Posts tagged retail
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.
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.
This holiday season, playfulness seems to be “du jour”. A few rather clever retailers have decided that the economy and its miseries have been going on long enough and that they needed to diffuse a new mood: playful.
Selfridges in London currently looks like a giant toy store, a superlative playroom designed to fulfill the wildest fantasies of that kid who still is alive and well somewhere in each and one of us. The windows are an explosion of colors, toys are everywhere, mixed and displayed with other items such as bags, shoes, ties, clothes, books, makeup…you name it, it’s in there.
Inside the store, bouquets of glossy balloons in vibrant colors asking you to “Come & Play” are suspended or framing pink neon signs spelling out brand names – suddenly every brand seems more fun, whether it’s no-nonsense Laura Mercier, Clinique or the perenially fun Benefit, they all get that special extra dose of playfulness that makes their products even more covetable. In the Wonder Room, a dedicated section named “Play Lounge” hosts a selection of curated items that made that little girl inside me not believe her eyes: in what looks like a giant Rubik’s cube that exploded and created a multitude of fun stuff, the whole space just makes you want to stay there for hours, touch, try and buy everything you ever dreamed of as a child: colored pencils contained in wooden holders (in the same colors as the pencils they are holding), Pantone notebooks in vibrant hues neatly organized, touchable, quirky limited edition dolls , Lego jewelry, a crazy Barbie foosball table… everything is sure to make a fantastic Christmas present.
With a very similar look&feel, Kiehl’s have also decided to go playful and use Jeff Koons’ glossy art while supporting the Koons Family Institute – they definitely make your holiday shopping more enjoyable and help a good cause. Additionally to the limited edition Crème de Corps, beautiful gift boxes are there for you to fill with your favorite products and give to those you love.
Taking playful to a more personal, intimate level, Tiffany’s decided to add a pinch of magic and created fairytale tableaux, stories for you to imagine, under the “Once upon a time” theme. Every window is different and never fails to transport you to beautiful imaginary places (Richard, you are a true artist!).
And I just read a post by Heather Strang on the Retail Design Diva blog that an artist named Nathalie Wetzel designed a Christmas tree entirely made of marshmallows for Peeps&Co – talk about taking a child’s fantasy to the next level…(click here to see what it looks like)
This holiday season, all retailers are afraid that the still ongoing crisis will affect their most important shopping weeks and many have gone to new levels to ignite the desire in their customers.
But those who decided to wake up that kid in you are those who really got it right: if they can make you look at the world with the dreamy eyes of a child, you will definitely get some of that belief that the future still holds great things to come. And it won’t just make you buy, it will make you feel better, it will make you hope. And isn’t this ultimately the main purpose of the holidays – feeling joy and hope in order to kick-start that truly great new year to come?
Last July, while walking the usual stretch that leads from the train station to Quartier 206, I first saw the Hermès windows and stopped (as usual) to look at what will make me drool this time (judging by the previous posts, it is no big secret that Hermès is a personal favorite) and I must say that I was amused. The whole display – spread across almost 10 windows – was made of thick paper, with what seemed like handwriting scribbled all over. It looked fresh, as it also included paper Kelly handbags similar to the ones you can download on their website and “manufacture” by yourself.
After looking at every product, reading the scribbled texts and taking many pictures I continued my stroll. When I looked across the street I saw something not very different in the Louis Vuitton windows – their iconic hard case luggage made out of a very similar thick paper outlined in black, stacked to look like an Eiffel tower and used as a support for the displayed products. Ok, I understand that during the summer tourists abound on the Freidrichstrasse and for Vuitton clearly displaying an Eiffel tower might avoid long association exercises on the tourist’s parts (is it the same as in France?, do they have the same products? mmm…)
But it was strange. I thought that either both stores employ the same visual merchandiser or some coincidental new trend was happening.
A few days later I went to check one of my favorite Berlin streets, Mulackstrasse. And there it was again: a window with paper cutouts of handbags and Matisse-like birds at the Hecking store.
It was officially weird. While the Hermès scheme had some kind of logic behind it, because they have been doing the DIY bags and bracelets that you can print out on paper from their website and manufacture the items yourself, I could not find a reason for the Vuitton use of what could be their iconic luggage made of paper (make them seem less heavy maybe? I apologize, I know it’s lame but that’s all I can think of). And Vuitton usually have beautiful windows that always make you want to buy everything. As for the Mulackstrasse store and their Matisse-like birds I forgive them. It just seemed like they had no means to make anything else. And their window looked pretty neat, in its own way.
So what do you think?
While perusing the latest magazine issues and reading the various e-newsletters, I have noticed a clear trend: almost everyone seems like they’re trying to position themselves as a heritage brand.
Louis Vuitton have beautiful pictures of beautiful craftspeople manufacturing their goods, Gucci show a black and white (or is it sepia?) shot of the inside of their factory in their “FOREVER NOW” campaign, Hilfiger have a whole “heritage” story featuring a family….
Even products and collections now have “heritage” attached to their name: Halston Heritage, True Religion Heritage Jeans, Barbour Heritage collection, J. Crew original-fit heritage chino(!)…Fashion newsletters are telling you to go and invest in heritage pieces that range from Levi’s jeans to some obscure brands that produce vintage-looking items.
While using heritage in marketing in a subtle, authentic way can prove to be a clever strategy for brands who actually have heritage such as Louis Vuitton (founded 1854 and still in the same line of business), using it too loosely and in an obvious manner can be perceived as uncreative, desperate even, and it makes customers wonder why…just saying.