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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Retail as Experience - More Important Than Ever

Big Fruit originally uploaded by soldierant. [At the entrance to the grocer-as-experience-design experiment known as Jungle Jim's.]
Retail as experience is more important that ever!

Case in point: the new 5th avenue Apple store. It's generating buzz and I can't wait to check it out later this week. The SoHo store was my first Apple store experience and that blew me away. The contrast between the very formal classical government post office building exterior and the ethereal Apple environment within mesmerized me. The large central glass staircase drew me in body and soul and made me desperate to chuck my Dell computer for a MacIntosh! Luckily, I didn't and having an iPod in my pocket helped me feel like I belonged in this marvelously soothing environment.

The 5th avenue store seems to represent a new prototype for Apple stores. Per this article titled Apple to unveil new store design in the 9/13/06 issue of the San Francisco Business Times by Mark Calvey, "The new design features will draw from Apple's new Fifth Avenue store, which is built in a former underground parking garage with a 32-foot glass structure above ground featuring the Apple logo. The new elements will be unveiled Sept. 23 at new stores in Providence, R.I. and Columbia, Md. The Apple Store is the nation's fastest growing retailer, opening a new store every nine days. The company expects to open 40 stores annually for the foreseeable future, Johnson said. "

David Polinchock offers his perspective in this post titled Brand Autopsy: Designing Retail Experiences – The Apple Way. He refutes a Fast Company negative review of the store as follows:

Fast Company, in their current review of customer experiences, didn't rank the Apple stores because they didn't think they delivered a good experience. After all, they say, if people are lining up at the Genius Bar, then people must be having a hard time understanding and using their products!

We, as you can imagine, don't agree. Here's what we think the Apple store is all about: They took the barriers to entry to buying an Apple product and answered those barriers with the store.

Wow! isn't that a cool way to describe a retail experience? Imagine doing that with your carpet or flooring store!

The post refers to John Moore's Designing Retail Experiences – The Apple Way which refers in turn to a ChangeThis manifesto by Jesse James Garrett titled 6 Design Lessons From the Apple Store. Moore offers a summary of the manifesto, but also strongly recommends reading the original. It is short, succinct and relevant: the lessons matter to all involved in creating retail experiences. Lesson 6 [Don't Forget the Human Element] makes critical points about the role the human element plays in delivering on an awesome retail experience. As good as everything else is, if your human element isn't completely on board, isn't completely committed to delivering the most impeccable, dedicated and passionate customer service experience, then you are just another retail environment.

Think about that.

Experience Manifesto also refers to Business Week Online's slideshow titled "Retail Wonders of the World - Today's boutiques, malls, and flagship stores seem intent on recreating old-fashioned shopping magic, but with a distinctly high-tech flair" by Kurt Soller. The introduction to the photo essay states:

From luxury brands to candy stores, companies are recognizing that their retail space is more than a distribution channel. It can be a branding opportunity, a marketing stunt, and a chance to draw in customers with an exemplary experience or to deliver a service on top of their product offerings.

This is the list of the stores showcased, many designed by high caliber architects. The visuals combined with the individual store descriptions make a strong impression.

  • In Manhattan: Hershey Store, Toys "R" Us, Apple [5th Avenue]
  • REI - Location: Seattle
  • The Dubai Mall - Location: Dubai
  • Selfridges - Location: Birmingham, England
  • Louis Vuitton - Location: Hong Kong
  • Prada Epicentre - Location: Los Angeles
  • Chanel - Location: Tokyo

If you have experienced any of these retail wonders, I welcome your perspective!

The whole notion of retail as experience becomes more important as consumers develop increasingly more options [online and offline] and the retail landscape gets more cluttered. Many manufacturers [e.g., SonyStyle] are looking to develop their own brand experience outside of their traditional distribution outlets, not necessarily to compete, but to offer consumers a level of service, of education, of branding, of experience, that they cannot otherwise control. And the consumers they are looking to appeal to - women - have responded positively.

This article Hello! This is your dryer calling ...Makers of 'smart' home products know they must appeal to women by MICHAEL PEARSON in the 9/9/06 issue of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes one example of the evolving brand experience. Perhaps an extreme one, it nonetheless highlights that much more effort is going into understanding how women [the target market] use products and shop for them.

These next two articles about actual shopping experiences take many of the lessons from Paco Underhill's Why We Buy [see recommended reading/Retail Trends] and describe what happens in retail environments: Just browsing at the mall? That's what you think by Mindy Fetterman and Jayne O'Donnell in the 9/1/2006 issue of USA TODAY and Enlisting Science's Lessons to Entice More Shoppers to Spend More by Kenneth Chang in the 9/19/2006 issue of The New York Times.

As you read these 2 articles, think back to the 6 Design Lessons from the Apple Store. Also, think how you react to retail environments. What works? What doesn't? Note that "narrow aisles crammed with goods are going away." Remember that "receipts show what people are buying, they do not show how people are shopping."

Finally, TREX [the Total Retail Experience conference] is coming to NYC in December. They have just made available on their website a pdf highlighting noteworthy retail stores in Manhattan as well as a downloadable podcast reviewing Apple, Babies R Us, Dean DeLuca, Lancome, Lenscrafter and LoHo stores. If you are on the lookout for sources of retail inspiration, these are the tools for you!

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