Inspiring Brand Retail Best Practices

Pick the brand retail best practices from 24* cities and 6 topic areas that will work for you. To a good start and comp growth in your new business year!

It was a good year for the brand lifestyle industry in Europe and the US. Reading interim reports suggests that the majority of top brands have grown despite challenges in wholesale and full price retail distribution. While not true for all, this goes to illustrate another year of beautiful distribution complexity and financial challenges.

If like me, you started your career in finance, you have seen many brands win and lose and become all the more determined to find success patterns for it.

A globally successful growing brand in 2017, Moncler (photo

Retail Best Practices Win Over Business Models

The bad news is that there is not one but hundreds of theories and, so far, no long-term study that stands out in providing safe guidance to growth and profit. I have to admit that for a long time I was a strong believer in Jim Collins’ research in From Good to Great. He impressed in 2001 when he correlated 20+ years Fortune 500 performance with his theories on strategy. Nearly two decades later, after the emergence of the internet as well as a major financial crisis, he has to admit that some of his ‘great’ companies have failed, and many of his ‘proven’ correlations didn’t make it in the New Millennium.

The more studies I read and the more brands and retailers I accompany on their growth path, the clearer it appears to me that a safe way to growth and profit relies less on the strategy than on organizational excellence. It seems that companies with durable success have a good strategy and ongoing determination to build excellent operational practices.

Brand Retail Best Practices from 24* Global Cities

As retail continues to be brand’s biggest distribution challenge, I thought I’d give you a head start to 2018 with plenty of best practice inspiration to choose from for your own brand. Examples are taken from my store photo collection of 24* cities in the US, Europe and Asia in 2017.

Dubai, one stop on my brand tour 2017 (photo brand pilots)

Naturally, these six topic areas taken from 200+ brand stores are not representative of the complete market, but they give a good snapshot of the many global retail best practices. And if you want them to, they can provide excellent inspiration to point you to potential operational reserves in your own retail.

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 in delivering positive 4-Wall-Contributions. A commercial flagship simply 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-(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 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 You!

24* retail cities, 200+ brand stores, and many impression. There are more best practices I should share, of course, like Lululemon’s excellence in community building or Adidas’ global capital strategy – but hey, the year has only just begun, and more good posts are to come!

But maybe it is more important that you check whether and how you have trained 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 2018!

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

About the Author:

Guido is a brand strategy coach with 20+ years of industry experience and continues his research and travels on a brand growth mission. Check in 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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