So why Qatar, specifically?
Because in early August, Qatar Duty Free (QDF) at the country’s Hamad International Airport (HIA) launched a premium ‘fashion avenue’ called Viale di Lusso with – what else? – a fashion parade. Positioned as a ‘next generation luxury shopping and upscale food and beverage concept’, fashion brands represented on the premium avenue include Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Chloe, Jimmy Choo, Emporio Armani and Pucci, building on QDF’s existing collection of high-end brands. Viale di Lusso also features the first Valentino airport boutique in the Middle East. QDF said that although airport traffic levels are still low compared to 2019, sales were around 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, meaning that those who are there, are spending up big.
Food offerings in the premium avenue include a claimed airport world-first, the Emporio Armani Ristorante and Caffè, featuring Italian-inspired dishes and premium design touches. Nearby, a Starbucks Reserve café provides for those really serious about their coffee the opportunity to discover new ‘creations’ and rare and single-origin bean roasts.
QDF is planning 21 new shopping and food and beverage outlets during 2021 with the aim of transforming it into a premier destination in and of itself for international air travellers. Move over, Changi.
Elsewhere in travel retail, Dufry Group’s Hudsons chain in the US has announced plans to launch a new store-in-store ‘experience store’ concept called Evolve. Designed for larger store footprints, the Evolve concept will feature a number of brands in each store across seven categories around an outer wall ‘racetrack’ (my term).
Retail brand concessions include Sunglass Hut; electronics and audio specialist Brookstone; Lego; cosmetics and skincare from Burt’s Bees, Sally Hansen, L’Oreal and Covergirl; as well as retailers representing the health and wellness devices, travel bags, stationery, socks and underwear, and leather goods categories. The categories and brands ranged will vary by location. Shoppers will be able to checkout the traditional way, or via self-checkout kiosks, or via a roving staff member’s mobile POS terminal.
The first Evolve store is planned to open by the end of the northern summer at Nashville International Airport, followed by seven additional locations including Dallas Love Field Airport and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport.
Kroger takes in-store restaurants to new levels
Continuing the high end branded restaurant and café theme, further to Armani’s food provision in Qatar comes a café by luxury conglomerate Richemont’s Swiss watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoulture. Its ‘1931 café’ at its maison headquarters has been created to celebrate 90 years of its Reverso watch model. Given the era, the café features an art deco theme and cakes and pastries by the twice-gonged ‘pastry chef of the year’, Nina Metayer.
At the other end of the spectrum perhaps, US grocery chain Kroger is reinvigorating the in-store restaurant concept. No longer just the province of Target’s ubiquitous Panda Express front-of-store concessions, Kroger has partnered with Kitchen United, a provider of ‘off-premise’ restaurant kitchens. This enables shoppers to create a customised order across up to six restaurants on a single receipt by ordering onsite at Kroger stores via kiosks, or through the Kitchen United website and app. Restaurant staff prepare the orders, with shoppers able to pick up orders instore at Kroger, whilst they shop for groceries or elect to have their order delivered to their home by a third party provider.
E-commerce: Let’s get physical
Online retailers moving into physical stores is no longer new. Even before last week’s reports of Amazon potentially launching its own department stores, the e-commerce giant had already experimented with Amazon Go and Amazon Fresh. Or Alibaba’s Freshippo omnichannel stores, which launched in 2016 and now number 200 locations across China. In Freshippo stores, shoppers use QR codes to review product, sourcing and recipe information and can have fresh seafood prepared for dining in-store or delivery to home in 30 minutes.
Exemplifying ‘everything old is new again’, Alibaba’s new Store X is an evolution of the Freshippo concept, this time in the ‘club warehouse’ format popularised by Sam’s Club and Costco in the USA and Metro in Germany, all of which have been available in China for several years. In the world’s most digitally progressive country, it seems shoppers love driving to the store for the ‘treasure hunt’ and the wholesale prices. Club membership costs around $40 per year and provides customers benefits such as free delivery and grocery discounts across all Freshippo store formats.
Store X is aimed at families. Its circa 3,000 SKUs include fresh produce and family-sized packs of preprepared foods, including under the Freshippo Max private label brand which accounts for around 20 per cent of store sales. New product and recipe sampling stations are dotted throughout the store. It also features an ‘imports only’ department for categories such as baby, beauty, appliances and alcohol. In this section, shoppers scan QR codes on the products to add to cart and are then able to access their order within 30 minutes from a smart locker they access via a code sent to their phone.
Other services offered, in line with the warehouse club model, include pet grooming, auto repairs, optometry, and a ‘garden’ with fresh cut flowers. Shoppers are able to self-checkout and pay using QR codes and facial recognition, or scan the products they desire at shelf and have everything delivered to home.
Freshippo currently operates three Store X outlets and plans to open a further eight during 2021. Alibaba’s other store formats under the Freshippo brand include a ‘farmers market’ fresh produce-based store, meal takeaway outlets, and a convenience store.
At the temporary end of the ‘online retailer going physical’ spectrum, San Francisco-based premium accessories e-tailer Cuyana has launched a pop-up store that fits onto the bed of three flatbed SUVs. The ‘mobile store’ concept is a Toyota R&D project in collaboration with retail-specialist architecture firm BCJ. Whilst this two-storey modular stor has been designed to fit Cuyana’s brand personality and specifications, the interiors are easily swapped out to allow for use by different brands and retailers.
The intention is to provide retail and etail brands with a means of showcasing their wares in empty or underused urban spaces, rather than merely filling vacant storefronts. And it provides Toyota with a potential new market in manufacturing mobile and/or drivable stores.
The mobile Cuyana pop-up’s first placement was, ironically, at a shopping mall in Culver City, California, and it will be driven on to other cities across California in the coming months.