As bricks and mortar retailers turn to new ways of enticing shoppers, we sent Emily Hunt and the team at Simpson Carpenter to some of London's top shops to check out the key trends and tech pulling in the crowds this Christmas.
Key trends of the moment include a mix of storytelling through retail design, personalisation, a genuinely warm and friendly experience, curation of an amazing collection and the use of technology. This is not the moment to be opening a high-end retail experience with frosty assistants, a huge mass-produced collection and an impersonal feel.
To part people from their pounds right now, an engaging space filled with a careful selection of items and attentive, friendly staff is key. And it helps to keep shoppers fuelled: we saw evidence of everything from cafes to juice bars to cocktail bars creating a positive shopping atmosphere and keeping everyone going.
And in this Christmas season, it should be noted that the only place we heard overt Christmas music was in the humidor at Alfred Dunhill’s Bourdon House.
Walking into the Audi City concept store in Mayfair could be a dream come true. Floor to ceiling screens are paired with in-floor controls that allow the casual shopper to dance their way to their ideal Audi.
For the more detail oriented, large touch screen panels allow you to pick each detail of your next car and save the spec for purchasing. And all this without the pressure of any sales staff on floor. This space is for playing, and that is what sells. Apparently, the sales average for the store has doubled since Audi removed all but four cars from the store and replaced them with a more virtual experience.
But aspects feel dated. This is 2014, and I want to be able to share to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, whatever, with a simple swipe. Here, you can’t. To keep on top of the virtual prize, Audi needs to be ahead of the curve, and the space is slowly falling behind. The technology can feel like tech for tech’s sake at times. It would be great to see what the next version of this concept would be.
Trend to watch: Personalisation through technology, use of technology
Dover Street Market
The Dover Street Market brings elite brands to an edgy street market-like setting. The changing room looks like a disused port-a-loo. There is a giant shed made from re-used materials in the middle of the space. High ceilings, big windows and a variety of tables and cases draw shoppers deeper into the space. Browsing just happens. This is a gallery of couture that focuses on design rather than brand.
There is something about the space that fundamentally works: I wanted one of everything. (Except perhaps for the £1370 gold-plated Coke tab necklace. I still looked at it though.) And that, right there, is what is working. The Dover Street Market makes some of these higher-end items feel more accessible to real people than they would as displayed in Harrods. If you feel at home browsing in an East London market or Paris flea market, Dover Street Market could help you comfortably spend £97 on a Frozen themed canvas shopper. Yes really.
Trend to watch: Accessibility of high end brands
Wolf & Badger
While the Dover Street Market is set up to look like a street market, Wolf & Badger is more or less run like one. As some of the most influential luxury trend spotters of the moment, Wolf & Badger curate a collection of up-and-comers and rent them display spaces which can start from the hundreds of pounds for a month, rather than the thousands. The Mayfair location is bursting at the seams, and feels slightly like an antiques arcade.
Not all items have price tags, which is more accidental than anything as designers are constantly refreshing their offerings. Prices for pieces are fairly reasonable, and shoppers feel like they are getting in early on the discovery of one of the next great designers.
And if you need fuel to help you dig through the collections for treasure, there is a cold pressed juice bar downstairs.
Trends to watch: Curation and talent spotting, storytelling, shopping fuel
Despite the super luxury store design, the new Victoria Beckham store is supposed to feel welcoming to all. And shockingly, it rather does.
The door slides open to reveal beautiful space, clothes and staff. Dresses hang from racks with ample space between each piece – it almost feels like a museum display, or at the very least that one of the model-like staff members spent the morning with a ruler making sure that each gap was perfect.
It sounds like it should be cold and off-putting, but the staff members are seriously welcoming even to a pack of window shoppers who are never going to buy. Some of the dresses are more affordable than imagined (If £650 is your idea of affordable). Visitors are welcomed to touch, try on and experience the products.
The combination of the very luxe space and the very warm staff is what works. It will be interesting to see how this holds up in 2015.
Trends to watch: Accessibility of high end brands. friendliness and warmth of experience
Time stops in Floris, the perfumery founded in 1730. A uniformed gentleman opens the door and welcomes each shopper inside. What’s old is new again: Floris doesn’t need to be taught about personalisation and warmth of staff – it has it in spades, in addition to a rich history and shelves of tchotchke to show for it. At Floris, you can buy the Queen’s Eau de Toilette or have your own custom blend, personalised to recapture memories or emotions.
There are things that could be changed to improve the space, but I won’t suggest them, because some things should be left untouched.
Trends to watch: Personalisation, warmth of experience, what’s old is new again
Opened at the end of October, Maison Assouline on Piccadilly is the first flagship store for the brand outside of France. This is almost more of a gallery space designed to tell the story of a brand and set out its future intentions, rather than a store.
Maison Assouline is a book publisher, but aside from the very large-format coffee table books decorating the walls and the pageantry of a book binder on the ground floor, there is little to convey this within the shop. There is a cocktail bar at the entrance. The upstairs showrooms are filled to the brim with interesting objects – perhaps an interior designer's dream (or nightmare). Nothing really feels like it's for sale, and it be about as odd to ask to have something boxed up as it would if you asked the same in the British Museum.
Definitely worth watching to see how it establishes itself.
Trends to watch: Shopping fuel, pageantry, storytelling
We all remember, with some horror, what happened to Burberry. Many thought it would never come back. But by the time Emma Watson became the face of the brand in 2009, things were already headed back in the right direction. When the world flagship store for the brand opened in 2012, pretty much all was forgiven. The store is a marvel and proof of the turnaround.
People wander in off of the street to see the space as it glows with warmth. The large screen draws them to the centre of the space. Staff members had input into the design of the store, and it has a lively feel. There are more assistants than shoppers and their friendliness is engaging. The space works hard – perhaps too hard – to use technology to bring products to life.
The store is designed to feel almost like walking into a well-designed website. The huge indoor screen is intended to wow, the 'magic' mirrors in the dressing room are to delight, but the product story screens seem to hardly work and require a sales person to place a handbag on a pedestal and let the screen do the showing off of the wares. Most people would, assumably, rather touch and feel their potential purchase than watch a 3D rendering, but this assumption has been proven wrong before (see above – Audi City).
It doesn’t feel quite so new now. How will it next evolve the technology inside to keep the space feeling fresh?
Trends to watch: Use of technology, pageantry, warmth of experience, storytelling
Cheap Monday / Monki / & Other Stories
H&M carries its own meaning for everyone. Much like Topshop, it seems to be a love it or hate it brand. Cheap Monday, Monki, & Other Stories are all H&M sub-brands, but the stores couldn’t feel further from the mothership, or each other. Cheap Monday keeps its Scandinavian cool, Monki has as its quirks and & Other Stories (pictured above) brings luxe down to the ground.
They hit slightly different targets than H&M, and are all clearly engaging in storytelling through their displays. Their success lies in being able to maintain separate positions for their sub brands without muddling their messages by trying to target too broad an audience. Cheap Monday, Monki and & Other Stories get the retail expertise of H&M, but none (or at least less) of the baggage. Of course, where does the fracturing end? How many sub brands can, or should, H&M support?
Trends to watch: Storytelling, targeting
Liberty London Must Haves
Liberty is one of those beautiful places where the world outside melts the moment you walk in the door. No matter the hustle and bustle within – and that hustle and bustle has markedly increased in the last few years – there is still a tranquility within Liberty that is unmistakable and unmissable. From the entrance at the chocolate shop, or the handbag shop, the beauty floor, next to the hats or by the cards, each entrance pulls you into a classic shopping experience.
But make no mistake, this is no dusty maiden aunt of a shop. The place is quietly rocking out and bringing the outside world in, particularly through its word of mouth driven 'Must Haves' section. The tables brim over with everything from Aragon oil to horse shampoo to pink Himalayan bath salt. Nothing looks like it belongs just one room over from the Liberty Print festooned ship mast in the centre of the main hall. This is not luxe. It is, however, fabulous curation and a table of winning items.
Trends to watch: What’s old is new again, storytelling, curation and talent spotting
Topman/Dolce & Gabanna Man/Alfred Dunhill’s Bourdon House
From the bottom end to the top, there is a revolution going on in the menswear world. What has been de rigour on the women’s side – personal shopping, spa services etc – is coming into its for the men.
Want a personal shopping experience with no minimum spend? Head to the top floor of Oxford Street’s Topshop. Want a close shave in sumptuous club-like surroundings? Head to Dolce & Gabanna Man on New Bond Street. Want a bespoke suit, measured, cut and sewn in-house and with your details on file so that you can pick up a new suit easily in China? Try out Alfred Dunhill’s Bourdon House. (I’d suggest you also try to have a chat with the man who runs the humidor while you are there).
Bringing a sense of club and sophistication, these men’s specialists are drawing in a crowd and giving them the most personal experience they can.
Trends to watch: Personalisation, what’s old is new again, storytelling
One last tip, go see Phoebe at Alfred Dunhill’s Bourdon House. She is one of London’s treasures and the embodiment of the trend we saw towards personalisation and warmth of experience.
Emily Hunt is head of strategic insights and innovation at Simpson Carpenter. You can find her on Twitter @emilyinpublic