The march to ecommerce has been a dominant theme in retail over the past decade or more, raising the question of whether the days of the physical store are numbered. Not so, it seems.
Alongside the retailers quite rightly closing stores and re-assessing their retail footprints, the physical store has had a boost of late. For many EMEA-based retailers, the store is increasingly coming into focus as the place where they can blend together the best of digital and physical to not only drive transactions, but to surprise and delight shoppers and drive brand relevance.
Unsurprisingly, a common theme among retailers setting new standards is that their stores are far more experiential than before, whether aided by technology or not. Here are five EMEA retailers worth a closer look.
Retail is often about showmanship and theatre, and one business to embrace this for a new generation of consumers is Missguided. Launched online in 2009, this U.K.-based young fashion retailer built up an impressive ecommerce business before opening its first, highly anticipated physical store in London at the end of 2016.
For a retail brand firmly rooted in digital, industry observers were surprised to see technology take a back seat in the store design. Rather than an array of tablets or kiosks, Missguided’s liberal use of props, slogans in neon, and a fitting room that doubles as a lounge in which to hang out make it on point for its core customers. The theme “On Air” recognizes the store’s role as a stage and backdrop for its always-on customers, who are constantly seeking opportunities for self-expression and highly shareable social media moments.
Petah Marian, senior retail editor at WGSN Insight, said: “Missguided is an exciting retailer—a formerly pure-play retailer that has moved into physical retail at a time when lots of people have been suggesting the format is dying. The store speaks to its core Generation Z consumer, full of millennial pink and social media friendly details with female empowerment slogans that have been designed to be Instagrammed or Snapchatted.”
Also U.K.-based is Rockar, which has set about reinventing car-buying for today’s consumers. Rockar launched its first digital retail store for cars with Hyundai in late 2014. The store in the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent formed the template for a second Hyundai-branded store at London’s Westfield Stratford, one of Europe’s busiest shopping centres. More recently, Rockar has opened an experimental bricks-and-mortar store for premium automotive brand Jaguar Land Rover, also at Westfield Stratford.
The innovation behind the format is twofold. By opening stores in high footfall shopping centres, Rockar has relocated carbuying away from edge-of-town car dealerships, successfully introducing the category to a new set of customers who might not otherwise engage with automotive brands.
Second, the store format offers a digitally enabled path to purchase for new cars. Customers use in-store tablets to discover, configure, and/or buy a new car. Store employees—so-called Angels—are on hand to provide additional information and customer service in a non-pressurised way. Staff are salaried and recruited for their ability to serve as hosts to the purchase journey, rather than being traditional car salespeople working on a commission basis.
Rockar’s soft-sell approach to selling cars has been such a success for Hyundai, not least in lowering the average age of buyers, that the Korean car manufacturer is now exploring smaller, local store formats with its retail partner.
Adidas Runbase, Berlin
Sportswear has become a leading category for retail investment and innovation, driven by consumers’ desire for healthier and fitter lives. Free exercise classes, on-site cafes, and fitness advice are some of the experience-first ideas sports brands are running with in their retail offering.
Katie Baron, head of retail at research and trends firm Stylus, highlighted the 2,000-square-metre Adidas Runbase flagship store in Berlin as a notable example within EMEA. “It’s a fascinating, pioneering concept because it spotlights the importance of moving beyond a traditional retail remit into a more service-led, boundary-blurring brand culture,” she said.
Adidas product can be tried, tested for free, and purchased at Runbase, but the store itself is just a small component of the complex overall. “It’s fleshed out by classes, sport medical services, and a clean-eating café devised to both support and inspire,” Baron added.
While the concept delivers the brand’s holistic approach to health and well-being, it is also engineered to ensure brand aspiration is not lost. The way it does this, Baron said, is by deploying a tiered entry structure. “Some spaces in the flagship store are open to all, while others require different levels of (paid) membership. Visitors can dip just a toe in its waters, upgrading in line with their wallet, their time, or their energy levels. In an era of ‘commitment-low’ consumption, it’s a great recipe for brand addiction.”
Differentiation through a content-rich in-store experience is behind lingerie retailer Hunkemöller’s latest store concept, which offers a different take on sports retailing. The Netherlands-based business unveiled a stand-alone store for its sportswear brand HKMX in Berlin in April, drawing on learnings from its parent flagship in Amsterdam.
Martin Newman, chairman of Practicology consultancy, noted: “The thinking behind the store is that every visit is an experience customers will want to share, and the technology is designed to facilitate this. It brings online content into the store, but also provides experiences that shoppers can’t get online.”
A touchscreen “social wall” broadcasts the brand’s Instagram feed and doubles up as a camera for shoppers to take and post selfies. Among the digital tools unique to the store are a bra-fit tool and body-scanning technology. This not only gives shoppers a 3D visualisation of themselves but also monitors any changes as they get into shape, giving customers a reason to return. Mobile point of sale completes the experience for customer convenience.
Coop Italia, Milan
Embedded technology is a key feature of Coop Italia’s “supermarket of the future” store in Milan. The concept was originally showcased at Milan Expo in 2015, with a store then opened in the city’s university district last December.
The focus is on creating a more immersive grocery shopping experience as customers browse interactive shelves and display tables. Motion sensors detect which product shoppers are looking at and bring up a visual display of the ingredients, origin, potential allergens, and carbon footprint as well as tips such as wine pairings.
As well as providing customers with detailed product information, the technology is also being used to help the retailer replenish stock more efficiently. A smart inventory system ensures goods are only delivered to the store when needed and that the products customers want most are always available.