On my recent trip to New York, I was really impressed by the innovations in physical retail that are shaping the customer experience on the high street. As described by a local investor, New York is a city where fashion, tech and creativity seamlessly integrate to spark innovation. Therefore, it is not a surprise that physical retail is more evolved here than in other regions and it is also a home / notable presence of several direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands.
In this short blog, I would like to summarise my key observations and provide some visual clues of stores/concepts that are representative of the overarching trends observed.
Please note that I am not a retail expert so that all these observations represent an “outside-in” view on the sector.
OBSERVATION 1: THE RISE OF EXPERIENCE STORES
Experience stores are a useful tool for companies with products that need to be experienced offline to fully grasp the potential of the products. This helps win over customers, who are less inclined to purchase online and reduces product return rate. Furthermore, it provides the brands with an opportunity to physically interact with its customer base.
The main purpose of the Sonos store is to let potential customers experience the sound of Sonos devices. The store has several closed cabins that are decorated as living rooms/bedrooms with different mood lights and themes. Furthermore, the sound system integrates various Sonos products (speakers, home sound systems), which can be turned on/off with a tablet so that potential customers have an opportunity to experience individual products but also the whole Sonos experience.
The Casper store utilises a similar concept. There are several little ‘houses’, which showcase different Casper mattresses that customers are encouraged to try. When you walk into a store, you are greeted by friendly employees, who give advice on how to ‘experience’ the mattresses. As an example, they explain that you have to lie on the mattress for at least three minutes to fully register the difference of the Casper mattress and provide advice on the suitability of the mattress product line. I obviously took the opportunity to test the mattress and it was definitely more comfortable than my current mattress! Finally, Casper has also expanded its product line, which now also includes pillows, bed frames, and bedding products.
OBSERVATION 2: INTELLIGENT CURATION DRIVEN BY DATA ANALYTICS
With the explosion in SKUs (Amazon has 400m+ SKUs), the need for curation has also increased. Online stores have the ability to curate potential product purchase ideas based on user behaviour, leveraging AI/ML. The use of analytics is now also penetrating the offline world, enabling intelligent curation of products.
In Sep-18, Amazon launched its 4-star store, “a physical store where everything for sale is rated 4 stars and above, is a top seller, or is new and trending on Amazon.com”. In my opinion, this store is a good place to purchase gifts as well as various Amazon devices (echo, kindle, ring products etc.). Furthermore, customers can pay with Amazon App, linking the offline world with Amazon’s online capabilities.
b8ta is a software-powered company, designed to make physical retail accessible for all. It was founded in 2015 and has received c.$38.5m in funding to date. Its investors include Macy’s and TriplePoint Capital. The company is “focused on building a new retail-as-a-service model with stores that let people experience products the way their makers intended.” They enable manufacturers (i) get into physical retail, (ii) manage the brand’s identity and (iii) capture live insights into capture rates, dwell times, discoveries and demos.
OBSERVATION 3: PHYSICAL PRESENCE FOR MANAGED MARKETPLACES
Managed marketplaces, especially pre-owned goods as well as rental platforms, are booming. However, given the service/value-add aspect of these types of marketplaces, a physical presence can be highly beneficial. It provides a physical touch point for both sellers and buyers.
The RealReal is a leader in authenticated luxury consignment marketplace, where you can buy and sell luxury goods from top designers. The company matches sellers with buyers and provides authentication services. The company was founded in 2011 and has received c. $288m in funding to date. Notable investors include Great Hill Partners, Springboard Growth Capital, Sandbridge Capital and PWP Growth Equity.
The physical store is huge and is spread across two floors. The products shown are curated and representative of their online offering and include clothes, watches, jewelry etc. Given its marketplace role, it also has meeting rooms and a coffee shop in the basement. The physical store also services as a physical drop-off for users to bring in their goods for consignment and have advice sessions with staff.
In case you are in New York, its worth visiting some of the emerging retail concepts. I have mapped some selected stores on Google Maps. To follow the list, please click here: https://goo.gl/maps/zM4tpHPzka92