Department stores: Fix up and look sharp

Above, for 20.20, working with Liberty on the new Beauty Hall was as much of a theatre production as it was a retail design.

Sanela Lazic, wrote the following article for Retail Focus, June 2012 issue.

In the same way that fashion shows are about capturing the audience, department stores are about engaging your guests. In a sophisticated marketplace there is no longer any room for the obvious. This is the time to be bold and beautiful, says Sanela Lazic, client director for fashion at 20.20.

The mature mixed goods format is going through a much-needed renaissance in the 21st century, and customers are responding positively to brave new ideas presented in unique ways. Today, those who take risks will nurture rewarding relationships with ever discerning customers, gaining a loyalty that was previously only secured by the big fashion brands.

This year, the retail trends highlight that the future of apparel lies in smaller, niche brands while the fashion sector leaders proclaim the end of the high street’s dominance. This is brought on by a plethora of factors; the global shift in the economy and the rise in the appeal of online shopping, being two. Collectively, these factors are changing customers’ behaviour and expectations irreversibly.

With the competition intensifying from brands’ creating their own experiences and customer-centric product innovation, department stores must remain relevant and provide a differentiated, fashionable point of view. Yes, the commercial priority should be to drive margins and cut costs, but these large format ‘institutions’ will only survive with formula adjustments and serious investments in customer engagement.

To reach their true potential as multi-label fashion hubs, department stores need to set a new course and, in the process, minimise short-term reactive approaches and promotional ‘bandaid’ strategies.

Today’s savvy customers still find the ‘all under one roof’ format appealing as a democratic, classless place to be, nonetheless they have to be presented in a new guise – as strong hosts of brands and as fashion brands in their own right. These hubs need to manifest themselves as exclusive experiences either borne out of a unique narrative or an own label’s excellence.

The power of narrative should not be underestimated. It lends itself as a perfect differentiator and offers an escapism from a predictable hosted brands mix, these stories cut through to the time poor customers. Regardless of age or demographic, we all desire memorable moments and those retailers that can offer them will capture our minds and hearts. However, this narrative needs to be done with a meaning – woven with stories that come from within the store’s DNA.

Euphoria surrounds any store with an engaging narrative and who’s essence is expressed, strategically, at every customer touchpoint. For 20.20, working with Liberty on the new Beauty Hall was as much of a theatre production as it was retail store design. A seamless ‘transformation’ narrative was devised from which the design concepts were born. The narrative was based on our knowledge of Liberty’s discerning customer and their brand heritage with a forward vision for hosted brands and is evident in every exquisite element, from the fixtures and fittings through to the service model that needed to be about interaction and role play.

This simple emotional story, with a relevant message, touches customers in a powerful way that should not be owned by the hosted brands alone.
Further down the road from Liberty, an example that recently captured the media and customers’ imaginations was the launch of Stella McCartney’s new fragrance at Selfridges as part of their ‘World of Stella’ series of pop-up stores. The London store created a buzz around the launch by having the lady herself there to sign bottles of the new fragrance for the first 100 lucky customers. The pop-up beautifully captured the essence of the perfume and Stella herself. The event dug deep to reveal the person behind the label as Stella revealed that the new scent - L.I.L.Y. - is inspired not just by the ingredient flower, but by her mother’s nickname coined by her father: LILY, meaning ‘Linda I Love You’ – instantly creating a connection with the audience.

Individuality has become the key value that drives your customers while making their purchasing decisions. Officially, it is the end of ‘trends’ - the few key looks that would normally represent each season are slowly becoming a thing of the past. The options are multiplying, driven by customers’ desire to express different aspects of their lives and personality on an everyday basis – at home, at work and in social spheres. But also, designers and brands are distancing themselves from the idea of ‘fast fashion’, preferring to instead connect their collections with customers’ lifestyles. Suddenly, there is no formula other than it has to be inspiring and easy to shop.

20.20 has been working with a leading European department store to unleash the energy of their store’s own brand, analysing the assortment and putting it together as curated collections, so the store experience is fashion led and relevant to the target customers, and most importantly, unique to them.

Intimacy between a brand and its customers is at the core of today’s department stores retail, and own labels must sit at the epicentre of this experience.

However, this new intimacy should not to be mistaken with one-on-one experiences. On the contrary, to pull it off beautifully is a balance of using the store’s credibility and sheer scale to provide the juxtaposed brand mix in a personal context.

Even more so, it is imperative to identify the role your own labels can play by creating spaces that are cross merchandised – always blended with fashion stories, all considered within a flexible store format.

This is the future of an intimate, niche, yet very public affair.

Zara Weller
Posted on Wednesday June 27 2012 | Comments (0)