Brand Retail Best Practices – Six Areas to Work on this Year

We had two rollercoaster years for the brand lifestyle industry around the globe. Reading the interim financial reports suggests that the majority of top brands have grown, despite pandemic and the global supply chain crisis.

And brand retail continuous to be an essential part of the past and future growth.

But brand retail has its own growth rollercoaster, with many brands expanding fast, celebrating flagships, stumbling financially, downsizing portfolios, adjusting concepts before they grow again.

Moncler, a recently very successful brand growing with brand retail (photo Moncler)

Retail Best Practices Wins

You will have read a lot of what makes brand retail successful. The more store KPIs and processes I see and analyse, the clearer it becomes to me, there are many factors that drive success. Still, there is possibly one pre-requisite that applies for all successful retailing brands: Excellence in operational retail practices.

But retail excellence continues to be a challenge especially post pandemic. To raise your awareness for your potentials I thought I’d nudge you with some practices to apply for your own brand retail. Examples are taken from my work and travel around the world* and demonstrate: Small store or mega flagship, mom & pop or corporate retail chains, best practices can be created from everyone and everywhere.

1 – ‘Standing-Out’ Store Appearance

Definition: The way a store stands out from its surroundings, catches the consumers’ eye and inspires them to cross the street and enter the store.

Commentary: A store is seldom stand-alone, but part of a shopping center or high street ensemble. Eyetracking research shows that browsing consumers typically receive 300+ retail and brand logos, VM messages within just 3 hrs of shopping. How much does your store stand out from the masses? How good are you at managing the 3 seconds it takes to get the consumer to cross the street? Have you invested in ‘standing-out retail’ or more in ‘outstanding retail’?

Retail Best Practices: When it comes to great store appearance, luxury brands have natural (financial) advantages over midmarket brands. Their store appearances stand out in many ways. But brands like Superdry, Desigual or H&M prove regularly that luxury is not a precondition for standing out. It seems rather that there is an operational muscle that such brands regularly train. Take a close look and reflect on which features you use to stand out from the masses of anonymous high street messaging.

Tip: Use a big screen and our lightbox to open the pictures in full size

 2 – Product ‘Hero’ Windows

Definition: Store windows are a retailer’s invitation to come visit the store. By creating new window campaigns every few weeks, brands aim at generating regular visits from the window footfall.

Commentary: If you consider that your retail windows are ‘store billboards’, the key campaign planning question becomes ‘How much branding, product or (sales) marketing do we want it to be?’ The answer is quite simple: ‘Product is always hero’. But, depending on the time of the season, your window traffic changes and needs a different message to be pulled into your store. Strong innovation messages are perfect at the beginning of a season, but a wasted investment towards season end, when 80% of window footfall is looking for special deals.

Retail Best Practices: If your brand is 80 % DTC and you don’t spend on any advertising, only your window is left to create in-store traffic. Inditex does so, and the result is 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. So once again, take a break and check out the gallery to reflect on your practice in window management!


3 – Sales Triggering Signage

Definition: Store signage consists of printed and digital aids that create brand and commercial messages. Signage is the store’s final add-on to make the visual merchandising work (‘the icing on the cake’). If executed well, signage creates brand experience and grows shoppers’ comfort in making a buy.

Commentary: We owe it to Pacco Underhill and Herb Sorensen and their excellent shopper tracking studies to understand what good store signage can do for sales. Considering that impulse buys in brand retail represent the largest share of sales, it is well worth checking whether your signage is mediocre or adds to your sales. Consider especially store peak times, when smart signage overcomes the void of sales clerk assistance. Think of signage as a brand’s in-store GPS that ensures consumers reach the cashier with full hands.

Retail Best Practices: At a careful analytical glance, brand stores exhibit many good practices. My favorite one from the gallery 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’ only. Check out the gallery for some inspiration!

4 – Sticky Storytelling

Definition: Many brands or collections aim to tell a story to differentiate themselves from the masses. Iconic products, wall tattoos, info displays or other features that help sharing small and big stories to grow the consumer’s brand.

Commentary: In times of global branding and mass tourism, 50% of your store visitors may not have any deeper knowledge of or prior relationship with your brand. And you only get one chance at making a first impression. So is it worth investing in making it a lasting impression? Keep in mind that for 80% of the time consumers spend in a store, their eyes browse for the next anchor point. It is highly unlikely, that you build a durable relationship by sending product messages only.

Retail Best Practices: Companies operating at best practice have standard store menus that explicitly add storytelling to their store design and VM. In four weeks from now, today’s visitors to the Ferrari store in Maranello are unlikely to remember the merchandise, but will recall the story about Enzo Ferrari’s ashtray. Retail best practice store design & VM creates small and large stories about the brand and its innovation to foster memorable brand impressions.

5- Check-Out Convenience

Definition: The cashier or check-out is the last stop on a consumer’s in-store journey. Those last 10 minutes of a store experience hold great potential for building a relationship.

Commentary: Consumers take pleasure in making a purchase and getting treated well. Just like online, some consumers hate an inefficient check-out process with a passion. An excellent sales clerk can build customer relationships, especially in the last 5 minutes of a store visit. But some consumers are simply in a rush or don’t appreciate chatty cashiers. And remember, while your staff invests 3-5 minutes to administer a purchase decision, the store fills up with new customers that may need a little nudge before they’re ready to buy.

Retail Best Practices: The gallery shares some examples to illustrate final few minutes of a buy. But allow me 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.


6 – Commercial 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 balancing a high share digital ‘toys’ while at the same time creating strong 4-Wall-Contributions. A ‘commercial’ flagship simply finds a balance between strong branding and strong financial 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-(still) great-store-examples” and know consumers don’t mind loving 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 Practices: Rest assured commercial flagship retail exists. Commercial flagships keep investment low and smartly combine retail best practices while focussing on sales and branding. With apologies to my friends in Herzo and Baltimore, Nike often wins this one: from the great flagship stores I saw.


And Now on to You!

Those of you that read in Brand Growth Inspiration regularly, know these six topics are just a snapshot of the many retail best practices you can go for.  Further examples include Rapha’s excellence in community building or Adidas’ key city strategy – But hey, the year has only just begun, and we will have more good posts to come!

But you should wait for new posts you should train your own operational ‘muscles’. Because in spite of all the disruption talk, millennial consumers continue to appreciate a great store experience as much as baby boomers did. And great consumer experiences are born out of retail best practices. So before you return to your ‘normal practice’, pick the 1-2 areas you want to invest into in 2022!

(Unless stated otherwise, all photos are (c) brand pilots)

About the Author:

Guido is a brand strategy coach with 30+ years of industry experience and consults with brand growth mission. Check with him to create or share your own best practices via email or read more from him here.

*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 are great experiences in travel and retail.


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