For NRF 2020 the vision (pun intended) for the HCL Retail Tour was to get our clients and partners thinking about the possibilities for how the store can help drive online traffic. We talk all the time about being ‘Experiential’, so we asked retail strategist and pop-up pioneer, Melissa Gonzalez, from The Lion’esque Group, who is an expert on new retail to lead a tour for us that would showcase ideas from leading brands. Melissa delivered – with 4 destinations, each different in their approach to delivering outstanding experiences!

Chanel Atelier – 120.5 Wooster St, Soho

I have to confess that as a typical man, I am not much of a shopper and felt as mismatched as the girl in the Campari Ads – oh how marketing has changed! I cannot remember the last time I was in a beauty store, but I have to say I was blown away by Chanel Atelier – a beauty workshop. With an unassuming entrance, we were suddenly transported into a new world and the future of retail!

The store immediately conveys a sense of luxury, not surprising given that it is one of the attributes I associate with the brand Chanel. The space is designed for play and discovery about all things Chanel. It’s not necessarily a place to buy, but a chance to experiment, to love or dislike products, with Chanel capturing your preferences and building your profile. With this information, Chanel can personalize how they engage with you, make it easier for you to order what you like, what you need, what you desire and ship directly to your home. Beyond the technology, glamour of the space and the personalization, to me the key to the experience were the associates – friendly, keen to help and extremely knowledgeable about the products, which made me want to delve into the men’s lotions and colognes.

My experience at Chanel Atelier, aligned with one of my takeaways from NRF this year, which was this element of how important the human touch or contact is, even in the digital world.

Reformation – 39 Bond St, Soho

Next stop Reformation in Soho – here was a content-lover’s dream approach to retail. In the store they have just one of everything, so the model is to build a ‘wardrobe’ which the associates collect from the storeroom for you and deliver to the dressing room for you to try on. While you wait or to help you through the selection process, screens in the store showcase everything you wanted to know about the product, with information and images to help you choose. Once in the changing room, another screen lets you select more items, change sizes and colors, with the associate helping you through every step of the process.

I loved the simplicity of Reformation, the clean lines and the ease of merchandising the store as you don’t have to have everything on the store floor. But I wondered how you manage inventory and handle any situations where you don’t have the customer size or color in stock, perhaps for an item that just sold out that day – I assume it is managed as you build your wardrobe but it didn’t think to ask. I also expect the associates may be kept busy building wardrobes and changing out items, so that when the store is busy, it would be difficult to build a connection with the consumer.

Next stop – the Meat Packing District in NYC!

Restoration Hardware – 9 9th Avenue

It felt like I was walking into a Mansion House, not unlike the Newport Mansions in Rhode Island! I can’t imagine a better backdrop for selling a piece of furniture, outfitting a room or a whole house. Here was a retailer that knows how to create an experience. Our host at Restoration Hardware told us that every week they have people walk off the street

asking to book a room. Up till now, they have to explain they are a store not a hotel, but later this year they will be able to oblige, and consumers will be able to stay in a house next door furnished in Restoration’s latest.

I loved the attention to detail throughout, the ability to eat in a Michelin-starred restaurant, although I hear that brunch on Sundays is always sold out – even though they don’t take reservations. Again, here was a store where you order what you want or like and have it shipped to your home. The in-store designers are there to help the consumer create the look that you want. With swatches of fabric displayed more like a library than in binders that you typically see. I’m willing to bet that every weekend the store is packed with consumers dreaming of what could be in their home and building a loyal customer base for Restoration Hardware.

Final stop – Staying in the Meat Packing District in NYC for

Neighborhood Goods – 75 9th Avenue

What struck me first when walking into Neighborhood Goods was the eclectic nature of the products on offer – books, plants, clothing, food, electronics – you name it, it was for sale. But what was more interesting as we listened to Lindsay Mason, the store manager, was how they curated the products they sold. Catering to predominantly direct-to-consumer brands, providing them a different route to market, Neighborhood Goods carefully selects who they bring into the store. Then they train the store associates to be storytellers for those brands, helping store visitors better understand the who, what and why behind a specific product in order to create a strong bond between the brand and (potential) buyer. Neighborhood Goods seeks to keep their offerings fresh, regularly rotating brands through to keep consumers coming back. They also collect huge amounts of analytics, both for the brands and for Neighborhood Goods, about the consumers behavior – how much time did they spend at a certain display? What did they do there? Did they engage with an associate and for how long?

The cool factor was very high as I browsed the displays of handcrafted, well designed items that I have never before heard of – making it very easy to find trendy products that made a statement both by being different and imparting a unique story (that you can of course share among your friends). Personally, I enjoyed this store the most due to the variety of products, the intense focus on the stories behind the brands, the “exclusive” feel of smaller, lesser known brands and the promise of fresh products to come. Hopefully they open one in Boston soon – until then, I’ll have to experience it through their online store.

 

For me the HCL Retail Tour was both educational and inspiring – it almost made me want to break the mold of a stereotypical man and become a shopper :).

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