I am a retail experience consultant. A retail expert who knows exactly what it takes to create unforgettable shopper experiences. I have been compiling my experiences and findings for over ten years and here is where I share some with you. Do you have a question? A comment? Just contact me.
Posts by Maya
So here I am, sitting on a banquette at the new shoe department in KADEWE, Berlin. Waiting.
It reminded me of another time I sat on a banquette at the then brand new shoe department in Selfridges, London. Or was it at Galeries Lafayette, Paris? Or at Saks in New York? One thing is sure. I had been waiting way too often, definitely too long.
In the past couple of years, shoe departments in super stores have been revived and put into real focus. They have become huge, beautiful, well-lit temples dedicated to most probably women’s favourite thing to buy. They have included confortable seating options, integrated incredible numbers of brands and so many styles. They are inhabited by smiling staff and visited by swarms of excited customers.
Yet, more often than not, if you take a good look, the majority of the customers you see around you are waiting. And the sales consultants are either out of breath or just nowhere to be seen.
Why? Because they spend their time going to some remote stock area getting the requested sizes, coming back with piles of boxes, going out again etc.
Customers get impatient and even sometimes leave, tired of waiting, wondering why the consultant doesn’t intuitively and automatically come back with half size options, other available colours…
And what should be a fabulous experience driven by a real passion becomes a terrible drag. For the customer – who feels robbed of their time and get bored. But for the consultants as well, who by the way would love to bring options and size alternatives, but they simply cannot carry all those boxes through those distances all the time.
The problem is that those stores are often built by people who don’t know anything about all this. They usually are architects who get a map of the space, a brief from a manager – or a vision from the creative director herself – and get to work. They make beautiful drawings where every inch of the space is used to sell. They show how every brand can be hosted and brought to its true expression. How the shoes can be displayed to tempt and arouse. And very often they do a very good job. And the people who commission them are very happy with the results and greenlight the projects. The only problem is that they forget the customer, the sales consultant. And the process of buying shoes – or anything else that come in sizes, by matter of fact.
The new shoe department at KADEWE is beautiful. It has niches – real shops in shop – for the big, famous brands such as Prada or Jimmy Choo. But the real fun is in the quirky, lesser-known brands that cannot be found everywhere and that are displayed at the centre. And that’s where the problem begins. For if you want to try on something you like and your size is something else than the usually displayed 37 (or 38), you have to wait. You would think that the large cubic display tables would have some storage capabilities – they are quite massive – but no. They are what they are, just displays. You would think that someone would have pity upon those consultants who spend their time hopping back and forth to the storage area – but no. And after the 5th time this person disappears to get you something, your own initial pity is replaced by impatience and a sense that your experience has ceased to be fun.
One example of a shoe store where someone has put some thought into the shopping experience is a chain called Humanic : they have a really clever store in Berne, Switzerland. They sell high street brands and their location is very central. And some clever person came up with a brilliant idea. At Humanic Berne, if you see a shoe you like, you can take it, walk towards a barcode scanner mounted on the wall and scan the reference. The scanner display immediately shows you what sizes are available and if you see yours – and maybe a size alternative – you press it on the screen. A few seconds later, the box containing the shoe you requested in sliding down a conveyor belt at the end of the store, where a large seating area has been installed. You take your box, try your shoes on and if you are satisfied, you just go and pay. What you don’t want you either leave there or hand the box to a sales consultant.
So what am I saying here? To all the managers, creative directors, architects, merchandisers, decorators and chief executives of flagship stores, department stores or any kind of store I am saying: please think.
Those huge tables/cubes at Kadewe? Turn them into cabinets and put your most popular models in there. Those empty walls? Transform them into invisible storage. The beautiful space at Selfridges? Make it work so the customer is not under the impression that their sales consultant had to take the tube to Acton to get the shoes. That central till where a line forms every Saturday way past closing time? Multiply it. Make it mobile. Make it self-checkout. There are so many things that can be done. You just need to think.
Think of the experience you want to offer your customers. Think of the way you want your staff to spend most of their time (running vs. interacting with customers) and THEN design your stores. Be ingenuous, be creative. You don’t know how? Get someone who has done this before to show you. Test your new concepts with real customers. Include sales staff into your decisions. Think of the every detail of the experience and keep in mind that it’s all in the small details.
Retail in Europe has been suffering.
Blame it on the weather – either too hot or too cold – on the economy – the Eurozone is not in the best shape ever – or on consumers’ mood – and here the reasons are as diverse as you can think of – the fact is that stores have not been selling much during the main months of the fashion season. And at the end of June, many stores seem to still have a lot of that season merchandise.
No longer really interested in the 10 or 20 percent-offs provided by mid-season sales, private sales events and various promotional activities, consumers seem to have been waiting for the real deal – namely the 50 percent-plus mark. Sweet deals on It-bags, season must-haves and timeless classics are all the rage.
Having been a lot in Paris for the past 5 weeks, I have become the witness of a new buying behaviour. I have been observing the crowds in the main shopping areas, especially in the department stores. France being one of the few places where official sale dates are regulated and dictated by the law, it was amazing for me to see how crowds have been moving at the same pace as as the discount rates. Six weeks ago, I enjoyed a peaceful stroll through Le Bon Marché, checking out the delightfully curated merchandise in an almost empty store. On a Saturday. Come 8 July, I stopped at Le Bon Marché after spending the day at Mode City, the lingerie and swimwear trade show, in need of some serious retail therapy. I was shocked. Never in my whole life had I seen so many people at Le Bon Marché (I have been coming for almost 20 years). From the ground floor accessories section to the designer floor and passing by the “younger” section located above the food hall, the store was literally packed. And I must say that the deals were really sweet and the merchandise premium: runway looks, season essentials and beautiful pieces were all there, for a fraction of the original price; clothes, shoes, bags and accessories, everything was there.
Sure I have witnessed the sale craze in New York City when Saks, Barneys and Bergdorf went on sale and where I could find a few interesting items but by no means the “iconic pieces” that have been gracing the pages of fashion magazines were to be found everywhere and in all shapes, sizes and colours. Unlike what has been happening in Paris.
A couple of days later, the same thing happened at Le Printemps. While walking around the Boulevard Haussmann area, I entered Le Printemps because I was a bit tired and it is usually much quieter than its much more famous and popular neighbor Galeries Lafayette. Not on that Tuesday. The department store was so full that I had to flee.
So what is happening? Has the economy hit so hard that it has already fundamentally changed the shoppers’ behaviour, making them rather wait a bit than pay full price? Have we all been for many years so influenced by the media to instantly buy so-called “it-items” of all kinds that we have become jaded – fed-up even- to keep on doing it and the slumpy economy just provided the perfect excuse to do so? Has fashion become so versatile and timeless, that it is no longer mandatory to walk around with “just in-season” looks? After many retail golden years fuelled by the emergence of new media and the subsequent overexposure of fashion, have we simply just changed? Sure, we still love fashion and outfits that have the power to make us feel shiny and new, but it seems that we no longer are prepared to pay the full retail price, because what we seem to love even more now is a real bargain. What do you think?
Having been silent for many weeks now, I have decided to rekindle my relationship with you by letting a guest blogger express his opinion. This is what Andreas wrote when I asked him to tell me something about his relationship to shopping. What do you think?
Spending a few days in New York has always been a very special experience. Great food in elegant, mythical, superlative restaurants, walks – sometimes even jogs – on the High Line, museums and comedy clubs – are a few elements of the ever-exciting journey. But a few days in New York also mean intensive Shopping.
For instance at Barneys. Owning over 350 pairs of shoes is still not enough for my girlfriend and she will always need something new, because exactly this model is still missing in her collection. So I got to know all the floors at Barneys by heart. Needless to say that I have used each and every sitting opportunity – and I would like to thank the people at Barneys who have understood that a male individual does not need to formulate an opinion about each and every hanging dress and that he sometimes needs a short break from perusing the endless racks throughout the many floors. And let’s not forget that without me too close, the sales associate can communicate freely with one of their favorite customers – aka my girlfriend – , because the sitting opportunities are always a bit far from the clothes racks.
But there are also floors that I very much like. The shoe floor, for instance. There a few things as fascinating as watching a woman getting transformed into someone totally different simply by putting on a pair of shoes. How she suddenly is perceived differently because she moves in a straighter, sexier manner, thanks to a pair of high heels. There a very few places where one can admire so many beautiful women on such a small surface and get a glimpse of what can be a really intimate moment.
But I also cannot help wondering why those women willingly and gladly impose on themselves the whole stress of trying on, putting on and off clothes and shoes so many times. In my opinion, women do this solely because they always want to reinvent themselves, because they never want to become boring and just want to stay desirable – to the others but also to themselves. And this is a reason enough for me to play along and be interested. And when my interest is true, it is often impatient and very enlightening. Which guy who has grown up solely wearing jeans and t-shirts and who works in very technical field mostly with other guys can say that he is able to recognize a Dior dress, a pair of Louboutin shoes, a Moschino, Lanvin, Comme des Garçons or Marni piece of clothing just by looking at a rack? And believe me that this knowledge can really be useful in better understanding my female counterparts and their relationship to shoes, clothes, hair and makeup and this understanding is even very useful in my professional life because it gives me clues about how interesting a personality someone can have.
Don’t get me wrong – I often need to overcome my natural instincts especially when all I want to do is check out the latest gadgets at Best Buy or cameras at Adorama. And interestingly enough, in spite of all my Shopping tolerance (and sometimes – let’s be honest – huge efforts), when I ask her to come along, I just hit a granite wall and have to go alone. Arguments and pleas – e.g. that I have already been 4 times to Barneys in less than a week - are unfortunately useless – I have unfortunately come to realize.
And this is when I ask myself: are women simply intransigent beings that only want to do what they want to do? And from the time I got my answer I go along shopping with the self-control and patience of a Zen master, because yes, they are. But the crazy thing is that they don’t just do it for themselves. They also do it for us men. Unlike us.
A year ago, I was surprised by Jones New York’s campaign that portrayed stern, menacing woman ready to conquer the workplace and felt compelled to write about it (link to this post).
Today I am happy to say that they have probably understood what women in the workplace are really all about. Working but also playing. Working hard nowadays also should mean that you can also take a minute and smile – even laugh – about something. And women most certainly know how to do this. I am now working for a company that employs mainly women and believe me when I say that while they are doing an amazing job, those women never miss an opportunity to joke and laugh.
I don’t know if Jones New York took my advice (one can always hope…) or whether they did some research, but they most certainly have got it right now.
While perusing the thousands of pages the fall magazine issues gave us this year, one distinct trend caught my eye.
I first saw the Tommy Hilfiger spread and thought nothing of it because the format was similar to what they have been doing for some time now and it had always reminded my of the campaigns Ralph Lauren has been doing forever. Then I saw the Pepe Jeans ad and thought « weird, it reminds me of the Tommy Hilfiger visual » and as I went through Elle US, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Jalouse and many other titles I saw one frequent and very constant element in many fall ad campaigns: group photos. And not any random group of models that happen to stand next to each other in a photo studio, but photos of groups that look like friends, family, in any case people who clearly seem to have emotional ties.
For a long time, brands have used models – preferably one model at a time, also called spokesperson – to represent who they are, the ideal their customers would project themselves into. Isabella Rossellini was Lancôme’s face for so long that even today when I think of Lancôme I cannot help seeing her face, even though she has since then (the 80’s!) been replaced by a plethora of models – one of the recent ones even being her daughter Elettra. And what would Donna Karan’s successful career woman image be without Rosemary McGrotha?
Then they started using actors and celebrities and they added a certain lifestyle dimension to their brands, a certain situational element that made their brand image a bit deeper and more versatile.
Then at some point everyone wanted Kate Moss.
But in those really troubled times that seem to last longer and be even more tragic that everyone had thought, frivolity and superficial ideals have to be toned down. Sure models remain essential to depict an ideal beauty to aspire to. And some actors undoubtedly have the power to make you think that they cannot be successful or even live (George Clooney for Nespresso, anyone?) without certain products they vouch for. But somehow when the going gets tough, in the real world, there is nothing better than having friends and family to stick with. And social networks are not only Internet-based tools. For the first time in history, real social cohesion has been happening, certainly supported and facilitated by everything technology has to offer, but foremost because people have realized that if they stick together they can learn more, achieve more and certainly change things – hopefully for the better. From Wikipedia to the Arab Spring, people have managed to do things that a few years ago could not have been thought of as merely probable.
And many brands have understood this. Instead of creating a fantasy world that only can exist in someone’s imagination, they decided to show an ideal that seems to be attainable for everyone; an ideal that inextricably carries guaranteed happiness within. Because, at the end of the day, what could be a greater source of joy in life than a happy family and a circle of supportive friends? And by the way, is it surprising that one of the biggest press coverages this fall is Kate Moss’s bucolic wedding surrounded by her family and friends?
I wear high heels all the time. I wear them because I love them.
And sometimes I love them too much and wear them when I shouldn’t.
I have fallen 4 times brutally because of my high heels and even though each time I hurt my knee pretty badly, I still cannot go without them. One thing I’ve learned, though: caution and savvy when shopping for shoes and when deciding what pair to wear depending on the impending activity.
So you can imagine my reaction when I received the following e-mail from Barneys New York a few minutes ago prompting me to “Fall for Yves Saint Laurent”.
The first thing that came to my mind when I read the headline was that they were telling me about some special activity related to the Yves Saint Laurent Fall collection. But when I opened the email, a picture of a gorgeous shoe appeared, containing yet another tagline “ Taking the gold standard to new heights”. Well, the very first thing that came to my mind after seeing the shoes and reading the “heights” message was “Those shoes are super high and if I wear them I will probably fall…” then the whole experience of hurting my knee came back to me vividly.
And this is how an innocent email advertisement can become counter-productive and instead of making you think that you will look like a modern day Cleopatra in those heels, it revives a painful memory.
And it’s crazy how a simple expression that might normally work for the majority of products, is used in a totally wrong manner.
I don’t know whether the headlines for the e-updates are automatically generated by some system Barneys use or whether the editing of said updates is relegated to someone a bit inexperienced. But Fall + a picture of a shoe with some “new height standard” (no matter how gorgeous) = not such a great idea. So no, thank you Barneys, I will try not to fall for any shoe designer, ever again. And yes, your stores are great and the products you sell fabulous but you should always make sure your words are selected carefully. Otherwise it somehow kills the myth, don’t you think so?
I am writing this and another example comes to me: a few weeks ago I was in London and walking past a Swarovski store, I had to stop. Mother’s day in the UK was around the corner and Swarovski had stickers with the word “Mother” printed in pink and surrounded by what looked like a heart-shaped ribbon all over their windows.
But this is not what I saw first. I actually stopped because I thought “Smother” (def.: to suffocate) was what was written on those windows. And the first association that came to my mind was how some mothers tend to “smother” their kids. And that the word “smother” is actually also used to designate them. There even is a movie called “Smother” with Diane Keaton about an extreme mother. And it made me smile.
Maybe the good people at Swarovski never wanted to do anything else than placing he word “mother” in a ribbon heart. Maybe they wanted to style the heart to make it like an S for Swarovski…
But I smiled and said t to myself “ It’s amazing that nobody saw this while are creating, approving, producing or placing those stickers. It’s amazing how big brands with experienced teams and big budgets manage to create the exact opposite of that they intended to initially by neglecting to look at something in context. And it’s really amazing how no matter what you do, in retail, the tiniest detail can make or break an idea or a concept, no matter how great they are.“
Do you have any similar examples of auto-destructive messages or good marketing intentions gone bad?
I would be delighted to hear about them. Please email them with or without pictures. I will then compile all contributions and post them on this website. Email Maya
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Disclaimer: I must admit that I am a huge Saturday Night Live fan and have watched quite a few of the old Weekend Update segments with Seth (Seth Myers) and Amy (Amy Poehler) lately, so those of you who recognize the similarity between this post’s title and the super funny SNL segment will understand.
So today I was walking around Berne, Switzerland, when something strange caught my eye: the windows of the big Bally Store (I try to avoid using the word “Flagship” because even though I thought I did, I no longer understand what it means).
The windows have been changed. Gone are the fixtures that provided a backdrop to the displayed articles and prevented you from clearly seeing the store interior. Now you can see all through the elegant, light-filled store that has windows on both streets that it occupies and has entrances on. And it looks very plush, inviting and luxurious while providing you with a total view of the merchandise in the store, which is great. Especially for after hours window-shopping.
But it is not the much better designed window that caught my eye – it was the goods. I was shocked to see that every single item in the window looked like a Céline knockoff. So I took out my camera, shot a few pictures and felt the urge to write about it.
I understand that minimalism is very much du jour, I also understand that after the whole heritage/stripey thing (that in its turn very, very much inspired Navyboot, but that’s a whole story on its own) Bally have been trying to create a certain style.
They have had their share of creative directors since 2003 and I understand that it’s not easy to continuously come up with products that have what it takes to become objects of desire but what I don’t understand is why a premium brand sells products that look like a copy of a fashion phenomenon. Phoebe Philo’s collections at Céline have undoubtedly become a very heavy influencer of style, a definite trendsetter. But it is not a reason to come so close to the stuff, slap your name – by the way also in an identical manner to Céline’s – on it and call it your own.
Come on, Bally. Really? You have such a great brand, so many qualities and a potential of becoming – again – something so unique, so recognizable on its own…what is happening to you?
Your history, your archives, your origins, your craftsmanship, your Swiss roots, your pioneer spirit could not inspire you but Céline could?
And I am even more disappointed because I have been working on a series of articles on retail in Switzerland and only had good things to say about Bally, who since 2003 have really shown substantial style, retail excellence, great service – until I saw this.
And while I love SNL, am using the name of my favorite segment and cannot avoid being influenced by its tone, I am not setting up a studio with a world map behind me and broadcasting my blog with a handsome co-anchor on a Saturday night all while calling it my creation.
And while it is absolutely fine to like something and allow yourself to be inspired by it, it is definitely weak to actually copy the thing, put your name on it and call it your own. Just saying.
In the light of dramatic current events, between revolutions and natural disasters, retailers are doing all they can to convince customers that spring is the ideal time to be in a good mood and enjoy life, to go out and have fun and naturally to shop for new things that make them feel better, different and very lucky to be alive and well.
Wandering through the streets of London and Paris, I have noticed the following trends:
1- Butterflies. They are everywhere. On the high street and in the luxury boutiques, butterflies symbolize beauty, lightness and freedom. A pretty powerful symbol that is telling the customers that they too can be light, colorful and carefree – especially in troubled times. That everything is ephemeral and one should definitely seize the day. And the items on display before they’re gone…
2- Superheroines. Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl et al. are very much du jour. Whether as a real fashion and design influencer with visible symbols or as a general theme, superhuman comic figures are everywhere and undeniably aim to have a very positive effect on customers. Who hasn’t been fascinated by the beautiful, clever and powerful Wonder Woman with her gorgeous costume and her invincible style? And what about Supergirl and Catwoman? It sure has been a long time since they have been seen in movies or on TV but they remind us of when we were young and so certain that we too can achieve incredible things. By using Superheroines, retailers are giving their customers the clothes and accessories to finally publically become those Superchicks they always secretly dreamed of being. It’s like a teenage dream come true.
3- Play. Having already dominated the past Holiday season, “Come & Play” is still here, in variations of all kinds, albeit translated into a more grownup way. Golden rollercoasters are carrying the new season at Louis Vuitton, Matrioshkas of a very peculiar kind are rotating and telling their customers to “Shed their layers” at Ted Baker and Christian Louboutin is taking everyone to an enchanted circus. Come & Play remains a very good way to insufflate fun and put a smile on the customers’ face by reminding them of the joy and fascination they had as kids playing with new toys.
4- Neon lights. The Fifties. The Sixties. The Seventies. The Eighties. Those eras have acquired an idealized nostalgic varnish by now; they are “the good old times”. This trend is strongly fueled by incredibly stylish and highly covetable designer collections for spring/summer 201 – Céline, Tom Ford, Gucci and Marc Jacobs, to name a few – have borrowed strong symbols from those various eras and translated them into beautiful fashions and powerful ad campaigns. And let’s not forget Mad Men, the highly stylish and successful TV show that has everyone wanting to look polished and chic while wondering whether it would be a good thing to start drinking at the office… Amidst this profuse nostalgia, neon lights have the unique quality of infusing a retro touch to any façade, any store, any brand and using a certain font will undeniably link them to a certain era. Besides the fact that they are visible from far and can be made in the brightest colors, neon signs are cool. And whether they remind you of a 50’s era diner in Middle America (or from Edward Hopper’s incredible paintings) or the hip clubs from Miami Vice, they somehow symbolize the American Dream. And that’s pretty powerful.
But at the end, all those trends aspire to the same thing: retailers want to make you hope, make you dream and make you believe that even though things have been pretty bad for the past months – or even couple of years – you should never stop being optimistic and believe in the capitalistic ideal that going out, shopping and having fun – not being ashamed – doing it is a fundamental right, an expression of freedom and maybe the road to a certain happiness.
The second you enter the Six Senses spa in Paris, you feel peace.
Opened in December 2009, the Six Senses spa is a unique breed in the Parisian beauty and wellbeing landscape. Designed by architect Pierre David, it is the French dépendance of the Bangkok-based Six Senses Resorts and Spas. Managed by Nathalie Abi-Khalil, a young Ecole Hotelière de Lausanne graduate who has an innate notion of service and customer orientation, Six Senses is a venture by Sonu and Eva Shivdasani who have opened superlative spas and resorts all over the world, all spelled out according to what they call the SLOW LIFE philosophy. Besides meaning that at Six Senses customers should be able to simply unwind and take the time to enjoy the best life has to offer, SLOW LIFE is the acronym for Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome, Learning Inspiring, Fun, Experiences – eight words that dictate the way the resorts and the spas are designed and run.
The Six Senses spa Paris is located under the arcades on 3, Rue du Castiglione, the street that connects the prestigious place Vendôme to the Jardin des Tuileries.
When you walk by the floor to ceiling windows, the first thing that catches your eye is the wall garden. Designed by Patrick Blanc, the lush green strip is such an unexpected sight, a surprising element amid the urban greyness of Paris, that it somehow has the power to instantly transport you into a different world.
And once you get in, you feel this peace. No matter if you are just popping in to make an appointment, buy a Sensory Box for someone you would like to pamper (this is what their gift certificate is called and believe me it will change your perception of gift certificates for ever) or get a spa treatment, the feeling is there.
The door of the Six Senses spa does not open by itself nor do you need to push it. It’s opened for you. The second you stand in front of the sliding glass door, an attentive member of staff will let you in. You won’t see anyone, because the entrance level floor only hosts a rather confidential, eclectic retail space selling exclusive and beautifully packaged Aromatherapy Associates and Voya products and of course the wall garden, but someone has definitely seen you. And so it begins. Without you really having to say or do much, at Six Senses spa you will be served, listened to, pampered, treated with much respect and as much discretion. If you have come in for a spa treatment, you will be covered in honey, scrubbed with salt, wrapped in seaweed, massaged with heavenly oils, kneaded by expert hands, only given advice if solicited, served fresh ginger tea to complete your journey while contemplating a live feed of the Parisian landscape projected on the walls and sent home feeling happy, relaxed, peaceful.
So what is it that makes customers become Six Senses devotees, some having up to 3 weekly standing appointments? What makes them want to go there as often as they can, send their friends and tell everyone they know that there is no better place to be in order to get rebalanced, rebooted, even?
Sure it’s the structure and the architecture: the wood and paper treatment cocoons instantly make you feel safe and calm. And the live camera feed of Paris projected on the walls certainly makes the relaxation area very special.
It must be the expertly concocted treatments and elegantly choreographed rituals that also make you want to spend the day being taken care of.
Or is it this unique combination of expertise, empathy, soft voice and smiling face you encounter in each and every member of the staff?
Well, I think what makes this spa unique, what makes it a sort of surreal universe where you feel safe and intimately know that everything that will happen to you will invariably be good, is the combination of it all.
At the Six Senses Paris spa they have understood that each and every element within their space and their power has to be thoroughly thought through, meticulously designed but also designed to be part of a whole. And they really know that it’s their people that make the difference, because customers will not come back for the brand, they will come back for the person who made them feel so great.
And this is where I think that retailers can learn from Six Senses Paris – they should understand that everything they do must be designed according to their philosophy and with no compromise, that it should be done within a clear vision and while never losing the big picture. And they should really understand that no matter how great their product, their advertising, their promises, their philosophy, it’s ultimately the person who will deliver upon them who will make the difference.
If retailers do this consistently, they will necessarily create an atmosphere. And whether it is peace or energy or any other positive feeling this atmosphere is loaded with, you will definitely sense it.