At fashion lab, tech startups
are pointed toward success
Walk down Greene Street in Manhattan's SoHo district this week, and you'll get a glimpse of the retail store of the future — two of them, in fact.
At 131 Greene Street, online jewelry retailer BaubleBar has set up a pop-up shop replete with digital touchscreens and interactive displays. Open through August 13, shoppers can use in-store iPads to design and purchase jewelry personalized with their initials and other permutations. Interactive store displays, designed by Perch Interactive, use projections and sensors to serve up content when shoppers pick up individual pieces of jewelry on display. Visitors will also be encouraged to upload photos of themselves to the web via Olapic.
The store's digital enhancements are designed to bring the engagement and conversion-driving features of BaubleBar's website to a physical retail environment, BaubleBar co-founder Amy Jain said in a phone interview with Mashable last week. "On the website, we have a lot of editorial content about trends and how and when to wear [our jewelry]," Jain explains. "Finding out how to do that in a retail space was challenging."
Jain says the pop-up store is a way for BaubleBar to reach new customers that will continue shopping with the company online after the store closes. "Everything we do must be ROI positive," Jain says. "For that to happen, we needed to create a fun shopping experience [people] would talk about and then want to share with their friends. [The store] allows us to introduce the brand to new customers, who can touch and feel the product in person, then continue shopping on our site."
Just a few doors down at 121 Greene Street is the flagship store of Warby Parker, an ecommerce-native eyewear brand. At the store, which opened its doors in mid-April, visitors can sign up for $50 eye exams and try on glasses with the help of stylish, bespectacled store associates. There's also an Internet-connected photobooth that allows shoppers to share photos of their favorite pairs via email, or print them out in Polaroid-like strips on the spot.
Visitors may notice there's no storage space at the back of Warby Parker's store. While credit card payments are processed through in-store tablets, orders are executed through the same online system that fulfills orders from Warby Parker's website. Glasses are then mailed to customers, arriving about a week after the company is able to verify lens prescriptions.
These are the retail stores of the future: hyper-efficient, digitally enhanced showrooms that serve as physical storefronts for online retail operations.
In the two examples above, the stores are owned by digitally native retailers, but it's a trend being taken up by more traditional retailers as well.
Kate Spade is exploring new retail concepts with "Saturday," its recently launched "weekender" line. From now until July 7, passersby can stop at 154 Spring Street, 7 West 18th Street, 175 Orchard Street or 30 Gansevoort Street to browse and purchase goods from the line, which for now is only sold online in the U.S. and in brick-and-mortar stores in Japan. Orders will be delivered free by courier service within one hour in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. Couriers will even wait while customers try on the clothes they've ordered, and only take payment (via PayPal) for the items they decide to keep.
"We're redefining what it means to window shop," says Healey Cypher, head of retail innovation at eBay, which partnered with Kate Spade Saturday on the initiative. "There's no inventory and no [store associate]."
In Cypher's mind, the future of retail — physical and otherwise — is convenience. "Consumer expectations are drastically changing, and it's led by mobile. Consumers get what they want,where they want it," Cypher says.
"You're going to stop by a window, and by the time you get to Central Park, a courier will have a [Kate Spade Saturday] picnic blanket for you."
Other examples of futuristic retail concepts abound in Europeand Asia. On London's Regent Street, Burberry has unveileda forward-thinking brick-and-mortar establishment with full-length screens that wrap the store, transitioning between audio-visual content displays, live-streaming hubs and and mirrors. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips have been attached to certain clothes and accessories, so when a customer approaches one of the screens in a fitting room, specific content will appear — say, information about a bag's stitching and craftsmanship, or a video showing how a skirt was worn on the catwalk.
Christopher Bailey, chief creative officer of Burberry, says the store aims to bring Burberry's online experience, which is in some ways much richer than its traditional store experience, into that environment. "We put so much energy and design, and created all these unique experiences on Burberry.com, but we didn't have any physical version of them," Bailey toldMashable in an interview last fall. "We wanted, when you walked into the Regent Street store, to feel exactly the same atmosphere [as the website], [for you to be] able to engage with it in the same way that you might be able to engage online."
"That meant silly as well as tangible things," Bailey added. "We installed several hundred speakers and built a stage, as well as an in-and-out satellite link so we could stream live shows in, and stream out live gigs, all of which emulates the Burberry Acoustic site."
Each initiative marks an interesting reversal in the direction of store development. For the last two decades, retailers have done their best to replicate the in-store shopping experience online. Valentino.com even has its own store soundtrack. Now, retailers are doing the opposite, transforming the store from a venue for storing and selling merchandise to a digitally integrated space designed to engage and entertain — just like the web.