We love great retail. We want to find it; we use it as therapy, as entertainment, as an escape, as fantasy. Yet great retail stores are much scarcer than mediocre stores. We all can list many stores that underwhelm us, yet we visit them daily. Mostly, because we must. Just think of your run-of-the mill grocery store, convenience store, drug store, gas station, department store, big box.
Even the newest “concept” versions of many brands are bland, boring and basic; designed for the retailer and its suppliers, not the consumer. They are designed and re-designed without challenging old retail “truths,” and so the result is the same old.
We as consumers shop for two broad reasons: Either because we must, or because want to. We have resigned to the fact that when we shop for items we must buy – gasoline, medicine, food – the stores will not look great. And yet, we’d most likely prefer shopping at a gas station that isn’t scary, dirty, neon-lit and dull, or in a drug store that doesn’t look like a warehouse for the most powerful brands. Even in today’s multi-channel environment where consumers can stay at home and shop for necessities online, many retailers still assume that consumers don’t notice or care.
Mass-appeal stores –including gas stations, grocery, convenience and department stores – have a much wider target audience than a niche boutique, and the two groups’ challenges are different, but a consumer who shops for food does not suddenly forget his or her experience in a niche shop. The expectations, or at least the knowledge of a great experience goes everywhere with the consumer.
As business people, and as consumers, we know that retail today is more challenging and complicated than ever. Consumers shop less and demand more from each experience. They spend less and demand more value. In all categories and at all price levels, consumers look for value in the end, but value is not the same as cheap.
Value is defined by the consumer as: Is it really worth my time, attention, money? The joy, prestige and pleasure produced by a newly acquired tech-toy or pair of shoes – expensive as they may be – make them worth the price to the consumer. And if the shopping experience was awesome, we have something more to tell our friends.
Regardless of segment or even price, today’s power retail is all about authenticity, consistency and experience. Retailers must be nimble and adaptable, and evolve with consumers’ tastes and needs. Consumers can find everything online, so the in-store experience must give them something that is much, much better. Stores must be relevant, engaging, fresh. They must offer an emotional connection, interaction, excitement.
As long as our list of underwhelming stores may be, we all know some wonderful stores we’ve experienced. If you talk about your list of such favorites, most likely you will end up telling a story. It will be about the experience in the store: The way it looks, smells or feels. It will be about the staff behavior, the music, the selection, the philosophy, the brands, the changes, the activities. It has been a memorable experience in a good way. It has made an impression. You were — and are – emotionally engaged.
Whether the store is specialized in high-end fashion, cool skateboards, discount foods, knock-down furniture or exclusive art books, to the customer the overall honesty of the offering is what will bring us back. Will the components match? Is it all on the same page? Is it authentic? Can we trust them to deliver the same or more again? Today’s customer can spot an empty shell and a fake, fluffy concept easily, and when the novelty of such “concepts” wears off, the customer has no reason to return.
A retail store is not a concept, neither is it a brand. It is just one channel, one way of expressing whatever it is the consumer understands the promise to be, whatever the consumer feels the experience is going to add to his or her life. Branding, marketing, store design, merchandise selection, staff behavior, the windows, the change rooms, the website, the wrapping paper and bags, plus a million other details make up that promise, and every store visit either renews or shatters the trust.
Today, with word-of-mouth sped up by social media, bad news travels faster than ever. That can be a serious challenge, because a single bad experience can blow up and become headline news.
But good news travels faster than ever as well, and that poses another challenge to retailers. More often than not, the customer knows more about the brand, the products, and most important, the competition, than the staff. People do not need to travel the world to know about the latest, the newest, the coolest, and the best. Customers have seen more exciting stores, more creative marketing and more fun products than perhaps the typical store staff or even the managers. And if the customer is more enthusiastic and knowledgeable than the sales person, then the customer will not receive “knowledgeable service” no matter what the promotions promise.
Quoting directly from our “Power of the Box” post, we can refer to retail anthropologist Paco Underhill (author of Why we buy and Call of the mall ) and his studies and surveys on shelf impact, shopping behavior and consumer psychology. They all show that it matters what the box looks like, what it makes us feel – even when we say it doesn’t. A retail store is that box.
Also in the same post, we referred to Buyology – Truth and Lies about Why We Buy, a book by Martin Lindstrom who is now on Time magazine’s list of world’s 100 most influential people. Buyology covers the results of Lindstrom's $7-million study that attempted to figure out what really makes us vote with our wallets. The over-arching revelation – if it is indeed a revelation – is that, more often than not, we as consumers do not know why we buy. We do not know what actually affects us when we make a buying decision. But mostly it is about emotions.
When we encounter a fantastic retail store today – a store that we feel is worthy of our attention, time and money – we are really seeing a minor miracle and a major business feat. We should tell the world about it and we should demand more of it. Retailing is an extremely complicated and well-researched business, yet succeeding in it is still perhaps closer to magic than anything else. - Tuija Seipell
Knowing what’s hot is what The Cool Hunter is all about. The Cool Hunter Platinum team can help help give your new product or service the elusive C-factor — whether it’s a lifestyle product or techno-gadget, a new store or access to our little black book of collaborators to assemble the right team of creatives to realise the on-going vision of the brand.
Aesop continue to deliver outstanding, intelligent and considered design in not only their product but with their individual approach to each retail concept store they launch. Their latest offering in Zurich embodies this philosophy perfectly. Utilising a long, narrow space to advantage, the focal point of the store is located in the centre of the space allowing consumers to walk around and interact with the products which are located on a series of suspended shelves. There’s a sense of weightlessness and room to breathe due to the fact that the shelves don’t make contact with the ground and only the necessary products and shelving is featured. The repetition of the shelves seem to co-exist with ease but not at the peril of functionality. Using Aesop’s signature store sensibilities of incorporating water, merging modernity and recycled materials and not “over-designing” or adding unnecessary objects, this Zurich store is no exception. — Kate Vandermeer.
It is risky to try to express luxury for an 18-28-year-old, wealthy male audience - and not turn them totally off. Rafael de Cardenas of New York's Architecture at Large took on this challenge with the rebuilding of Ubiq Philadelphia, the destination of choice for sneakerheads from far and wide.
As sneakers and streetwear do not lend themselves all that well to wine-colored velvet or chandeliers, de Cardenas approached the redesign of the large store with a cold and bold, simplified black-and-white palette. Hard, black-lacquered surfaces, op-inspired patterns, harsh lighting and simplified displays mix with beautiful detailing and white ceilings and floors.
Thrown into the mix is a posh back room, where streetwear is displayed in a traditional gentlemen's tailor room complete with dark-wood panels, antique furnishings, restored Victorian plasterwork and a magnificent, restored mahogany fireplace. It is all a nice fusion of mansion and showroom, inviting and cold, pared-down and rich. With his approach, de Cardenas has managed to teeter in the wobbly middle-space between the reassuring - 'you can tell this is expensive, can't you?' - and the nonchalant 'I don't really care.'
The entire store is up about a meter from street level, so you can be assured that you are seen, day or night, on display, shopping for your latest pair of Clae, Stussy Deluxe, Vans Vault, Original Fake, UMBRO by Kim Jones and many others. Apparently, rap artist Kanye West has shopped there, so it should be good to go for the rest. By Tuija Seipell
Alexandre Herchcovitch has come a long way since his humble beginnings of making his mother's party clothes. Having launched his first collection in 1994, things have only gotten bigger for the Brazilian-born designer.
Trained at the Catholic institution Santa Marcelina College of Arts in Sao Paulo, his designs have been sent down the runways of New York, Paris and London. Best known for avant-garde designs and eclectic prints, his trademark skulls became an icon of Brazilian youth in the nineties.
2007 was a memorable year for Herchcovitch. It was a year of branching out, particularly with his redesign of the uniform for McDonald's employees in Brazil, and the opening of his first store abroad. In this daring project, Herchcovitch chose Tokyo where a good part of his collections are purchased and where he has become somewhat of a fashion guru.
The 1,076sq ft store, which sits in the hip Daikanyama district carries his men's, women's and denim collections and is operated in partnership with Japanese fashion distributor and retailer H.P. France.
Changing the way the world thinks about Brazilian fashion, coupled with his new Japanese store and concessions in New York, Herchcovitch is fast becoming a big and serious name in the fashion world. By Brendan McKnight.
The much awaited, fabulous, 6,000 square-foot M.A.C Pro space has just opened in New York. Occupying an entire floor at 7 West 22nd Street, the new facility is divided into two separate sections, each with its own entrance: A retail/studio and a training area. Unlike other M.A.C Pro stores around the world, this is a full-blown studio and experimentation facility for make-up artists and beauty professionals. With its dramatic open layout, the space is a true feast for the eyes.
M.A.C Pro's New York store is completely dedicated to serving the pros. At the mixing station, they can hone their skills, test samples and experiment with the product with all of the tools of the trade nearby. The reference library is stocked with books, magazines and other reference materials for those who want to learn more or do research. At the photography studio, they can record their processes and their results. A separate training area, a kitchenette and bathrooms with showers make this an ideal space for some serious learning.
Makeup Art Cosmetics (MAC) launched in 1984 when two Canadians, makeup artist and photographer Frank Toskan and beauty salon owner Frank Angelo, opened a single counter in the basement of the now-defunct Simpson's department store in Toronto. Staffed by professional make-up artists, determined to become the ultimate color authority in make-up, and blessed with an outrageous sense of drama and theatre, M.A.C gained huge popularity among professionals and consumers. The Estee Lauder Companies bought 51 per cent of M.A.C in 1995 and the rest of the shares in 1998. Sleek stores, a vast array of color options, and a sense of professionalism and artistry are still the hallmarks of M.A.C that now has more than 750 stores in 50 countries. By Tuija Seipell.
Sensory overload is unavoidable in Paris, and after a while you become a bit numb. But like a sorbet that clears your palate between courses, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s (JC/DC) store at 10 Rue Vauvilliers will work as a visual palate-refresher.
The store has an air of theatre without being theatrical, drama without being dramatic and history without being historical. A retro, semi-aggressive undertone, popped up by whimsy and surprise. Oh yes, they do sell fashion, too.
The store’s flair and ingenuity are not accidental. Cooperation between super-talents such as JC/DC and Christian Ghion is likely to produce something remarkable. In his 40-plus years in the business of high-impact eye candy, the Casablanca, Morocco-born Marquis de Castelbajac has enjoyed enormous successes designing fashion, movies, cars, sportswear and interiors. Celebrities from Elton John to Pope John Paul II have worn his creations and added to his fame.
The 49-year-old Christian Ghion is no less prolific or versatile. He is known as a designer of high-end furniture and accessories, exhibitions, and home, store and hotel interiors. His chicest furniture design is the 2002 Shadow chaise lounge for Cappellini. By Tuija Seipell
The stark XXS Shop for Mobile Gadgets opened earlier this year in Hamburg’s Innenstadt, at Spitalen Hof 8. It is a minimalist showroom by Hamburg-based Spine Architects for Etronixx-Trading GmbH. The store is void of practically everything else but white surfaces and the merchandise itself. Mobile gizmos appear almost suspended in air, as they rest in small slots within the white expanse of built-in cabinetry that encircles the entire space. It is an excellent example of forcing the customer - in a pleasant way - to focus on the products, not on the props.
Spine is a German-English partnership that started between Boris Bähre, J'orn Hadzik, Jan Löhrs and Neil Winstanley in 2001 when they won one of the prizes awarded in the international design competition for Rabin Square in Tel-Aviv, Israel. They are known for their work in several areas, from housing to public places to TV shows, private homes and shops. In September, Spine Architects opened an office in Menlo Park, San Francisco. By Tuija Seipell