Brands are using technology to help them reach a new audience on the high street without the usual associated costs involved in opening up a permanent store.
Online fashion sites Net-a-Porter and MyWardrobe have both used “virtual shopping windows” to create a physical touchpoint for their brands. Net-a-Porter opened augmented reality pop-up shop windows in New York, London, Berlin, Paris and Sydney to promote the launch of its exclusive Karl Lagerfeld collection in January.
For Net-a-Porter, the pop-up’s primary purpose was to create a buzz around the launch of the range, but the concept can also be used to introduce a brand to a new market.
Online luxury fashion retailer MyWardrobe used a virtual shopping wall in Oslo to support the launch of its online business in Norway. The window display was the first to be powered by Microsoft’s Kinetic technology, which is usually deployed in the gaming industry. It turned the storefront into an interactive version of the site that shoppers could control and browse by waving their hands in front of it.
It then used QR codes to redirect shoppers to the newly launched Norwegian mobile site so they could make their purchases online.
Kirsty Glenne, head of Scandinavia at MyWardrobe, says the initiative brought a new dimension to its online shopping experience. “It gave a taster of the brand and it made the website jump out and become real. It was really important for launching in a new market.
“Bloggers thought it was cool and picked it up quickly in terms of PR, but it has a long-term effect because it’s our strategy to lead on customer experience,” she adds.
The venture has also started a number of conversations within the business about other ways of bringing an interactive experience from online to offline.
The Kinetic window display was a temporary feature as part of the brand’s launch activity but the physical store will remain as a showroom so that MyWardrobe can keep a permanent physical space in Oslo and supplement the online operation with a click-and-collect service.
Department store John Lewis has also trialled a similar window initiative and is rolling out a new store format that marketing director Craig Inglis says will be its “most multichannel yet” in a bid to capitalise on the convergence of previously distinct shopping platforms (see case study, below).
Westfield shopping malls general manager of marketing Myf Ryan agrees it’s important for the business to respond to the rise of the online retail world and the convenience offered by browsing at the click of a button.
The shopping mall operator is this week hosting the second of two all-digital fashion events showcasing style innovations it believes will be commonplace in the future. Dubbed FutureFashion, Westfield claims the events at its London malls will bring to life elements of futuristic film Minority Report that are more real life than sci-fi, highlighting opportunities for retailers to gain a greater presence in its two London shopping centres.
The two events in Stratford and White City incorporated technologies like near-field communications (NFC), QR codes and touchscreens that gave access to fashion collections from retail brands present in each mall.
The touchscreens allow shoppers to browse the collections digitally and create their own looks by dragging items to a ‘canvas’ that then creates a shopping list of the items.
Consumers can then have these emailed to them for shopping later, or share them online via Facebook and Twitter.
They will also have access to QR codes that give them discount vouchers that can be redeemed against purchases in the physical stores at both Westfield sites.
The events also included what Westfield claims was the first mainstream 3D catwalk show via a pop-up cinema.
Ryan says: “FutureFashion aims to demonstrate the synergies between technology and retail and help both shoppers and retailers understand what retail can be like in the future. It’s important that we look at ways to include consumers in what we’re doing and pass ownership to them.”
Although the opportunities offered by advancements in technology give retailers almost unlimited scope to reach out to new audiences, and deepen engagement with existing shoppers, it’s not the only option.
Online shoe retailer StylistPick took a more traditional approach, using Westfield’s White City mall to open its first pop-up store for two weeks in February.
Subscribers to the online fashion club complete a style questionnaire, which StylistPick then uses to select a bespoke collection of accessories that it sends to members every month.
But the brand wanted to extend its reach with its temporary installation. StylistPick invited members to meet its stylists face-to-face at the pop-up store and browse its entire range, which included an exclusive collection of shoes designed by Cheryl Cole that launched in February. As part of the experience, Cole hosted an in-store event that gave members the opportunity to meet the pop-star-cum-designer.
Juliet Warkentin, StylistPick’s chief creative officer, says the Westfield pop-up was created to give the brand an opportunity to meet its customers and create a relationship by giving them a “fabulous experience”.
She adds: “It was about bringing our brand to the physical in an original way. Content is pivotal to retail so it’s about storytelling and communicating product messages in a new way.”
It’s not just fashion retailers that have brought together their online, offline and mobile operations in the form of virtual shopping experiences. Online grocer Ocado was the first to create a virtual shopping experience in the UK when it opened an interactive window at One New Change shopping centre in London as a way of bringing to life the mobile platforms it was launching and making shoppers aware that online shopping with Ocado was not restricted to being at home on a PC.
Ocado marketing director Matt Knight says the shopping window’s primary purpose was to get people excited about the new technologies the brand was offering rather than being a way to make sales.
Following the first event in London in October, Ocado has since replicated it in Bristol where it formed part of a local PR and advertising campaign to support its expansion around the UK.
Knight says that Ocado may well look to use it more frequently when it expands to a new region because temporary shopping windows enable Ocado to go to a new part of the country and get people excited about it and talking about the brand at the same time as experiencing it.
Knight adds: “The idea of having something physical is important and useful for all online businesses. It is a relatively low cost/low risk way to get a physical experience out there because it’s temporary and there’s not much infrastructure involved.”
In the same vein, catalogue retailer Argos, which has more than 700 stores around the UK and a significant online operation, trialled a pop-up ‘gift-box’ at two London train stations in the week before Christmas.
Commuters could use QR codes next to the product images to make purchases and arrange delivery to their local store that would be available to collect almost immediately.
Nicola Brown, advertising manager for Argos, says: “Our core audience understands that we’re an innovative brand but we wanted those who aren’t so familiar with us to reassess the products Argos offers and what the brand means. By having the pop-up opportunity in premium commuter locations, we surprised people with our range of products and prices.”
Opening a store in a different kind of location is another tactic that retailers are using to open up their brand to new audiences.
Luxury chocolate brand Maison du Chocolat is doing this with an outlet in Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5, positioned to get the brand in front of its international luxury shoppers. The Coffret boutique pop-up store, which opened in March, is modelled on Maison du Chocolat’s Coffret boxes and will sell exclusive variants of its product range.
The brand already has stores in prestigious UK locations, including Harrods and Selfridges, but is hoping that more international shoppers will be exposed to the brand (See case study, below).
Whether it’s bringing an online brand into the physical space for a temporary burst of activity or reaching out to new audiences with different kinds of stores, expanding through new channels is an obvious way for retail brands to connect with customers in unexpected ways that differentiate from rivals. And in this current climate, it seems to be a sensible move to use pop-up stores and virtual window technology to expand the brand on the high street without all the associated costs of investing in a permanent store.
Case study: John Lewis
John Lewis worked with its supermarket arm Waitrose in the run-up to Christmas to offer a range of its bestselling gifts via a shopping ‘wall’ in the windows of the grocery chain.
The initiative allowed shoppers to scan the images of gifts via a smartphone, access the John Lewis ecommerce site, buy the products online and arrange home delivery or to the Waitrose store.
And to capitalise on high street footfall on 27 December – when many stores on the high street are open but John Lewis is not – the department store put images of its best deals in the windows at seven of its shops so that post-Christmas bargain hunters could buy its promotional items via smartphones and QR codes.
John Lewis has also rolled out Wi-Fi to most of its existing stores and introduced a click-and-collect facility that allows customers to have items delivered to their local branch of Waitrose. It is now preparing to launch a new store format in October that marketing director Craig Inglis says is its “most multichannel yet”.
The retailer predicts that future growth will not be through its traditional large format department stores, but through a business that lets shoppers engage with it in the ways that are most convenient to them.
Case study: La Maison du Chocolat
The desire to reach international customers has led luxury chocolatier La Maison du Chocolat to use tactics that give it a global presence without the risks involved in opening lots of new stores around the world.
A major part of this is a travel retail strategy, with stores in airports. “It works for us because we have a lot of foreign customers,” explains chief executive Geoffroy d’Anglejan.
The luxury retailer has about 28 stores in five countries – France, UK, the US, Japan and Hong Kong, but by having shops in airports, d’Anglejan says it can attract international customers including those from Middle Eastern countries and Russia, where the business doesn’t have any stores.
Its most recent opening is at Heathrow Terminal 5, where the boutique pop-up shop is nestled among Gucci and Prada to ensure it maintains its luxury image.
The brand follows a strategy of adapting its service to the environment. D’Anglejan explains: “Terminal 2E [in Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris] has mainly international customers who usually have more than an hour for shopping, so our store caters to that. But in 2B, which mainly services European travellers who are in a hurry, we have adapted to serve customers quickly.”
The retailer is also turning to shopping centres to reach global shoppers. It opened in Westfield London, for example, because “it attracts a large number of international customers” says d’Anglejan. It means the brand can have a global presence without having to open stores in unfamiliar markets.
Pop-up stores is another tactic La Maison uses to test demand for a store. For example, it has a store in Tokyo, but has been testing demand for another one in Osaka.