TO BE OR NOT TO BE – THAT IS THE QUESTION FOR STORES

Have we reached peak retail in the UK and Europe? Data from the Local Data Company shows that 644 more stores have closed in the UK than opened by July 2016, a big jump on the trend of more or less the same openings and closings over the last few years. Add this distinctly lacklustre performance of European retail to the high profile closure of Banana Republic in the UK and the emerging picture is something of a retail retreat.

 Shop the Shopify way: We may have less shops, but this means more pop-ups, as brands still need to make face-to-face contact with their fanbase. For those who want to dig their toes into that scene, Shopify.com has released a POS set up that can work out of the box for anyone already on the platform. The buzzy Stylist Live show in London saw Bluebella.com, a fashion-forward young lingerie brand that’s held a pop-up there using the Shopify POS. They reported strong sales, as shoppers were keen to touch products to feel the fabric quality and then buy from the tablet for home delivery in two days. Way to go.

Try before you buy: Short-term pop-up tests also work on the actual street for the brands that want to put up a permanent shop. Miista.com, an up-and-coming footwear brand, is running a three-month pop-up in world-famous hipstery location Redchurch street in Shoreditch. Versus Versace, Ace and Kit, as well as a handful of funky shops, all made their homes there, but the price is high so pilot-before-you-commit for a three-year lease is the correct strategy. The pop-up installation is relatively straightforward as again the Shopify POS is adaptable for in-store sales via tablet. Add to this the attraction of the fabulous pop-up interior as a backdrop to customers’ selfies, and voila, Instagram content gets created for no additional budget by spreading the love and showing the styling of new, happy buyers.

When the store isn’t a store but a town square: Apple is a big brand battling for brick-and-mortar stores, opening new shops around the world. A smart combo of shiny tech products and new generation headphones makes magic for Apple, with their stores as beacons of hope for physical retail in retreat. In-store tech is focused on minimising hassle, with each sales assistant acting as a mobile cash till. However, even Apple is hesitant on the future of the store concept and calls their new stores ‘town squares’, with lines of products called ‘avenues’. If it takes $42bn per year (18% of their revenue) they can call it a space station for all we care; the key thing is that it’s on the high street and it works. Where Apple goes, competitors follow and Bangkok has just seen the opening of a new mobile phone store-theatre with Smart Tables, an Interactive E-wall and a Pay Anywhere facility. Watch the tech dudes for new retail concepts as no legacy means they can be adaptive to customer needs without worrying about the old IT baggage.

Karen Millen goes hi-tech: Karen Millen has ventured into the exotic London East End to set up a new pop-up experience. Under a disused railway arch, and surrounded by tech-hungry but fashion-savvy hipsters, we tested new digital solutions to examine what gets traction with the hi-tech shoppers. Use of RFID on each garment allowed us to pick a skirt and immediately see a triggered top photo on the screen next to the fitting room. RFID also helps to provide info on what is in each individual store’s stockroom, so you can check if that emergency little black dress is available in your nearest outlet. Then the customer can buy online and grab it after work on the way from the office to the Tube. Millen is currently developing new tech trials in the pop-up to then migrate to permanent stores once the new kit – including interactive mirrors and RFID – is proven. Nice work.

360 New York pop-ups: Kate Spade is in expansion mode in the US, with her brick-and-mortar store offering digitally enhanced 24hr shoppable windows. You can browse outside even in the middle of the night, select an item, purchase and choose delivery for home or for the store. The brand started online, but the tactile and sensual experiences of the products that can only be offered in physical stores made the brand re-consider their strategy and take advantage of the popularity of pop-up stores. The brand’s Fall 16 collection was shown in Rockefeller Centre and offered convenient online buying from tablets. Did we mention the garments were showcased on live models standing on a rotating pedestal? Way to guarantee a 360 product view!

No doubt that convenient Click & Collect and omni-channel returns services are the way forward for fashion retail stores. Providing the physical expression of the brand, the colour pallet, a place that is touchy-feely, has an unique smell, wraps you up in mood music and has cool knowledgeable sales assistants is still of immense value. We have the necessary ingredients, but which brand can make the delicious omni channel cake out of them? Contact The Retail Practice for support with omni-channel transformation. We are Shopify Partners and “full stack” retail gurus.