Why the future of luxury retail is all in the ‘experience’

Why the future of luxury retail is all in the ‘experience’

In a market servicing ever-more discerning consumers, the luxury retail sector needs to constantly innovate in order to stay relevant.

The concept of a ‘brandship’ store – an evolution of the flagship store, focused more on building brand identity than on product sales – is becoming increasingly popular in retail, particularly for companies at the luxury end of the market. Where once commentators claimed bricks and mortar shopping would be replaced by digital, now companies are renewing their investment in the in-store experience.

“People want a complete immersion in the lifestyle the brand is offering,” says George Gottl, CEO at global strategic design consultancy UXUS. “They buy luxury goods because they’re attracted to the brand’s image, so those aspects have to come to life.”

How individual companies set about doing this varies significantly, from the high-profile Nike Studio Beijing, which provides customers with a huge workout space and futuristic LED lighting, to the quirky JW Anderson concept store in Shoreditch, which has a rotating series of artistic exhibitions.

Bentley is also at the forefront of putting customer experience at the core of their in-store offering. The luxury car marque recently opened a brandship store in Dubai and the building has already become a landmark. “We wanted a destination that’s designed to sell cars and attract new customers, but that’s also a location for owners to feel at home in,” says Louise Burns, Head of Strategic Marketing Projects at Bentley.

The project has been overseen by Ahmed Al Habtoor, Chief Executive of Al Habtoor Motors, Bentley’s innovative retailer in the UAE. “To showcase Bentley somewhere that suited the Dubai skyline, we came up with this state-of-the-art, futuristic-style building,” he says. “It’s set over seven stories covered in 160,000 LED lights, which we use to play video and show imagery.”

The iconic exterior is matched inside by a unique space for customers to immerse themselves in the brand. A luxurious coffee bar welcomes guests before they go into the Mulliner Room – which Al Habtoor calls the “theatre of dreams” – where customers can personalise almost every detail of a car before they make a purchase. A roof terrace offers stunning views across Dubai and plays host to exclusive events.

“The touch point isn’t just when you sell the car – people can come here with their family, their business associates or on their own,” says Al Habtoor. “We wanted to bring it alive.”

Bentley sales have gone up 59 per cent since the store opened, but Al Habtoor is keen to point out that this isn’t simply down to the technology on show. “All the great innovations aren’t worth anything without a bespoke service,” he explains. “We want customers to be free to wander through the personalisation area and feel they own the brand – the salesman needs to listen and serve them, like a bespoke tailor.”

It is these details George Gottl believes are the future of luxury retail. “Brandships are living marketing experiences – less about the financial transaction and more about the emotional transaction. Stores must engage customers and create desire. The purchase can happen at a later date, but the important thing is to create that interest and affinity.”

For Louise Burns, it’s all about playing the long game. “We don’t want to disenfranchise our customers, but we’ve got to start talking to people who aren’t buying because we’re not in their sphere or they aren’t at that price point,” she says. “A big part of that is putting our brand where those people are. We want to sow those seeds so that when people get to that stage of wanting a car that gives them a bit more, Bentley is on their radar.”

Andrew Geekie, Senior Editor, SevenC3.

To hear more from Louise Burns and Bentley, join The Drum and SevenC3 on 18 October in London. Look out for more details at thedrum.com/events or email stine.mcneillis@seven.co.uk

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