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Monday, June 01, 2009

Retail Innovation and Urban Outfitters

[Anthropologie] Salt Lake City Utah store window for bees
originally uploaded by Anthro_Creative.
When you think 'retail innovation,' what comes to mind? I immediately think of Urban Outfitters. I routinely refer to them in presentations about the retail experience and strongly encourage retailers to spend time visiting any of their stores - Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People, Leifsdottir, Terrain... - for inspiration.

Inspiration of all sorts. In terms of how to create a retail experience within a store, how to be truly customer-centric, and how to celebrate events both locally and nationally.

Take Anthropologie and Earth Day and marvelous displays calling attention to honey bees across Anthropologie stores around the country. In San Jose, CA, in Boise, ID, Rockefeller Center, NY, Salt Lake City, UT, Georgetown, DC, San Francisco, CA, ...

[Note: Imagine having a store concept so engaging that photos of your windows get posted and viewed online.]

You see, as is typical of Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters stores, no two stores or store windows look the same, nor are they laid out the same. And, yet, the commonality of theme in a variety of interpretations only strengthens the message, drawing visitors into stores.

This WSJ.com article titled "Urban Outfitters Fashions Growth Plan" by Jennifer Saranow from 8/27/2008 highlights what differentiates Urban Outfitters from a plethora of mostly colorless retailers.

Per the article "... employees create their own displays."

Urban Outfitters' CEO, Glen Senk, intends to "cap growth for each division at approximately 250 stores... rather than saturate the market with cookie-cutter stores." Additional expansion would result from new retail concepts instead.

Concepts like We The Free as described in DDI Magazine's "Urban Outfitters launches We The Free" from February 2009, or Terrain [see August 2008 DDI Magazine's "Retail offshoots abound despite tough economic environment"] the goal of which is to "transform the local garden center into an experience that celebrates the beauty and abundance of nature while offering an eclectic mix of garden-inspired products tailored for the contemporary consumer." [Note: digital copies of articles no longer available. Check out PSFK's Store Visit: Return To Terrain from 3/26/2009].

[Another PSFK article - Urban Outfitters gives artists a window for a message - further describes the company's commitment to creativity and community.]

This Fast Company interview with Melinda Davis and Glen Senk: Do You Offer Your Customers What They Really Want? further puts Urban Outfitters into perspective. Senk considers his organization 'customer experts' rather than 'category experts.' What a major difference. He refers to his stores as offering a sensorial experience and telling a story. His stores are like a community where people come to connect.

Customer experts.

Stores are places where people come to connect.

Wow! I consider that not only inspiring, but really unusual. Imagine if flooring stores became customer experts rather than flooring experts. If people came to connect in these flooring customer stores, how would that look?

For additional perspective on CEO Glen Senk, read Vignette on Urban Outfitters' CEO Glen Senk from Effortless Anthropologie; 1stdibs Introspective - Style Compass on Glen Senk and Keith Johnson; and from Conversation Agent Valeria Maltoni, No Advertising... and Thriving, Retail Style.

For historic perspective on Urban Outfitters, read Forbes' Urban Cowboy by Heidi Brown from 11.01.04; it refers to Glen Senk's appointment as CEO. Finally, Metropolis Magazine published "A Stitch in Time" in the May 2007 issue describing the company's new headquarters in Philadelphia's decommissioned navy yard.

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Ted Hurlbut said...

I am in complete agreement that UO is on the cutting edge of customer experience. They've taken a lifestyle concept, infused it with passion and creativity, and have earned a loyal and passionate customer. I feel I learn something new every time I visit one of their stores.

CB Whittemore said...

Ted, like you, I love visiting any of the UO stores. You've described perfectly what they've created. Thanks for adding that.

Andrew Weir said...

I like it (Offering a sensorial experiences and telling a story. Creating stores where people come to connect).
What a great way to delight consumers so they shop again and and maybe even tell their friends.
Loyalty and advocacy are goals for most brands/stores but, in my experience, few deliver brand experiences that delight consumers in the way you describe.

CB Whittemore said...

Andrew, I agree with you and hope that, as a result of the intense retail churn taking place, we see more brands/stores delivering such a delightful brand experience. It's a sure source of differentiation and long term success. Thanks for stopping by and adding your perspective.

Chelsea Bryan Knights said...

I adore Anthropologie and their visual displays; they are so creative! I often look to Anthro for inspiration when I design my own window displays, which I have been posting on my blog.

-Chelsea Knights

CB Whittemore said...

Chelsea, how wonderful that Anthropologie inspires your own window displays. Yours are beautiful! Thanks for sharing your creativity with us.

Anonymous said...

Tim Mathis (KG Partners) I don't disagree that UO has a compelling consumer experience. I however do disagree that this is an example of "retail innovation". Retail innovation is a discipline that leverages shopper insights for the purpose of reinventing categories, departments, or potentially the entire store. The end game is influencing the shopper or getting the shopper to do something different than they normally would on their own which in the end enhances the bottom line.

CB Whittemore said...

Tim, don't you think that UO's compelling consumer experience is the result of carefully mined shopper insights? There aren't too many retail organizations that disavow direct selling, preferring instead to let product and store environment sell to customers. The formula is so successful that shoppers spend more time and do buy, adding to the bottom line.

Thanks for adding your perspective.

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