Copyright Franklin Heijnen

Well-conceived is halfway sold

09. July 2016, Editorial

Two ways to rethink retail. Focussing on proven marketing tricks while still being seen as innovative. Concept stores and pop-up stores.



Online is a given, bricks and mortar is nice to have, pop-up is a great brand exercise – and curated is king.” This is the mantra of trendsetters in Melbourne who are intensely involved in retail development. And seriously: Everyone has a website, stores are well and good, and everyone thinks pop-up stores are funny. What is also true: It’s much easier today than one or two years ago to run across stores where the products are presented like small works of art. Ensembles that mix items from various product groups in a way that make you think of a gallery of hip ‘must-have’ objects. Bicycle seats next to English tea sets and brand-name scarves that colour-complement the silk-screen poster on the wall behind. When concept stores present completely different product types as an integrate whole, customers perceive the individual items differently. Curating does not mean just placing or arranging prettily. It’s about setting the stage for the merchandise in such a way that it inspires and shows how it can be added into rooms and homes and environments.

Concept stores are about added value for customers: either through a sophisticated curating or an interesting mix of products.

However, the line between an intriguing shopping experience and an exaggerated display mania is quickly crossed. Because the point is simply to provide customers with added value. Something that normal businesses do not provide. Outfits that are coordinated from sunglasses to suit to laptop bag. It’s not about showing how much taste, style and design acumen the retailer has. Pretty and fancy alone works just as poorly as a business that denies the mobile world. A critical contribution in the ZEIT from 2015 decried this as “museum shopping”: “Concept stores are supposed to transfer the aura of an unsellable, impractical, timeless unicum that can only be admired and never touched in a museum to the store product.” That is exactly the wrong approach. Concept stores do not automatically need to be extraordinary or designed down to the smallest detail. The American bookseller Barnes & Noble, for example, announced that it was going to do more with its book stores at the beginning of 2016. (The company has been fighting losses for years because of Amazon.) Customers will be able to buy beverages and food at the stores in future. “We believe that it will allow us to tempt more customers into our stores who will then also stay longer”, says Jaime Carey, Chief Operating Officer at Barnes & Noble. Eat ‘n browse, in other words.

Retailers make two trillion dollars with seasonal (!) pop-up stores.

Slightly more exciting and somewhat more mindless are the current pop-up stores that exist for basically any product. Cupcakes, shoes, coffee, and even electronics. Big advantage: Flexibility. Second big advantage: Saves costs. The branch – part of the ‘finite industry’ – is currently worth 3.5 trillion dollars in Great Britain, while in the United States, retailers earn two billion just during the holidays alone with pop-up stores. While such stores used to pop up only sporadically to test new ideas and see whether customers liked them, today they are strategically placed to generate brand experiences and to pick up the buyers where they hang out anyway. Or, to offer products that aren’t even available otherwise, or only during certain seasons, or that didn’t even quite exist yet. Endless possibilities. For instance, when Adidas launched its Stan Smith sneaker in 2014 for its 50th year anniversary along with a new edition of its classic, it used a pop-up store. Large companies are also constantly searching for new ways to present their products. In the end, everything starts with attention. That’s why the goal behind the mix of offline, online, concepts and pop-ups, for those who can afford it, is the same. Bespoke marketing.
To come back to the Adidas pop-up store, customers could try on the shoes, admire their own face in the Stan Smith style (“Stan Yourself”) or personalise a pair of shoes with parts from the 3D printer. The coolest thing about it was, however: the pop-up store itself. 13.5 by 7.5 metres. In the form of an Adidas shoe box. Right in the middle of Shoreditch, London. It goes to show that you can think outside the box while inside a box.

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