I am very fortunate to live in London from a retail standpoint - there are some really great examples of Destination Stores which continue to push the envelope of creativity and possibility. I’m going to reference 4 different examples - three current, and one recently defunct; with the purpose of showing what Online Retailers could be doing to bring more engagement and excitement into online retail.
Selfridges almost floundered in the late 80’s, but has largely consistently built on the crowd-pleasing exhibitions and stunts pioneered by founder Harry Selfridge - with fine examples such as cross-channel hero’s Louis Blériot’s monoplane exhibited in-store in 1909. I have attended many a wonderful themed event in the last 15 years - Japanese Days, Brazilian Days with a carnival atmosphere and even the most recent ’Festival of Imagination’ with its ’Imaginarium’ auditorium. All these events have a singular universal theme in common - which is supported by stylised window displays and matching interior decorations - as well as the majority of departments carrying through the theme to their merchandising displays. Selfridges knows it has plenty of competition - Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Liberty, House of Fraser, Bond Street and of course the Internet. They continue to find innovative ways to inspire and motivate their customers to come to the store - enjoy the atmosphere of the latest event, and be more pliable to making purchases. No one does the integrated event experience better than Selfridges - and they keep innovating to maintain the interest of their customers - online retailers could learn much from them, but more of that later.
Compared to Selfridges, Westfield is a slightly different proposition - not so thematically or theatrically integrated and innovative, yet undoubtedly a prime destination for shopping. Westfield benefits from a number of smart dynamics - of course we have the myriad of facilities - restaurants, restrooms, seating areas and leisure amenities including multiplex cinema and health club. We also have a kind of street-market-like feel with numerous small stalls / booths on every aisle - selling all manner of trinkets, snacks, ice creams, milkshakes etc. The small stalls which pepper the mall make a big experiential difference for me. We also have the main central plaza, which is used for various events - e.g. ice-skating over the Christmas season, catwalk shows, dance contests and other crowd-pleasers. Westfield’s ’everything under one roof’ approach provides an excellent shopping destination, and it has a pretty good mix of high street and luxury brands - as well as a great Waitrose food hall too. I’m a big fan of Lego these days, and still a massive fan of movies and music (Cinema + HMV) - so Westfield really is a great shopping destination for me. I do like to mix it up a little - so I split Central London shopping areas into Westfield vs West End vs Covent Garden vs Kensington vs Knightsbridge - all easily accessible from my home and most within walking distance. At the core of it, Westfield and Selfridges offer quite different experiences, and Selfridges is ever the more imaginative, yet Westfield is more competitive overall on facilities - both are incredibly successful in regularly attracting large crowds of shoppers. You could argue that Westfield is more family-oriented while Selfridges caters more to the individual shopper.
We used to have an office on Regent Street, and this was just a few yards up the street from us. I fondly recall attending some of their musical in-store events, including the Little Boots début album launch - a 45 minute mini-concert. When this store was first opened I was convinced I had seen the future of high-street retail - the lofty and spacious ground floor with its islands of wooden tables - with a see-through glass staircase ascending upstairs to Genius Bar, accessories and auditorium. In my piece on Social Retail I talk about stores as needing to become central community hubs, and the Apple Store excels at this - with a vibrant easy atmosphere from opening to closing and plenty going on in-store. I firmly believe that Apple could extend the concept further, with more in-store demos and features / discussions on various apps and software. They should really think about creating training academies on-site, as well as areas where customers can plug in their iPhones / iPads and play games or collaborate with each other, or simply recharge their devices. There’s plenty Apple has got right already, but there is still ample room for improvement.
This used to be my favourite entertainments store until it closed at the start of this year. It was a pretty immaculately laid-out store with 3 properly separated areas in the basement - Classical, Jazz, and Easy Listening / World Music / Soundtracks. The open-plan ground-floor covered contemporary music, consoles and games, and clothing / merchandising, as well as a great stage area for in-store appearances and album launches / live events. Upstairs you had an amazing DVD / Blu-ray department and a separate gadgets alcove. It had seen various changes over the years, but it always benefited from a fantastic entrance and spacious interiors which were both wide-open and enticing. There were so many things that were just right about this store - the various end-of-aisle promo displays and new releases and chart display units - and how everything was laid-out and labelled. It was a treat for me when down town, to spend an hour or so browsing through the various displays and ambling from department to department. The new replacement store (363 Oxford Street) has none of the pizazz of its forebear, it lacks the space and the occasion, and has none of the experience - the entrance is narrow and confined, and overall the store is cluttered in layout and tricky to navigate without bumping into half a dozen people on your way in and out. HMV used to have the very best entertainment destination store - alas they have this no more. There is no reason really to attend their new store, no sense of occasion or excitement - nothing to drag you away from amazon.com.
But what can online retailers learn from all of this?
I have tried to distil the essential points into the following 5 key considerations:
This is something that Selfridges is the master of - creating extraordinary reasons for shoppers to attend the store - something way beyond the every day and routine. As parts of society gradually weans itself away from materialistic ways, so then experiences become ever more important - the ability to meet / touch / interact with those extra special things in life - animate and otherwise. Online Retailers need to generate their own special occasions online to entice customers to their store - this could be as simple as a celebrity signing - or some form of time-limited endorsement. Most Retailers will need to move away from purely pricing and range, as larger stores like amazon.com have those areas covered within a very universal and plain shopping environment. Amazon does not really need to do ’Occasion’ but many smaller retailers will need to - in order to offer some kind of distinctive or competitive difference / advantage.
Another Selfridges speciality, and way beyond your typical Christmas / Valentines / Easter Egg themes. Selfridges looks to saturate a unique theme throughout the store - to create drama, excitement and atmosphere. How many times at a gig have you unthinkingly purchased an overpriced programme or t-shirt or other memorabilia? This behaviour has not gone unnoticed by the cleverer retailers - if you are wrapped up in the emotion of the event, you have a much higher propensity to buy yourself some form of ’souvenir’. Certain retailers introduce Special or Limited Edition ranges in a time-limited look and feel. H&M is the master of the Designer Diffusion Experience - collaborating with a variety of luxe designers - Isabel Marant, Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Versace etc. for limited availability capsule collections. Online Retailers need to be able to apply the same sense of drama and excitement - ’for one day / weekend only!’ etc. Clever Themes can sell souvenir-styled t-shirts and memorabilia, as well as relevant and associated targeted products and related services.
The essence of atmosphere and occasion is underlined by live events. There are numerous examples of these in-store - musical performances, catwalk shows, demonstrations, talks etc. - all the above named 4 examples do or have done facets of this - and most Online Retailers can follow their lead. I recall working with Tesco’s back in my advertising days and how the test kitchen at the Sandhurst store was able to deliver a real sense of occasion with cooking demos and various food tasting sessions. Most websites are decidedly ’inanimate’ though and provide little beyond the basic product catalogue. Online Retailers need to be offering more live events online and more interactivity alongside their existing offerings.
When you attend an in-store event, you can talk to people - taste themed snacks and beverages and somehow get involved in the occasion. Online retailers need to build in more participation - well beyond Internet staples like author question and answer sessions. Some organisations have been making clever use of conferencing technology - even utilising Google Hangouts. Much more needs to be done though to create a higher level of atmospheric and experiential occasions. Customers need to be able to participate in some way in the event, talk to other customers, and interact with staff members. When you’re at a carnival, you have more fun if you get involved. Online Retailers need to discover what their customers are comfortable with, and how the right level of participation can be engineered online.
We continually hear about clever uses of Gamification online - all Online Retailers should look to including some degree of gamification into their offerings. Equally importantly, their Themed Events - which should be at the core of drawing customers to the online store - well these must be fun! Like we said previously, customers get the most out of it when they participate, and having fun encourages them to get more involved. Being in Selfridges during the Brazilian season - when the samba dancers and batucada bands marched up and down the escalators was exhilarating and fun - and Selfridges had laid out a series of temporary Brazillian market stalls + food stalls in the basement level - to give the feel of a vibrant street market. Of course this is much more difficult to achieve online (Tasting and real product sampling is impossible obviously), but large parts of what we have discussed above are certainly fairly doable. You need to find strong, fun and involving themes which appeal to your target audience. With a little application, common themes can be found which bring together products and merchandising - into a series of thoroughly memorable and rewarding experiences. In the early days of department stores, customers would enter in awe of their luxurious surroundings and the somewhat exotic nature of what was on offer. With so much more exposure via the Internet, retailers need to find new ways to amaze and delight their customers. There’s no reason why the Destination Store dynamic cannot work online - it’s just that no one’s really put the effort in yet ...