The likes of Amazon and Alibaba opened tech-heavy brick & mortar stores, but best practice commercial brand retail still lives elsewhere.
Sales reports of industry show that recent years were good for large parts of the lifestyle brand industry. Almost 4/5 of the top 100 European and US American lifestyle brands had a growth year, and for the most part did better than the year before. This was despite a global department store fallout and online growth and was largely based e.com and store growth.
Retail Best Practice Wins Over Business Models
But retail competition is increasing, as online pure players prepare to get ready for brick & mortar growth, as our research shows.
2018 we had Christoph testing Amazon Go and the year before I reviewed the Amazon bookstore. We consistently found that the online pure players’ stores were outstanding in innovation, use of tech and consumer experience. But the stores leaned towards brand flagships rather than commercial formats, and would likely be too costly for a big scale roll-out. But don’t let that fool you into a false sense of security. Online retailers excel at testing, fixing and iterating until ready to expand on a global scale. And online retail going brick & mortar is not the future, it is happening now and it is happening fast. A city like Berlin already has 20 such stores, and their presence is growing fast.
Prepare for Competition with Retail Best Practice
While online is testing brick & mortar grounds, how about staying ahead in what you’re already great at? Draw on decades of brand retail experience, and on all the expertise in balancing branding with commercial interests. That’s a solid asset and will stay one as long as you continue to create best practice across disciplines.
We started sharing brand best practices in this blog in 2017 and last year’s post of retail best practice became the by far most read and shared post in 2018. The success encouraged us to share more and so you’ll find this advanced new version, incorporating new store disciplines such as tourist retail or omnichannel best practice. All in all, we’ve collected over 100 concrete examples of best practice retail from around the globe.
1 – Best Practice Cross Channel Retailing
Definition: Store journeys most often begin online, when consumers prepare for a shopping trip, check new collections, special offers, store locations and opening hours.
Commentary: our assessment found four core areas for creating an excellent cross channel retail experience: the store locator, pre-shopping services, cross-channel communication, and after sales service. Brands have done a good job at building omnichannel practices, while online pure players trail behind. But that advantage is unlikely to last.
Retail Best Practice: Cross channel best practice can be as simple as a user-friendly store locator, or as sophisticated as a ‘click-and-reserve’ process. If you think that’s already a must, you’d be absolutely right. But testing just a few brands on these features made for big surprises. Currently, we commend the omnichannel practices of Esprit and Adidas, to mention just two of the excellent examples included in the following gallery.
Tip: Take your time to check out these examples and compare them with your own cross channel practice
2 – Best Practice Store Appearance
Definition: Store appearance is the way a store stands out from its external surroundings, catches consumers’ eyes, attracts them to cross the street and enter.
Commentary: a store is seldom stand-alone, but part of a shopping center or high street ensemble. Eye tracking research shows that browsing consumers typically face 300+ retail/brand logos or visual merchandise messages within 3 hrs of shopping. How much do your stores regularly stand out from the masses of messages? How good are you at getting consumers across the street? Have you invested in standing out?
Retail Best Practice: when it comes to great store appearance, luxury brands have financial advantages. But midmarket brands like Superdry, Desigual and even H&M prove luxury is not a precondition for standing out on the high street. Standing out is a muscle that those brands built and constantly train. So, take a close look at your own expansion and assess whether you make good use of your brand’s opportunities for standing out from anonymous high street messaging.
3 – Best Practice Retail Store Windows
Definition: Windows are the ultimate invitation to a visit. By creating attractive windows every couple of weeks, brands convert window footfall into a high number of store visits.
Commentary: retail windows are a store’s billboard. The key campaign planning question is ‘how much branding, product or (sales) marketing do we want it to have?’ Well, you won’t get much credit for good looks alone, but for outstanding brand experience and store contribution. Remember: ‘product is always hero’. Depending on the time of the season, your window traffic changes and needs a different message to be pulled into the store: innovation messages work well at the beginning of a season but are wasted towards season end, when 80% of window footfall is looking for special deals.
Retail Best Practice: if your brand is 80% own retail and you don’t spend on advertising, it is your window that creates in-store traffic. That’s the case for Inditex and the result is constantly strong product windows. Lacoste is an example to show that it doesn’t take fancy collections to create strong windows. Tommy Hilfiger is an example of aligning window campaigns with merchandise planning.
4 – Best Practice Brand Storytelling
Definition: a brand’s story and DNA is the one truly unique differentiator from all the competition. Iconic products, wall tattoos or info displays are just a few examples of how brands share their stories to grow consumers’ brand experience.
Commentary: in times of global branding and mass tourism, 50% of your store visitors may not have any deeper knowledge of your brand. And one more metric from eye tracking science: 80% of consumers’ time in a store, their eyes browse for the next product or brand anchor point. So influence it. Invest in brand storytelling to create a lasting impression.
Retail Best Practice: best practice retailers have standard store building menus, explicitly adding storytelling to store design and VM. Visitors to the Ferrari store in Maranello are unlikely to remember the store’s merchandise, but will recall the story about Enzo Ferrari’s ashtray. Retail best practice store design & VM creates great stories to foster memorable brand impressions.
Tip: Save this article for later to work on your own target list for best practice retail
5 – Best Practice Signage
Definition: store signage consists of printed and digital aids that create brand and commercial messages. If executed well, signage creates brand experience and grows shoppers’ desire to buy.
Commentary: we owe it to Paco Underhill and Herb Sorensen and their shopper tracking research to understand what good store signage can do for sales growth. Considering that impulse buys in brand retail represent the largest share of sales, it is well worth working on your signage to grow like for like. Especially consider store peak times, when smart signage overcomes the lack of sales clerk assistance. Think of signage as the in-store GPS that ensures consumers reach the cashier with full hands. Best Practice signage is a store’s ‘call to action’ to ensure that visitors don’t just browse.
Retail Best Practice: brand stores exhibit many good practices. My favourite one is Timberlands’ outlet signage. By nature, outlets are the ultimate signage challenge, consumers are determined to buy, but uncertain how price and products differ from concept stores. As is, outlet signage too often goes for ‘cheap’ alone. Check out the gallery for some inspiration!
6 – Best Practice Tourist Retail
Definition: tourists represent a significant share of store visitors in most major cities. Tourists look for memorabilia of any kind, and localised brand assortments are a great way to catch that share of consumption.
Commentary: extended weekend trips to small and large regional cities has become a popular pastime around the globe. Be the motivation business, cultural or fun, a stopover at popular shopping streets is almost always part of the trip. And tourists are usually in active spending mode with time on their hands to browse and impulse buy that new jumper. Or they want to bring home souvenirs for friends and family. In any case, tourists are a very attractive market segment to cater to.
Retail Best Practice: multi-language customer service is a must, but the Champions League of tourist retail is a localised assortment. Be it Nike Yellow Cab Sneakers in New York or Pandora’s Berlin charms – the creative example curated in the following gallery show that there is hardly a brand wanting to miss out on this opportunity.
7 – Check-Out Convenience
Definition: the check-out is the last stop on a consumer’s in-store journey. And it’s these last minutes that can convert a great the visit into a lasting impression with the potential for building a durable brand relationship.
Commentary: consumers take pleasure in making a purchase and being treated well. Just like online, some consumers passionately hate an inefficient check-out process. An excellent sales clerk can build customer relationships, especially in the last 5 minutes of a store visit. But some consumers are in a rush or simply dislike chatty cashiers. While your staff invests 3-5 minutes to administer a purchase decision, the store fills up with new customers who may need a little nudge before they’re ready to buy.
Retail Best Practice: this gallery shares some examples of the final few minutes of a purchase. I’d like to highlight Nike’s best practice retail check-out in particular. Think about the last time you shopped for footwear and recall the 15 minutes before being served with your size and color: a waste of time for in-and-out ‘need shoppers’ who already know what they want.
8 – Commercial Brand Flagship Retailing
Definition: a brand flagship is a brand store that stands out in design and appearance from a brand’s regular concept stores. Flagship stores tend to have their challenges in delivering positive 4-Wall-Contributions. A commercial flagship finds a balance between strong branding and good store paybacks.
Commentary: from the very beginning of brand retailing, brands have struggled with their flagship strategies, balancing their desire for great brand experiences with P&L needs. We owe the value and discount retailers a great number of ‘low-investment-but-great-store-examples’. We also know that consumers can love both, a pair of jeans from TKMaxx and a Gucci bag. Yet we struggle to imagine brand stores that feature both, low-cost build outs and a great consumer experience.
Retail Best Practice: rest assured, commercial flagship retail does exist. Commercial flagships keep investment low and smartly combine retail best practice while focussing on sales and branding. Nike wins this one by lengths: from the many great flagship stores I saw over the past 12 months, Nike’s flagship in Soho stands out in many ways.
And Now on to Your Own Retail Best Practice?
Eight categories and 100+ideas to pick from can sure be overwhelming. How about prioritising one category every other month? Feel free to get in touch with us to discuss your options and get our latest tips on how to inspire your team. Because, in spite of all the disruption talk, millennial consumers still value a great store experience. And great consumer experiences are only ever born out of retail best practice.
(Unless stated otherwise, all photos are © Brand Pilots)
About the Author:
*photos are all own, collected during working and visting Amsterdam, Baltimore, Bangkok, Barcelona, Berlin, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Dubai, Frankfurt, London, Los Angeles, New York, Munich, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Phnom Penh, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Siem Reap, Vancouver, Victoria, Vienna, Vientiane and Yangon.