You heard it from the likes of Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson talking about the coffee giant’s mission to inspire and nurture the human spirit, one cup at a time, and from Under Armour’s founder and chairman Kevin Plank sharing the brand’s vision to build a human performance company that solves problems for consumers, rather than just selling them apparel and footwear products.
A cynical person might think it’s mere marketing spin; something to put on the “company values” page on the website. But in the age of Amazon, it’s the retailers that are thinking beyond their basic function of providing goods to customers that are thriving. Retailers that are coming up with creative ways to draw customers into their stores and keep them coming back, such as the new Nordstrom Local store in New York City, where shoppers can drop off online returns for any retailer, not just Nordstrom.
“Everything we do is about solving that consumer’s problem and making them better,” Plank said at the event.
“The bottom line of that is innovation, how we are innovating and solving problems for that consumer, that young athlete, that little boy or girl, where when they put Under Armour on, it’s a gift and a brand promise that makes them say, ‘When I wear this, I can do anything’.
“Because one thing we all know is that the world doesn’t need another capable apparel and footwear manufacturer. They need a dream, they need hope, and that’s the positioning that’s our best play.”
2. Art is the new tech in bricks-and-mortar stores
There was a period of time when automated stores and warehouses were all anyone could talk about. For some people, that is still the case today. Robots, artificial intelligence and machine learning are ushering in a new highly efficient, ultra-convenient and cost effective era in retail. But we’re beginning to see a backlash against this single-minded view, with some interesting examples of retailers using art to connect with consumers in a way that robots simply can’t. Showfields and Area15 are two good examples of this.
Showfields is a new department store in New York City that aims to make it as easy for direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands to open a physical store as it is for them to start selling online. But in addition to showcasing dozens of brands across four storeys in its 1400sqm department store, Showfields also features art exhibits, theatrical events and interactive experiences, which are constantly refreshed and open to the public.
Area15 is a newly opened 11,000sqm mall in the middle of Las Vegas. But in addition to the usual mix of retail tenants, it dedicates a significant portion of its space to art and entertainment. Last year, the mall collaborated with Meow Wolf, an art collective known for creating immersive art exhibits.
“We live in a world that’s highly focused on utility and hyper convenience,” said Dan Pelson, Area15’s COO. “What we’re bringing is the other side of that, a tangible experience, the ability to present things to consumers and humans who want to connect to culture and art.”
3. Everyone’s serving booze in stores
Another retail trend that emerged at the event, and, arguably, it’s one that has already made its way to Australian shores, is the boutique bar, the libation while you’re looking, the mid-shopping spree spritz. To put it simply, everyone’s serving booze in stores now.
Nordstrom’s co-president and CEO Erik Nordstrom put it succinctly when he said, “I don’t know why it took us so long to put drinking and shoes together, but it’s a great combination.” Inside the retailer’s flagship store in New York, located in the shoe department is indeed, a bar.
“To see how many customers were sitting on the couch, trying on shoes with a drink in their hand, there was just a different vibe. People were smiling, strangers were talking to each other,” he said.
Crate & Barrel’s CEO Neela Montgomery said she experienced a similar revelation when checking out the furniture company’s first full-service restaurant, The Table at Crate, which opened in a Chicago store last year. There were a surprising number of people enjoying lunch and a glass of wine at the bar, before presumably browsing the retailer’s wares after paying the bill.
“For us, it’s a great way to experience the brand in a different context,” Montgomery said. “Obviously it’s driven a lot of growth in traffic to the store, which is something we all need to think about.”
4. Influencers aren’t going away
Montgomery also spoke about Crate & Barrel’s use of micro-influencers, a relatively new move for the 58-year-old brand as it aims to reach the next generation of consumers in North America, where it has more than 100 bricks-and-mortar stores.
Crate & Barrel currently works with around 60 different micro-influencers, and isn’t afraid to let its customers advocate for the company.
“Increasingly, a brand is what other people say about you, not what you say about yourself,” Montgomery observed. “
Under Armour has embraced influencers in a much larger way. When it launched its global “The Only Way is Through” campaign last month, it did so by bringing 135 influencers representing an audience of more than 170 million to a three-day summit at its headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, in addition to top-tier athletes, such as Michael Phelps, Lindsay Vonn and Jordan Spieth.
“It’s a new day for us in how we’re communicating with the consumer,” Plank said. “It’s not just about signing an athlete, they wear their product on the field or on the court, and the next thing you know, the consumer is buying it. It’s connecting with them on a much different level.”
Heather McIlvaine travelled to NRF as a guest of Intel.