February 23, 20214 min read
There was a time not too long ago, in a galaxy not too far away, when the shopping experience began and ended at the doors of a brick and mortar store. You decided you wanted to buy something, made the journey to the store, found your item, purchased it, and left. All manner of meaningful interactions, frustrations, or surprises could have taken place within that journey. However, the journey itself had obvious physical touch points and a clear beginning and end.
For today’s retail consumers, this kind of experience is much less common. The rise of online shopping has transformed the retail experience into something that is happening 24/7. We can now browse, compare, and purchase virtually anywhere in the world.
Indeed, leading retailers have realized that, in order to survive and thrive in this new world, they must blend their physical and digital offerings into something so unique that customers will keep coming back. Fortunately, there are a host of great examples of retail digital experiences.
Dallas-based boutique Forty Five Ten is the “new hot iteration of the department store, offering curated luxury products in an artful setting,” says Lucie Greene, worldwide director of innovation at JWT.
Kristen Cole, president and chief creative officer of Forty Five Ten and sister store Tenoversix, says retail is no longer just about the function of offering clothes. “It’s about providing an immersive, sensory engagement: cool, friendly, smart staff; good music; nice smells; compelling merchandising; significant art; a spot for coffee, drinks, café and, of course, a strong presentation of great design,” she explains.
The company operates a number of stores across the United States, with each location tailored to its specific market. It recently opened its latest store in New York’s gleaming Hudson Yards.
“We want to offer boutique experience and concepts, slightly different in each city, not monotony,” Cole adds.
Described as “New York’s coolest concept store” by award-winning luxury lifestyle magazine How To Spend It, Story is ripping up the retail rule book by offering community-focused retail experiences. In its own words, it “takes the concept of a magazine, changes like a gallery, and sells things like a store.”
Founded in 2011 by Rachel Shechtman – a former brand consultant for the likes of TOMS shoes and Kraft – Story is a serial pop-up store, which aims to keep customers coming back for more with an ever-changing narrative and inventory. Speaking to Fast Company, she explained the concept behind the retail store: “My rule: 70% of an experience should be what consumers know and 30% should be surprise and delight…”
Story sells a variety of products from a range of brands based on a theme that changes every four to eight weeks. Previous themes have included “Made in America,” “wellness,” and “out of office,” with each one involving different layouts, installations, and stock.
Each theme is designed to offer something of real value to visitors, focusing on their experience rather than the products itself. There is also a highly social element to Story, with the space regularly hosting food pop-ups and other interactive events.
Tiffany and Co. is known for its high-end retail experience. In 2018, however, the brand opened a new store in London’s Covent Garden to add more fun to the mix – and more of a focus on the customer experience.
The Style Studio, as it’s called, sells the brand’s “everyday items” range, which is a mix of homeware and accessories. This is designed to engage customers who want to spend less, but still get their hands on the luxury brand.
Decorated in its iconic Tiffany blue, the store is also designed to be interactive, including extra features such as a vending machine stocked full of Tiffany perfume, and a #MakeItTiffany personalization bar where customers can get their jewelry engraved.
With its highly Instagrammable interior, Style Studio is a clear attempt to modernize the brand for a younger, more socially-savvy audience.
It’s clear from these brands and more that run-of-the-mill retail experiences are yesterday’s (or maybe last decade’s) news. A potent combination of memorable visuals, digital influences, and unique concepts appears to be the path forward for retailers in every vertical.
We’ve seen how retail has changed in the last decade; who knows what’s in store in the next decade.