The Retail sector is still facing a period of strong instability at worldwide level: on one side demand is timidly picking up again, on the other great uncertainty on the advancement prospects of physical distribution persists. In this scenario, though the store is still key to the relationship between companies and consumers, it is destined to undergo a deep transformation. The inception of new sales channels (first and foremost eCommerce) exonerates the store from being the point of access to products: the store becomes a connection location where consumers can experience effective and satisfying relations with the company.
The areas on which to work to innovate the physical store are multiple: from omnichannel integration to the offer of new services, through the introduction of digital innovations and the launch of new formats. In particular, the launch of new formats is a matter of continuous entrepreneurial excitement all over the world. With new formats, such as the temporary store, the experiential store, or showrooms, the traits of traditional points of sale appear different, changed: less floor space, direct internet access, and greater attention to the user experience.
Several national and international retailers are leveraging this pre-holiday season to experiment and innovate. The Christmas shopping rush, crowds of people on the streets and in stores and a greater inclination to purchase are a good testing ground to verify the effectiveness of these new formats. Kiehl’s, for example, opened a temporary store in Milan where customers can find out about products while they are having cocktails and participating in Christmas themed events. Dolce&Gabbana transformed the fourth floor of Harrods in London into a suggestive Christmas Market: an adorned Italian square with stalls displaying the brand’s products. And more: Disney opened an area within the department store La Rinascente in Milan dedicated to children’s Christmas gifts, where the little ones can have fun through recreational experiences with entertainers, themed activities and games.
What else is happening in Italy and the rest of the world in addition to these Christmas trials?
In Italy, Leroy Merlin opened two showrooms with the exhibition course divided by sector (kitchen and bathroom) to allow visitors to explore the products offered, also with the support of expert shop assistants. In the centre of Rome Ikea launched a small temporary store entirely dedicated to kitchens. And Woolrich recently opened an experiential store in Milan with particular features, such as the Ice Room, where it is possible to test the protection offered by parkas even at -20 degree temperatures, and the customization area where items can be personalized.
There are many interesting cases in other parts of the world. For Black Friday Amazon opened a temporary store with over 100 products that customers could purchase using the App’s scan and buy feature. In Berlin Hugo Boss launched a digital showroom, where visitors can view the entire collection on a touch screen table and instantly order their favourite items. Bonobos, Warby Parker, and Spartoo are testing “guideshops”, a new store model with no checkout. Customers evaluate the entire collection and try on clothes to identify the perfect fit, style and size to place an online order once back home or with the help of “guides” in the store. And also, Auchan in China launched the “Minute” formula: an entirely automated mini store of only 18 s.m. where customers with their smartphones are at the centre of the purchasing experience.
There are a great deal of projects and plans going on, and the main conclusions are two: if on one hand it is necessary to push towards a new store concept, rethinking the vendor-consumer relationship, on the other it is also true that there still isn’t a reference model that is unquestionably acknowledged as successful. We are still in an experimentation phase of innovative proposals, still verifying their attractiveness and cost effectiveness.