A twitter friend recently wrote, “We’re in a kind of fashion black hole right now, with nothing really lighting up sales.” When I read that, I sighed, as I’ve long been bored by same-old, same-old store designs, ubiquitous product, and the lack of service.
Look no further than Michael Kors, the current retail darling, whose sales continue to be strong. Following the brand’s announcement about its three level flagship in Soho, there were endless teasers about how the store was going to be revolutionary. Michael Kors is my favorite on Project Runway, and I hoped it would encapsulate him better than his normal, white lacquered store that looks like a brighter, newer version of the old Coach store designs. Instead the whole experience was a yawn.
The tone is immediately set with the eponymous handbags, shoes and jewelry, which seem to take strong inspiration from luxury pieces like the Cartier Love Bracelet, the Stella McCartney Falabella bags, and the Neverfull from Louis Vuitton. Rather than try to do something distinct with the store, I walked around wondering what the point of difference was between the Flagship and any other suburban store that seemingly has the exact merchandise.
The other two levels were not much better. Downstairs, the men’s store was a cliché with its small bar, pool table, overstuffed leather chairs, and tables with piles of generic v neck sweaters. On the top level, the women’s lifestyle collection was nicely displayed, but I had seen the same merchandise online and in other stores, leaving me disappointed, as I really like his clothes.
In any flagship, I want to feel the designer’s passion, where I am rewarded with a more heightened experience than the typical mall location. On his reality show, Michael Kors pushes the designers to be original; let’s see the same in his lifestyle store. Please collaborate with some of ex-Project Runway favorites. Give us Michael’s favorite looks? What about a more integrated experience with its online site and its social media followers? And then there’s the obvious of personalization: custom handbags (allow people to select the lining of their bags, embossment, or charms to hook on the bags), jewelry engravings, or custom soles allowing shoppers to put their own messages on the bottom of their shoes.
There are, however, retailers that have determined the secret sauce of repeat visits, brand loyalty, and strong experiences.
Mall staples Sephora and Anthropologie are particular stand-outs. Sephora’s staff greets you with a smile, but more importantly, they arrive from no where when I want to know the difference between Diorshow mascara and Lancome Definicils, all the while letting me know of new lines that offer similar awesomeness. The service experience continues when you pay, where Beauty Insiders (the loyalty program) are rewarded with a free gift, and samples are given out by the fistfuls. While my cartful of products is different every visit, the strong knowledge and great care offered is outstandingly consistent whenever I shop. And following any in-store purchase, I always receive an email from Sephora asking me to review the products. I love visiting Sephora.com, as the customer reviews are spot-on. Inevitably I end up buying more from the website, and the cycle continues. No wonder that the salesperson who rang me up last week was shocked when she said I had 2,000 points in my Beauty Bank. Clearly the brand is doing something right, as I confess, that equates to $2,000.
Anthropolgie grabs me at a different level. While I no longer consider myself an Anthropologie shopper, I never miss an occasion to pop in. While the word curate is very much overused these days, Anthropologie does just that. Every store offers unique experiences with different product, store design, and flair. The furnishings alone are worth a visit. Each Anthropologie location has what I call the snowflake formula: different enough that you want to meander through the store and take note of the clothing but similar enough that each store has a familiar feel. And while I am not sure it is an intended consequence, over time, I have come to favor the Shops at Waterside’s location best, as its assortment of jeans is the bar none.
The newbie to retail is Birchbox. Prior to receiving a six-month subscription as a gift, I had dismissed the concept: who needs random beauty and skin samples mailed to them each month? But after customizing my profile online and receiving two consecutive months of goodies that came beautifully wrapped and suited for my needs, I paid a visit to its first store in Soho. The store lay out is clean, offers beauty services like manicures and facials, and has lots of goods to sample in the store. I could easily find the products from my latest box, buy a ready-made box as a gift, or customize a subscription for someone, as the knowledgeable sales associate told me in a gentle manner. Because Birchbox is always adding new lines (and, in turn, samples to its boxes), it will keep me coming back to the store for more. This company fully understands the omni-channel experience, and relates well to a new generation of shoppers.
My will to shop is hardly gone, but my patience for Groundhog’s Day experiences has waned. Until stores start to capture the imagination with innovative product, great sales help, and different experiences, I suspect that the black hole of diminishing sales for many brands will continue.