Retailers must think beyond the category to compete

sector - retail
type - opinion
It’s no longer enough to offer local drops or events at stores. Now, retailers going beyond must steal ideas from other sectors entirely, from galleries to spas and theme parks

The great re-opening is under way – or on its way, depending on your location. As the retail sector dusts off fixtures, straightens sanitiser bottles and makes sure all is ready for an upbeat summer, the best stores are offering even greater reason for customers to return.

A movement towards grand, experiential stores that was under way before the pandemic appears to be influencing the wider retail world. Flagship stores that Louis Vuitton and Nike opened in London and New York, respectively, set the tone for spaces that are bigger, better and more in tune with younger audiences.

It’s no longer enough to offer just location-specific drops or special events at flagship stores, however. Instead of glancing at the category competition and pinching ideas from close neighbours, the truly visionary are looking to other realms: galleries, spas, hospitality and gaming, and even theme parks are influencing the near post-pandemic landscape.

Courageous brands are finding renewed confidence – and opportunity via reduced rents and unusually sympathetic landlords – to try things they couldn’t pre-pandemic.

There are two key considerations that recent openings have made me think about: content and build. Content is all about connecting a brand to people via culture. Think like an editor: who are your readers and what can you give that they’ve been missing? Build is making sure the space can change over time, allowing storytelling that engages with customers as their needs change.

recent announcement from skincare brand Haeckels showed its plans for a takeover of a derelict casino in its hometown of Margate in the UK. The plans include laboratories, growing rooms, product-making areas, edit suites, recording suites, beehives, offices, meeting areas, a beauty academy and a skincare and fragrance school. It has the potential to be a village within a 15,000-square-feet space.

Published by:

5 July 2021

Author: Adam Thompson

Image: Louis Vuitton flagship store, London


Haus Dosan by Gentle Monster, South Korea

Similarly, South Korea’s Gentle Monster continues to wow with its spaces. Its latest, the Haus Dosan, features gallery-like stores across four floors and will host several different brands. At present the experience offers skincare from Tamburins, clothing and a ‘fantasy-inspired dessert brand’. Gentle Monster has plans for a further Haus in Shanghai, where ‘fans and visitors will get an opportunity to experience various test concepts and content within its walls’.

Haeckels and Gentle Monster point to a future of retail that’s all about experimentation and agility: feeling comfortable with changing things, provoking customers and, where appropriate, re-imagining entire buildings.

In New York, close to the Flatiron building, the new Harry Potter store takes some cues from the famed Warner Bros Studio experience. Various Enchanted Keys around the store can be scanned with the Harry Potter Fan Club app to bring the store to life. With Butterbeer on tap, wand-engraving and other immersive retail experiences, it’s recommended that guests expect to spend 45 minutes to an hour in-store. This is retail that borrows from the theme park more than it does the shop next door.

These three examples make me think that retailers need to behave more like those aforementioned galleries, spas and theme parks. Experiences need to be updated regularly, changing with the seasons and brand stories creating moments of punctuation in the days, weeks and months.

Give people reason to come and to return. Retailers are going beyond just thinking about product sales and create cultural connections that resonate with audiences, giving them experiences that can’t be created online. People are hungry for conversational cachet: we’ve all spent too long behind screens and need the physical shock of the new to remind us just how bricks-and mortar retail can offer so much, especially when it borrows from unexpected sources.

Adam Thompson is strategy director at Amplify, awarded Brand Experience Agency of the Decade in 2019, with clients including Airbnb, Google and Spotify.

‘The new Harry Potter store in New York borrows from theme parks more than it does the shops next door’
Adam Thompson, strategy director, Amplify

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