Continuing our Engaging Brands series, we explore how smart brands are challenging conventional retail formats and diversifying in-store experiences to increase dwell-time.
The lines between retail, hospitality, entertainment and lifestyle are blurring. In an era when we can purchase products and services anywhere and at any time, new solutions are needed to engage customers in ways that cannot (or not yet) be replicated online, satisfying the continuing desire for tactile experiences.
Participation and immersion are engrained in the identities of Generation Y and Z – this is how they experience media, entertainment and, of course, retail. The challenge for stores today is not only to sell products but also to become spaces for learning, inspiration and socialising.
Let’s see how some brands are slowing the in-store journey to foster stronger connections with their customers…
Borrowing from the so-called ‘mall model’, mono-brand retailers are creating destinations with a holistic lifestyle offer including food, shopping and entertainment. Such spaces allow the customer to explore all facets of the brand at once in a local-centric, convenient retail and leisure experience.
Pioneers adopting this model include US streetwear giant Urban Outfitters, which has opened destinations in L.A. (Space 15 Twenty), NYC (Space Ninety 8) and Austin (Space 24 Twenty) in addition to its high-street format. Its newest edition – “a community-driven space for bringing together artists, creatives, musicians and designers” – is equipped with a restaurant, bars, events space, an art gallery and a ‘market space’ hosting collections by up-and-coming fashion designers.
In the same grain as California-based home and lifestyle brand Shed, homeware and food retailer Williams-Sonoma increases dwell-time by including a cookery school, a garden with edible herbs, an outdoor kitchen, a brand museum and an extensive F&B offer at its San Francisco flagship. Dining is also at the core of our concept for UK garden centre group Notcutts, adding an extensive Food Hall with market-style stalls and a 190-seat restaurant to the store mix.
The latest New York flagship from Japanese utility brand Muji (its largest in the US) is another true customer playground. Focused on collaboration and customisation, customers can create bespoke scents and diffusers in an Aroma Lab or choose from 100 designs to embroider onto their purchases at the Embroidery Station.
Edutainment is an in-store strategy that helps retailers from all sectors to connect with knowledge-hungry customers by offering fun experiences with educational value. There has been a rise in interest-influenced consumer communities who expect experiences and solutions beyond product; edutainment is a smart way of tapping into these communities, targeting a lifestyle choice rather than a certain age demographic to turn customers into passionate fans.
As Kevin Roberts, CEO from Saatchi and Saatchi, states: “The new ROI is Return on Involvement, and the fan base is critical. Fans are not usually a numerically significant percentage, but have outsize impact on building a winning brand. It is about influencers, shared values and an inspiring community.”
Edutainment has become a significant engagement strategy for sports brands – notably sports giant Nike and yoga brand Lululemon, which offer classes and training clubs in store and in unusual locations.
US homeware brand West Elm offers in-store craft workshops while home improvement brands such as Leroy Merlin are teaching customers DIY techniques. Fast fashion brand H&M ran festive-themed workshops such as wreath making in the lead up to Christmas 2015, and hosts embroidery and screen-printing classes at its Oxford Street store, where visitors can learn how to decorate products purchased in store.
A ‘home away from home’ atmosphere is essential for increasing dwell time and encouraging peer connections.
Cycle brand Rapha has designed its shops as hubs for cycling enthusiasts to connect with each other over a shared passion. Speaking at Retail Week 2014, conference, Rapha founder Simon Mottram said the spaces are for “soaking up the brand, not selling. It’s about offering somewhere your customers can hang out and absorb a mix of everything to do with the brand, with no pressure to buy anything.”
Denim label Levi’s targets cyclist commuters in New York, London and LA with its commuter pop-up workspaces, which feature a bike-repair workshop and café. The store also doubles as a co-working space with complimentary Wi-Fi – allowing commuters to congregate, socialise or work away from the office. This aptly taps into the growing nomadic workforce, with one in four under 30s in the UK planning to be self-employed by 2017 [source: The Prince’s Trust].
Opened in January 2016, a large communal table forms the heart of our Store of Connections concept for O2, creating a hub where people can work remotely, join workshops or spend time however they choose. Hip hotel chain Ace and Rabobank Netherlands have similarly turned their foyers and lobbies into social hubs for mobile working with free desk space and Wi-Fi.
Even mall operators like Westfield are dedicating space to start-ups and freelancers in order to directly connect to innovative ideas and gain new visitors. Westfield San Francisco recently launched Bespoke, a 3,450 sqm space for start-up retail-tech companies featuring work and meeting spaces and the possibility to directly test ideas through pop-ups within the mall.
Brands are integrating art and culture into their retail spaces. The strategy transmits a commitment to craft and creativity, as well as “extending the store’s remit as a hive of activity and cultural relevance,” according to trend forecasters Stylus – an extra layer of experience that makes the store more like a must-see exhibition. It allows brands to showcase their commitment to local values and awareness of higher cultural values beyond profit, cultivating a deeper brand-customer bond.
Luxury brands Louis Vuitton and Hermès showcase cultural brand values and provenance through exhibitions such as LV3 Series and Hermès Wanderland (both 2015), effectively aligning their product with fine art.
We made contemporary art the linchpin of Jigsaw’s Duke Street Emporium in London, filling the 19th century listed building with art installations by up-and-coming British artists. A curated selection of books and mid-century furniture add to the store’s cultural appeal.
Scandinavian lifestyle brand Austere recently created a multi-purpose space in downtown LA with a dedicated gallery space for exhibitions and cultural events for the local creative community, while Bene Rialto in New York is billed as a ‘retail incubator’ supporting the fashion and art industry through its retail marketplace, which hosts emerging US fashion designers, artists and bloggers alongside lifestyle workshops and events.
Brands are beginning to use major art fairs as platforms to convey their creative kudos. For example, Airbnb hosted talks, experiences and art projects in its pavilion at Design Miami/ 2015. Primarily, the pavilion served as a place to meet and connect, transmitting Airbnb’s brand value of belonging. “We’re about conversation and we believe that humanity can unfold across the kitchen table,” says Jonathan Mildenhall, Airbnb’s Chief Marketing Officer.
Smart retailers acknowledge customers’ growing desire for decelerated journeys and nurturing, restful environments – an antidote to an always-on digital culture. Brands can respond to this trend with various formats reaching from members’ club-style spaces to beauty oases.
Chinese luxury retailer Shang Xia (now owned by Hermès fashion group) opened its second flagship, Maison Shang Xia, in a three-story villa in the middle of Shanghai in 2014. The concept mirrors an Asian urban oasis where visitors are asked to remove shoes upon entering the lounge and are served fresh tea while browsing.
Offering a high street equivalent, our new Tottenham Court Road store concept for women’s fashion retailer Oasis includes a day-to-evening café bar and a beauty salon offering hair styling and manicures. Meanwhile, Topshop recently introduced a party room service to its Oxford Street flagship store – customers can rent the space and book private beauty and style makeovers.
Domestic-styled spaces are also delivering a more languid, restful ambience. Opened in 2014, US fashion label The Row’s minimalist LA flagship occupies a mid-century modern house and is divided into key domestic spaces, including a dining area, living room and swimming pool. Lush, the UK natural beauty brand, recently opened a new flagship on Oxford Street, which includes a spa and hair lab along with a retro-themed multisensory cinema, screening movies accompanied by scent. Like many of its stores, Lush plans to host parties and DIY cosmetic workshops here.
If you’d like to discuss these themes further, please do get in touch.