Retail renaissance: WGSN's Carla Buzasi on the brands creating unique customer experiences

The Drum has assembled an enviable panel of magnificent minds from the industry and beyond to identify the latest trends and brilliant ideas shaping our space. Here’s what’s been exciting them lately…

Carla Buzasi, global chief content officer at fashion trend forecaster WGSN, looks at how retailers are creating unique experiences.

Kit and Ace stores are equipped with dining tables

You probably don’t need another headline about how millennials are spending all their cash on experiences over actual things to go in their homes, or wear on their bodies, do you? Retailers certainly don’t, grappling as they are with a generation more likely to walk into their shop window while distracted by something on their smartphone than look into it.

So how do you persuade twentysomethings to spend their wages on clothes over, say, an invite-only dance festival on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic, or coldpressed cocktails from a pop-up bar in Dalston?

Some brands have it nailed and, unsurprisingly, it tends to be those who are using experiences to lure consumers in store, and then being exceptionally careful not to force-feed them product once they’re there (if it feels too commercial or, even worse, inauthentic, you’ll lose this generation’s interest faster than a post from their mum on Instagram).

Kit and Ace is a new Canadian brand from the family that launched Lululemon. Co-founder JJ Wilson is the son of Lululemon founder Chip, while his partner, Shannon, is also his step-mother and former chief designer at Lululemon.

The brand exploits the athleisure trend to its max, with a collection that features high-tech cashmere designs in sporty styles that are a step-up from the now ubiquitous Lululemon leggings beloved of yoga bunnies everywhere (even when they’re not working out). However, it’s not just the clothes that are appealing to a new, more relaxed, customer. Every Kit and Ace store is equipped with an eight-by-eight-foot dining table where managers throw monthly dinner parties for the ‘creative community’. Over food and drinks, they use the card game Real Talk to help kick-start conversation, against a backdrop of chic T-shirts and slouchy dresses.

Along similar lines, super-cool shoe brand Grenson has a social club that, instead of offering discounts to loyal customers, invites them to talks from like-minded creatives, tapping into their devotees’ need for constant stimulation.

But what about older consumers? Millenials might make all the headlines, but they still don’t have as much disposable income as their big brothers and sisters.

Clever retailers who want a slice of the more moneyed pie are relying on newness to attract consumers in store. In New York, Story switches out the brands it stocks every three to eight weeks – each refresh is a new ‘story’, hence the name. Here the experience is just as important as a lecture or lifestyle experience at some of the other brands so far mentioned, but the experience is still actual shopping. The owner of Story, Rachel Shechtman, calls her boutique a “trade show meets a living press release”, but insists it’s all about creating a “unique experience”.

What’s clear then, no matter which age group retailers are targeting, is that the unexpected always wins. Rows of clothes on metal hangers? We’ve been there, bought the T-shirt, and don’t want to buy the same one again.

Carla Buzasi will be speaking at The Drum’s retail breakfast on July 29th. If you work in retail or an agency representing a retail brand then you are eligible for a free place at this event. We are limiting the event to a maximum of 30 delegates. To register please visit the dedicated website by clicking here.

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