merchandised in outfits, lending it a handpicked vibe that feels more akin to a luxury boutique. Accessories are displayed on marble-effect plinths and the store is enlivened with lush trees – very on trend.

The high level of service. Yes, the store is centred around online purchases, but what makes it special is the high level of service and advice given from real people (the sales assistants). There are plenty of sales assistants on hand to assist online purchases, suggest items to buy and explain the new collection – it’s currently rare to have this in any of Zara’s traditional stores. The delivery options are equally attractive with free same-day and next-day delivery on orders costing over £50.

While we can’t see click-and-collect stores replacing Zara’s traditional shops, we can see this format acting as a supplement to the current offer. For instance, why not transform one of its many West End stores into this new format to add a bit of differentiation and elevate the collections?

Omnichannel retail in China

One country to really embrace in-store technology is China. Spearheading the charge is the supermarket sector with many of the big players – Alibaba, Tencent Holdings, JD.com – getting involved. Here are three recent openings:

Who we love

Tencent Holdings’s WeLife supermarket 

This new cashierless supermarket WeLife is part of Tencent Holdings (owner of WeChat – the Chinese equivalent to WhatsApp) and uses radio frequency tags to identify product price and inventory. Customers with WeChat pay will be able to have the products instantly deducted from their accounts – showing the might of the companies payment capabilities. The first store opened on February 4th, however rather than opening a host of bricks and mortar stores, Tencent Holdings hopes to sell the payment system to other brands and have it implemented in their own stores – a strategy that revolves around decentralised partnerships.

JD’s 7Fresh supermarket

Owned by ecommerce giant JD, 7Fresh goes a step further than WeLife by using facial recognition as a way to scan and bag products, and payments are made through customers’ apps. 7Fresh Chief Executive, Xiaosong Wang, said “JD is uniquely positioned to bring this premium-quality offline shopping experience to Chinese consumers because of our supply chain technology and scale as the country’s largest retailer.” The store also features smart shopping trolleys that follow customers around as they shop.

Alibaba’s Hema supermarket

Owned by Alibaba, Hema supermarket already has five locations in Beijing and is set to open another 30 by the end of the year. Designed to offer consumers a more efficient and flexible shopping experience, all payments are made through the payment system Alipay (owned by related company Ant Financial) that also collects costumer data in order to suggest suitable products when they’re shopping. We particularly like Hema’s ‘eat as you shop’ feature that allows customers to handpick fresh food to eat and buy.

It will be interesting to see how much of this catches on over here, is the consumer mindset in the West behind China when it comes to embracing technology? Or would the convenience offered by a tool like facial recognition be too seductive for us to resist? With Amazon Go potentially expanding, we might find out pretty soon.


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