The biggest retail opening of 2018 was Coal Drops Yard in Kings Cross. This former Victorian railway sidings for coal coming into London from the north has been transformed, thanks to Thomas Heatherwick, into a contemporary retail destination.
Left - Koibird in Marylebone
While the kissing roofs are elegant and memorable, the rest of the development is less inspiring. The brand list is the type concocted by an architect who is shopping like a design magazine rather than the realities of retail in 2019. It feels a bit 10 years ago and doesn’t acknowledge the recent Guccification of the world. We really doesn’t need anymore boring “designer” shops.
A case in point is the Paul Smith store. Housed in the former Bagley’s nightclub, you’d expect some sort of crazy ecstasy interior: testament to the many clubbers who wore Paul Smith on the dance floor. But, no. There’s even a white wall.
It’s 2019 and we’re in the “Age of Bonkers” when it comes to retail and if a shop doesn’t have you reaching for your phone to take a picture straight away then they’re clearly doing something wrong. Retail needs to wow, it needs to shock, it needs to entertain, otherwise you can get everything else online.
You need people to mouth “that’s cool” when they walk in or see something, especially when you’re trying to create a destination, as is the case here. This isn’t need: this is visitor attraction with the hope of souvenirs purchased. It’s that excitement and rush of shoppers' adrenaline that makes people glad they left the house. It’s not just about being conceptual, it’s about fun, wit and being relatable and current.
We often forget how experimental retail once was. From the Victorian pioneers of the department store to the independent boutiques of the 60s to the cool minimalism of the 90s and this was all pre-internet. Now, it’s more important than ever to give physical retail a fighting chance and bonkers it should be.
Examples include Koibird in Marylebone and Gentle Monster, the Korean eyewear brand, who opened their first UK store on Soho’s Argyll Street last year, both creating and refreshing interiors that stimulate and keep people coming back.
The Koibird store recently closed for two months while the interior was changed from their beach concept to their ski store. Founder, Belma Gaudio, established Koibird out of her frustrations of not being able to find clothes to match her holiday destinations. The new ski concept is another instagrammable interior featuring the colourfully rounded Koibird “K”. “Koibird is on a mission to inject some much needed playfulness into skiwear.” Gaudio told British Vogue when she recently unveiled it.
Right - Gentle Monster Argyll Street, Soho
Gentle Monster, a Korean sunglasses and optical glasses brand founded by Hankook Kim, was established in Seoul in 2011. “I wanted the products to look as if they were being exhibited.” said Kim in 2016. Today, they have over 40 stores worldwide and employ 6 people to design its eyewear compared to 60 people to design the store visuals. This shows the priority of their interiors within the company and the Seoul flagship is transformed every 25 days.
While these types of continual makeovers can be expensive, it can also be minimised with enough imagination. This is the traditional idea of changing windows becoming a fully immersive and experiential retail experience.
Fragrance is something physical and as such, Ostens, a new perfume brand by Laurent Delafon and Christopher Yu, has created a pop-up store in Marylebone, to showcase its debut. Open until the end of February, it is an abstract showcase of their new brand.
“We love Gentle Monster, we love spaces that drag you in , that speak to your curiosity. And this is the main idea behind Ostens: olfactive curiosity and discovery through the exploration of the ingredients.” says Delafon.
“So, we set up the space in 3 distinct areas, part of ‘journey’ taking you from the ingredient to the perfume: the Rose oil from Isparta, in the neon lit front room, magnified and presented like an objet d’art.” he says.
"All the rooms are appealing, they are fun, they are instagramable, and they are attracting people that wouldn’t necessarily been attracted by a ‘normal’ perfume shop.” says Delafon. “If you create spaces that are enjoyable, exciting and surprising places for your consumers to interact with the brand, you enhance their experience, and you make the whole purchasing act much more than simply about the product.” he says.
“The idea is to change the whole set-up of the store every two months. Like an art gallery would change its exhibitions. We intend to move Ostens to a central location, where the store will be more of a white box in which we will be able to rotate sculptures, videos installations, theatre sets, interactive displays..To parody Magritte…’this is not a perfume shop’!” says Delafon.
Left - New fragrance brand, Ostens, launching with a bonkers pop-up shop in Marylebone
Retailers are fighting for people’s time. You need something to grab people’s attention, make them stop and have a desire to enter and explore. Half the battle is getting your product in front of people, then at least you have a chance of a sale.
The home page on Koibird’s website reads “Never Boring…” and this is exactly how physical retail needs to think.
French beauty company, L’Occitane, opened their huge - the largest in the world - new flagship store on London’s Regent Street last night. This isn’t just another standard branch, it’s spacious, has a luxurious yet homely finish and even has a Pierre Hermé macaroon counter to boot. It feels like a cross between an airport lounge and a store. It’s definitely somewhere you could happily spend time in.
Left - Upstairs at L'Occitane Regent Street February 2018
Anyway, chatting away, somebody mentioned their boyfriend had come into the store previously and was looking for hand cream. The sales assistant said it was upstairs. As he went upstairs another sales assistant came over and said, “You’re looking for hand cream?”.
Mind reading is a skill that modern retail needs. Clearly, the sales assistant, downstairs, had radioed ahead. Not only is this great service, it’s also a form of human cookies - the chain of information your internet journey/history leaves behind allowing brands to track your movements and also recommend appropriate stuff.
It’s not magic, it’s just clever data, and I, for one, don’t mind having things recommended for me or being reminded I looked at something previously. You can clear your history every now and again if it becomes annoying.
What this shows is a linked up journey in a physical store. The customer is looking for something and rather being lost somewhere on the journey or not finding what they want, the sales links became strong and would obviously have more conversion in sales with the added bonus of wowing the customer and making them feel they had received great service.
Right - The flower filled ceiling installation from above inside the new L'Occitane Regent Street store
This is what physical stores need in order to compete with online: sales assistants quickly talking to each other, directing the consumer and having that want to please and fulfil expectation.
I understand many stores are too busy, some of the time, for this type of individual attention, but many luxury brands can offer this type of service if the sale assistants are motivated. It’s about a personal, human touch, which in the future we will miss from online shopping and something that can become a physical store USP.
‘Human Cookies’, as a concept, would definitely put new meaning into a physical store’s customer journey.