On the back of Jordy and I heading over to the US for the WooCommerce conference earlier this month, we were able to check out the best US Retail stores San Francisco & New York had to offer.
Each city had their unique East Coast/West Coast styling, but there were some emerging trends across retail, brand and omnichannel commerce that we feel will soon filter down under…
Your favourite brands, personalised to you
One of the early themes that we picked up on is how many US brands are starting to offer customised products. They’re giving you the brand you love and have an affinity with, and letting you customise it to your own design style and personality.
While you need solid manufacturing and enough scale to make it profitable, I can see many markets that this could extend too.
Potential future customisations might include:
Upload your design to the Keep Cup website and have your own unique Keep Cup on your office desk.
Use Herschel Supply’s bag designer and have your own custom bag sent out. Everything is accessorised.
The US has shown us that the next layer in commerce is personalisation.
Here are 2 of our favourite examples…
Design your own Chucks with Converse
Tailor your own jeans with Levi’s
Give me a reason to buy it right now
In a world of Pinterest and smartphones, it’s all too easy to ‘save’ a product for later and walk away from a purchase. I can get it later, right?
Intelligent brands give you incentive to buy right now. We stumbled upon the Nike Lab, a Nike concept store that I’d been following on Instagram. The stuff you buy here isn’t available online. It’s special and limited edition. If you don’t buy it now you’ll miss out or be forced to buy it off eBay for 5x as much. Jordy was stopped on the street by 5 different people that day over his purchase!
Other brands without the cool factor and large audience make short run products. Whether it’s a Quiksilver shirt with a New York print on it or a body scrub in packaging limited to the first 500 buyers, you can create a sense of urgency that speeds up the time to purchase. Immediacy is harder to do for small brands but definitely possible.
It worked. We both left with some new sneakers from the Nike Lab
eCommerce and bricks & mortar are still different worlds
Perhaps because retailers are so focused on getting a sale while a customer is in the store, there’s very little crossover between online and offline brands. There’s no sense that any of these brands are online and certainly no merging of experiences. Even the fact that so many of us do our research online before heading into a store isn’t acknowledged.
The one exception was Bonobos, a brand that started out as pureplay eCommerce before opening several ‘Guideshops’ around major US cities so that you could try their clothes on before you went online to buy. There’s no register and you can’t walk away with any clothes. You simply try it on, get personalised one-on-one service and order through their laptops or when you get home if you liked something.
I bought a shirt in store (using their laptop) and the checkout experience took way longer than both a normal online purchase and a normal bricks & mortar purchase so they’ve got a bit of work to do closing that gap. I also missed the usual post-purchase instant gratification bricks and mortar gives.
Lookout for a separate blog post coming soon on Bonobos in-store payments & checkout.
Burton did have a pretty cool prop with an iPad imbedded into a log, but it was in the apparel section and we both thought that the only Burton products we would be requiring online research on would be snowboards, which have a large variance in specs and obviously are a bigger financial purchase than a ski jacket.
Next level retail experiences
Retailers in the US were hit far harder by the financial meltdown than we were in Australia. They needed to survive and adapt earlier and the result is in-store experiences that are far greater than anything that we have here.
Stores are one of two things:
- Big, seriously impressive and very expensive
- Small and carefully curated – These kind of stores don’t flock the shelves with items. They’ll have one of everything they sell and the rest of the stock out the back. It means a decluttered store that is easy to browse and creates a more relaxing experience.
Kith NYC (Big, Immersive Experience)
Kith was the most ridiculous retail store I’d ever been in. The sneaker & streetwear emporium felt like half museum and half retail store. The registers saw a flock of loyal customers waiting with credit card in hand.
Somewhere between the 10,000 HB pencils that lined a feature wall and the ceiling full of white sneakers, this place just had a buzz to it. You didn’t want to leave.
Plug: Always good to see our clients zanerobe in there (and Urban Outfitters, Barneys, Nordstrom and just about everywhere else) as well.
Saturdays Surf NYC (Curated)
Saturdays was easily our favourite. Walk in the door and you don’t see product, you see surf-themed props and a friendly face behind a coffee machine. All elements were complimentary to their aspirational brand aesthetic.
Staff aren’t salesy. In fact, they encourage you to buy a coffee and relax in their courtyard out the back (yep, they have a courtyard to escape from the hustle and bustle of Soho). Everyone that I saw come into the store stayed longer than 5 minutes and most bought something. They also loaded your bag up with a myriad of brand stickers to ensure you could spread your brand allegiance.
This was the area of brand building that the US really impressed me with.
The stores that do culture best think like they’re a human.
It’s like they say, ‘If I, Urban Outfitters, were a human, what would I like? Lets fill my store with things that represent my values. We’ll sell them but we won’t really make much money off them. Hell, some of them might just be props.’
By surrounding their brand with things like Kurt Kobain books, old school records and nostalgic cameras, Urban Outfitters felt more relatable to their fashionable 20-somethings market.
Burton did it with flasks and ukuleles.
Kith did it with coffee table books on erotic photography.
Google & Amazon Dominance
Google & Amazon are everywhere, for everything.
We saw heaps of Amazon & Google Shopping delivery vans on the road for all categories of shopping – food, clothing, electrical goods etc.
As their foothold grows in Australia, brands will need to give their customers strong reasons to shop directly through you and not them, otherwise it could be a race to the bottom on price.
Amazon and eBay together already account for approximately $2 out of every $5 spent online in America. That’s leaving $3 out of every $5 for everyone else to fight for.
Heavy on the hashtags
Like some social media experts, US Billboards and in-store signage weren’t short of a ‘hashtag’.
Many fashion, accessory and cosmetic brands all tried to capture post-purchase engagement with their customers by encouraging user generated content like… ‘Post yourself in your Calvins’.
Although not quite #thefrankeffect (which is social marketing genius), Chanel, Lancome & Calvin Klein, all featured a nominated hashtag as their sole messaging on prime real estate billboards we saw. It’s a trend that’s only growing because of the traceability.
Eventually, I believe brands will make it even more incentivised for loyal customers than ‘being featured on our gallery’ and start offering free product, store credit or exclusive event invites as both the tactic and social platforms mature to enable ecommerce transactions natively.
Collaborations are on the rise in a BIG way. Pharrell & G-Star, Vera Wang & H&M, Russell Westbrook & Barney’s. If you’re seen to have a marketable, hip, fashion edge to you as a celebrity, the big brands are willing to pay.
Sure, the large multi-national brands can buy celebrity star power in an attempt to influence and gain the loyal following their chosen star has, but there is nothing stopping smaller localised brands doing the same by pairing with local complimentary brands, artists or designers.
NYC Saturdays do it here – http://www.saturdaysnyc.com/artist-collaborators
US retail and brand are doing some great work, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. Online and Offline are still two different worlds. No-ones nailed the omnichannel experience yet.