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What are the best retail experiences out there? The Drum asks industry experts

Technology and retail are combining for a superior user experience

From the metaverse world of Gucci to the slick checkout at Uniqlo and ever-changing design of Flannels, to kick off The Drum’s Retail Deep Dive we caught up with industry experts on the retail experiences that have stood out to them.

Naeiri Zargarian, strategy director, Interbrand

One retail space that always blows me away is Louis Vuitton’s ever-rotating smaller ‘lab’ space (located in NY at 122 Greene St) beside its Soho flagship location. This smaller store is completely redone every few months to capture the brand imagery of a collaboration, or focus on a product line or collection.

This means everything from exterior paint, graphics and windows to a whole new interior design. There is nothing that remains from the previous concept, not even hooks or hangers. Currently, the space is used to showcase Virgil Abloh’s latest men’s collection. Previous to that was a ‘By the Pool’ concept for its summer beachwear (featuring tiles that made it seem you were underwater in a pool).

This rotating imaginarium proves Louis Vuitton’s commitment to artistry and experimentation (and sheer might). It takes merchandising to the next level and is made for the Instagram era. From a brand perspective, it also shows that Louis Vuitton is more interested in remixing its brand’s iconic elements and playing with the raw brand ingredients than being overly precious about this historic house (something other luxury brands struggle with).

Natasha Hulme, global strategy director, SEEN Group

If we’re shopping less IRL we want to make it count. Department stores will prioritize an innovative experience in a bid to keep customers in-store longer and shop floors will become more conceptual to keep things interesting.

Flannels is a really great example of this. Flannels has built a retail experience unlike traditional beauty halls, which are entirely guided by the politics of which brand ‘real estate’ goes where. Instead, Flannels Beauty is based around a modern understanding of how consumers engage with beauty and the consumer challenges traditional beauty halls have left unanswered.

Flannels has reinvented the traditional beauty hall to cater for a modern consumer mindset and reflect how consumers want to shop multiple brands, products and price points at once. It has also introduced the world’s first beauty changing rooms. These are interactive, digitally-connected private spaces that are designed for consumers to test, trial and play with products before purchasing.

The brand has also introduced a ‘Beauty Bar’. This space offers the latest ‘menu’ of trends, products and exclusive beauty collaborations, which can be enjoyed over coffee or cocktails. The Bar also offers ‘beauty hot-desks’ to support and collaborate with local beauty therapists, providing a place for the brilliant salon professionals who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

While many brands have pushed for digital experiences, and are using technology innovations in-store to improve experiences, Flannels has gone back to basics.

Mike White, chief executive and founder, Lively

When Tesla came on the scene, retail experiences changed forever. Mounting a significant challenge to the automotive industry’s approach to dealerships, the brand ditched out-of-town showrooms in favor of a high-street presence with tech-led streamlined marketing-to-sales processes. Its online content was compelling, and the minute you showed an interest you received an in-store invite.

And this was no ordinary store, either... this was the Tesla experience, with space used wisely. Think interactive walls and a single car as the focal point. The person you dealt with felt more like a designer than a salesperson, and before you knew it, you were designing your car on an app before the test drive. The design and quote were emailed soon after: a seamless and highly-personalized experience from start to finish.

Tesla’s approach led directly to industry innovation. Better still, with the tech used now available to people in their homes, automotive brands began to bring the retail experience to you.

The future of retail lies in this balance between real life and virtual. And interestingly, with the world moving between physical and virtual over the last 18 months, brands are finding that hybrid experiences are the strongest way to engage audiences.

Sam Williams, strategy director, AMV BBDO

While many dismiss them as niche, Lush now has over 1,000 stores across the globe and continues to impress me with its retail experience.

Love it or hate it, after a year of online shopping, visiting one of its stores is undoubtedly a feast for the senses. There is almost a theatrical element to your visit, with colorful live demonstrations in oversized sinks part and parcel of the experience. Customers are actively encouraged to interact with the products and the brand has recently integrated the ‘Lush lens’ into its mobile app, allowing you to delve deeper into the product stories and ingredients – an innovative way to deliver its commitment to ethics and transparency.

However, the thing that really stands out for me isn’t ‘cutting-edge’ technology, it’s the continued focus on exceptional customer service. It’s been a pleasure to go back to its stores and experience the enthusiasm and openness offered by Lush employees. The Lush team feels a really strong connection to the brand, which is why they’re known for always going that extra mile, striving to create friendly, memorable and personal interactions with shoppers that aren’t based just on money in the till – it’s this that will keep me coming back for more.

Ed Cox​, co‑founder and managing director, Yonder Media, part of the Beyond Collective

Brands that are experimenting with new routes to market, and creating richer online shopping experiences – making the digital more physical and shoppable – stand out for me at the moment as future-proofing themselves for increasingly hybrid shopping behaviors.

Gucci is front and center to this trend. It received a lot of coverage for its digital-only trainers back in the spring, and has continued to dip into gaming platforms via interesting collabs such as The North Face within Pokemon Go and partnerships within Roblox and wider esports. These initiatives include both paid and FOC items, so it would seem Gucci is using depth and breadth to explore, test and learn about the potential for digital-only products. With Burberry launching its first NFT with a gaming partnership, these platforms seem set to be the test beds of favor for innovation in this space.

Tom Belt, experience partner, Wunderman Thompson UK

Often the best experiences are when the mundane is transformed into the magical. Uniqlo has done so with its self-service checkouts. Gone are the days where you are asked to scan your items only for the process to be interrupted by the dreaded words: ‘Unexpected item in the bagging area.’ At Uniqlo, you simply place your items into a basket at the till and each individual item is recognized individually and instantly added to your bill. Not only does this make life simpler and faster, it also adds theater and creates an experience that must be seen to be believed.

For more on the reinvention of retail, check out The Drum’s Retail hub, where we explore everything from livestreaming e-commerce to AR shopping and conscious consumerism.

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