Physical spaces are becoming less about retail, but this doesn’t mark the end of the high street.
Progressive brands are using their stores as vehicles to maintain brand awareness through experiential over hard-sales.
We’re taking a deep dive into the high street names leading the way, and predict where this trend will go.
We’ve all been witness to the impact of the pandemic on consumer habits, and the great shift away from physical space into the digital realm. In 2021, there were 900 million more digital buyers than there were in 2020—a 4.4 percent year-over-year increase.
The pandemic may have accelerated the rate of change, but the tides were turning long before covid-19 entered the scene. For innovative brands this isn’t spelling the end for high street retail, it provides an opportunity for them to rethink the way they connect with their customers, and in turn, drive footfall back into physical spaces. Read on as we take a look at the leaders paving the way, and what we can learn from them.
Selling a lifestyle
It started with Apple. Pioneers of aspirational retail architecture, their monolithic stores are built to deliver brand experience rather than distribute product. Their cathedral-like spaces display products like precious artefacts and feel more like places of worship than a place for transaction. They sell a lifestyle, and despite the bulk of their sales not being made in-store, there are now 1.65 billion Apple devices in active use globally. And, in 2021, they became the largest company in the world by market capitalisation.
Taking things a step further in experience-led consumerism is Samsung. The brand’s 20,000 square-foot experience space in Kings Cross, Coal Drops Yard isn’t a shop at all. “They call it a digital playground”. There are no tills, only space for consumers to attend workshops, experience the latest technology first-hand and connect with people from all over the world.
Their innovation and progressive practices are what keep them growing, seeing them break the US$100 billion mark in 2021 and retaining its place as Asia’s most valuable brand, and the fifth most valuable globally.
Integrating eCommerce with experience
Another key player in the experiential-retail arena is Nike. Their approach combines bricks and mortar space with digital experience.
At the Niketown flagship play is prioritised over purchase, the in-store basketball court is kitted out with kinect sensors that capture body movements and display them on huge screens in front of players. Whilst cameras surround the treadmills to record runner’s gait, in turn helping them make a better choice of sneaker.
The brand uses in-store tech to create a fully connected shopping experience. Theatrics and playtime aside, data captured throughout the customer journey is available for the consumer to access at any time through the Nike app. And since Ecommerce now represents 21% of Nike’s total direct-to-consumer revenue, with 40% of that coming from its mobile apps, we expect to see Nike continuing to connect with their consumers through digitally integrated retail experiences such as their Niketown playground.
Multi-purpose retail space
Moving forward, we expect to see more multi-purpose retail environments dedicating space to experiential activations over retail.
Lululemon is a great example of this in action. Their stores are designed to connect consumers with the Lululemon lifestyle. Once a week, flagship stores push products aside to turn their spaces into yoga studios. Similarly, our content experience at the Regent Street flagship aligns brand messaging with a tangible takeaway for the consumer. Free to shoppers, the permanent photo booth installation invites customers to take a photo, write their intentions for their day and add it to the collective ‘visions and goals’ photo wall.
Another brand dedicating space in-store for activations is Vans. At the flagship opening on Oxford Street in 2019 we built a custom installation at the front of the store. Instead of product, the front half of the shop was used as a content curation hub where customers created GIF collages paying homage to the Vans signature aesthetic, enabling the brand to engage with their fans in a collaborative environment.
Whilst eCommerce can never replicate the physical experience of being within a shop, the survival of high street brands swings in the balance.
Multi-purpose retail environments will become the norm. Be that by reconfiguring layouts and setting aside flexible space for pop-up activations like Lululemon and Vans, or starting from scratch to build consumer playgrounds like Nike and Samsung, innovative brands will continue to prioritise the customer journey and brand experience ahead of in-store transactions. And those who don’t may just get left behind.