Tess Wicksteed: To Succeed, Retailers Must Learn From Luxe

Smaller stores may need to borrow from the minds of Prada and Whole Foods in order to succeed.

Technology has accelerated the scope and reach of retail innovation, making it an increasingly bespoke, tailored, and customer-centric experience. But why is this approach not better reflected — or integrated into — the real retail environment? It’s possible to design a new space, or a new experience — not just signpost another room. Luxury and high-end have already embraced this mindset, so it’s time for our supermarkets and retailers to realize the opportunity for themselves.

Wegmans has long been a leader with a series of firsts learnt from around the globe: taking us from in-store boulangeries to in-store sushi bars. Whole Foods created the experience of a marketplace, while Target is still the only retailer to consistently use collaborations with renowned experts, sharing kudos and giving niche brands a route to market — both of which reinforce and reignite the Target brand, as well. Private label has come a long way in recent years, but it’s still disappointing that household name retailers are slow to innovate.

So what is the future? We believe an answer can be found through ‘premiumization’: learning from the luxury sector allows us to experience the very best, the newest, and the most imaginative, and bring these attributes into our everyday lives.

Look at Prada — a store that has consistently changed the design, usage, and scope of its spaces. Thanks to success in the burgeoning Eastern luxury market, the brand recently launched a flagship in Osaka, Japan, having promised last year to open 160 new stores. The Osaka space was decorated by French-Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez and architect Roberto Baciocchi. Each floor was given an aesthetic of its own, housing a different section of the Prada collection.

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Burberry also remains one of the pacesetting pioneers of modern branded luxury. Its 360-degree experience brings digital elements to the physical retail arena, using them to educate the customer on the details and layers of their purchases. And with the introduction of its ‘Burberry Kisses’ campaign, consumers may interact not only with the brand, but with each other.

We need to look at how we use these kinds of examples to influence store layout more effectively. While premiumization is a growing opportunity area for our supermarket brands at a product level, we are not looking at how this can also be applied to the mass retail brand experience. Selfridges in London has always invested in partnerships with designers and is ahead of the curve with the opening of dedicated ‘denim’ and ‘shoe’ stores. Stocking 60 brands at all price points, from Topshop to Rag & Bone to 7 For All Mankind, this store-within-a-store now covers 26,000 square feet of space. Some Target stores have also implemented similar spacial innovations with themed in-store pop ups, but the idea can be taken further — and by many more retailers.

Maybe we expect this behavior more so from high-end stores, but why shouldn’t we expect it from our everyday ones, too? The way we shop has changed. We want our retailers to offer everyday and premium, and we want it all under one roof, but this doesn’t mean it has to be boring and rigidly functional. It’s not necessarily about resources or redesigning the brick-and-mortar space, but about finding clever, appropriate, and truly original ways to design and experience the existing space.

In the food industry, we see huge potential for retailers’ spaces to reflect this renaissance of creativity. Why aren’t they seizing the opportunity to explore these trends toward fantasy and aspiration? At Pearlfisher, we once imagined a blue-sky store experience called Seasonaire, an eclectic collection of seasonally themed foods in environments that evolve as the different foods come into season. This type of store expression engages consumers and provides retailers with an easy four-season structure in which to transform their space and extend new offers.

Last year’s opening of the Shibuya Hikarie tower in Tokyo is one exciting example of retail theming at a mass level. The tower aims to take shopping, dining, entertainment, and business to new, progressive levels, created to target women in the 20-40 age bracket with high levels of disposable income. Shibuya Hikarie includes ‘ShinQs,’ a new concept where each of a department store’s floors is given a different theme, such as ‘Relax’ or ‘Thrill,’ in place of Womenswear or Cosmetics. It also has ‘Switch Rooms,’ which are differently designed restrooms with special functions — like massage and oxygen bars — to ‘refresh’ oneself.

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We know that space is at a premium, so why not premiumize your space? Imagine: the supermarket of the future might just be a place that you actually want to be — an immersive, entertaining, and interactive experience.

Tess Wicksteed is Executive Vice President at Pearlfisher. Having worked at Pearlfisher for over 13 years, Tess is a strategic driver in the development of Pearlfisher New York. Tess’s great talent is her instant ability to see the wood for the trees. As a major force behind Pearlfisher’s strategic offer, she trades in originality, clarity and logic, delivering bold imaginative thinking for brands like Coca-Cola, Absolut, Unilever, and Nestle.

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