What does the store of the future look like? It depends on the retailer, but it’s almost certainly going to be more than brands showcasing their products. At Worldwide Business Research’s recent Future Stores event in Seattle, executives from Swarovski, Indochino, and REI discussed what that means for their respective brands.
Elizabeth Dowd, REI’s Divisional Vice President of Retail Experiences, points out that the Internet has democratized shopping. Especially in the age of Amazon, pretty much anything is available at any time.
“We can gear you up, but really, anybody can do that. We don’t solve that problem for customers anymore,” she says. “The question becomes, ‘Where do I go once I get my stuff and who do I do with?’ so we’re creating a community around that.”
How REI and Indochino think past product
REI’s Seattle flagship is nearly 100,000 square feet. However, only about 40% of that space is dedicated to merchandise. Far more of the store is experiential, focused less on selling products and more on helping people use them. There’s even an in-store ranger station, created in partnership with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Washington State Parks. Rangers share their expertise on the region’s recreational areas and sell the passes necessary to get into them.
You can’t actually enter the Seattle store from the street. You have to walk through REI’s massive makeshift forest first, getting you into the outdoors state of mind before you’ve even set foot in the store. In the future, Dowd sees that transforming into a giant community area.
Indochino has a similar experiential attitude toward the shopping experience. Dean Handspiker, VP of Design – Product & Store Development, doesn’t even see Indochino’s physical locations as “stores.”
“We’re showrooms and that affects our approach to the space,” he says. “The desks are shoulder-to-shoulder to create workspaces with the clients. We wander through the space with them, carrying an iPad. The access to information is there, but the touch and feel as you go is more of an experience.”
Learning from what doesn’t work
Indochino also has lounge areas, though they’ve changed. Popular with wedding parties, they once had foosball tables and full bars. That combination often led to rowdy groomsmen, driving the operations team crazy. Handspiker considers it a “spectacular failure,” though it was a learning opportunity.
Consumers like experiential retail, but not necessarily everywhere. Swarovski did a pop-up shop at a Canadian mall, where consumers were able to browse collections, virtually try on jewelry, get style advice from chatbots and make online purchases. But the shop had zero merchandise.
“The full customer journey was digital, but we were in a mall, where people expect to see jewelry,” says Jochen Schmidt VP of Retail- Real Estate and Store Development at Swarovski. “We wanted to push the boundaries, but the outcome wasn’t financially profitable. But we learned a lot about what elements the consumer responds to and which ones we can take forward.”
That’s not to say Swarosvki customers are always product-product-product. Schdmit notes that experiential retail needs more space to work (and preferably not in a mall).