Retail Column: Conference Failures And Curation Wins
Retail columnist Winston Wright critiques the GlobalShop conference and highlights his favorite instances of retail curation
Chicago. My kind of town? Yes and no.
Yes, I can’t help but gush a little about what’s happening on the Near North Side. The Tesla Showroom, Dior, Madewell—even Barney’s—all seemed fresh to my eye. Maybe it’s because it just “feels” different in Chicago than it does in New York; it feels more accessible, less intimidating, cleaner. Less cluttered. Somehow, current and friendly at the same time.
No, overall, and with very few exceptions, I was really disappointed in GlobalShop. I last attended this show in 2015 and, honestly, not a lot was really different three years later. Generally speaking, there was no new-ness. And where there was, it was in very expected iterative translations: sustainability, (somewhat in) hardware technology, fixture design and finishes.
In a panel interview about incubators, accelerators and R&D (in the Culture & Leadership track) at Shoptalk, Dana Randall, Head of Global Innovation at Tapestry, alerted the audience with a simple admonition, “Don’t build the house,” meaning: don’t boil the ocean. She said, too, “Make a smaller investment to test: learn what you need to learn; validate what you need to validate.”
In other words, don’t try to do so much so fast that it can’t be tested, measured and evaluated properly before it rolls out with unachievable KPIs and unreachable ROI. And that’s solid advice, particularly when social media and retail should be merging on to the same freeway while, by some appearances, they may collide approaching the very same on-ramp.
But I wanted to see “the house” at GlobalShop. I wanted—no, expected—to see solutions. This organization is obligated to both its member companies and, more importantly, its audience to champion collective thought as an agent of change, not a benign facilitator of it. Everybody who attended had, and still has, one question to be answered: “What, in actuality, am I going to do to save my stores?”
At GlobalShop, I wanted to see three thousand square feet of a collaborative, integrated, thoughtful, beautiful “Store of the Future.” I wanted to see fixtures designed to house technology that could (at minimum) count people. I wanted to see flooring enhanced with basic sensors—installation ready—that could clearly, easily and accurately map the traffic patterns in a location. I wanted to see mannequins outfitted with facial recognition software that has brains enough to identify blond women between 40 and 60 years old and track their shopping journey. I wanted demonstration of real data capture that discerns general age, gender, (maybe even) size of shopper and what they do between the bricks.
But that dream store wasn’t there. And it wasn’t there because an outdated ‘trade show’ mentality may be in play here, when there should be thought, insight, guidance and guts to develop and deliver content and context, rather than fill space on the floor. This show should have been smart enough to be an actionable part of the future instead of a reactionary observer of it.
There were, though, a couple of ignites for me. An honorable mention has to go out to Lab Designs Architectural Laminates. This stuff is gorgeous, particularity the eclipse series in black.
The only real data-capturing, cloud-inclusive, behavior-analyzing, disruptive (to this show) exhibitor was Scala (a unit of Stratacache). Scala’s doing more than just digital signs. Although the physical sensor hardware is slightly awkward, it works. And it works in the way it should. It captures touch, registers it and cranks it through its machine brain. In a really cool version, it captures nuances of multi-layered coffee drinks (like in that scene from “LA Story”). So, at the end of the day, your local Maison de Cafe has great insight into what you and your caffeinated cohorts are consuming.
Part of the point is this: Scala had the forethought to be at GlobalShop because they, (a) have a great product to sell, know the value of their product, and (c) understand that this level of experience and data is imperative to the change that needs to happen in brick and mortar.
There’s a reason that the Amazon super-table won the conference’s award for display of the year. Outform (and Amazon) deserved to win it. Ariel Haroush, Ben Chanoch and the Outform team designed and manufactured a table for Amazon in the Smart Home category at Best Buy stores nationwide. The concept and design intent were to create a display that stood out in a crowded electronics store and provided context for a customer to visualize and explore Alexa devices in a simulated home environment. The display features all Alexa devices and demonstrates interaction with Alexa-enabled products (including third-party products). The display is reconfigurable to easily add and remove products in a growing category.
In order to develop a “display” (man, I don’t like using that word for this design) that communicates and demonstrates everything there is to know about IoT in the home and is supported by mobile and all that stuff, one must comprehend everything there is to know about the category, the product, the retailer and the consumer.
Here’s my point: The people showing at GlobalShop need to thoroughly recognize and synthesize everything that was presented at Shoptalk. I, for one, would like to see these two shows blended into one. It’s the same audience and the industry message should be clearly stated.
There’s a gravity tug in the retail universe that may well be a greater “disturbance in the force” with context to exploration of that retail universe. There are interstellar fragments of curation out there that need visitation.
The Real Real is doing a really really good thing with its traveling pop-up store. I went to the last edition in the Forum Shops in Las Vegas. This is the textbook example of how native digital retailers understand the value of “kicking the tires.” They understand that part of their online value needs to be validated with an experience that substantiates the legitimacy of their offering. And, the proof is in the pudding with the fact that The Real Real’s SoHo pop up is now a SoHo permanent. This is gently, but definitively, collectivism and selectivism that’s good for us all. Rumor has it that the next temporary location will be in Los Angeles, and I hope it goes well and stays there as well.
Also bi-coastal is Best Made. If The Real Real skews more female, then Best Made is mostly for guys. Nonetheless, this is genuinely nice, genuinely thoughtful, genuinely genuine curation. The space (in New York at least) is small, comfortable and sensitive. My interaction with staff was delightful. No pressure, no pause. Just, well… nice.
If you’re in New York or will be soon treat yourself and go to 1 Crosby Street (at Howard Street, a half block north of Canal) and visit De Vera. There’s a 50/50 chance you might not relate to the selection in terms of something you would spend a lot of money on, but you will relate to the absolute beauty of this store. And, you’ll have the chance to experience retail curation at its very finest. It’s damn close to splendid.
And this leads me to a State of the Retail Union question: Is it time to reinvent the Catalog Showroom? (Wait… it is time to re-invent the Catalog Showroom.)
If you don’t remember Best Products or Service Merchandise (combined over 550 locations nationally, nearly that of Macy’s today) here’s how it worked: One chose to receive a massive printed catalog in the mail. Like any sort of catalog, you made your list and walked into a store to see it, touch it, examine it. Each item (and only one of each) in the catalog was lined up next to its numerical SKU like dominos with no formalized form of presentation. Soldiers of stuff, row after row.
You then filled out a form with the SKU numbers on it, dropped in into a slot somewhere on a wall and went to the checkout area. There, everything you had listed was pulled from a warehouse, sent down a belt and it was ready at the register where you paid for it.
What’s the 2018-2019 version of the Catalog Showroom? Keeping in mind that so many people have been complaining about “showrooming” for about a decade and haven’t really made an effort to combat it.
Is this a smaller space with merchandise beautifully displayed (curated) with small, elegant barcodes that you scan with your phone or tablet to add them to your cart, hit the send function on the app and your outfit, room or makeup gets picked and delivered to a central location, and you pay for it with one final ‘enter’ on your screen ?
One could argue that luxury retailers may have been doing their own version of curation from the outset. It’s easy when you’re going solo in a branded environment. But, where might such a notion fit in to more commoditized purchasing?
Amazon Go is certainly on the right track, but that’s small potatoes compared to specialized shopping in an experiential space. Could an entire store be one of everything, exquisitely presented in true lifestyle or category groups? Scan, save, send. And all the while, mannequins are watching, rugs are mapping, ficus trees are transmitting everthing that the GMM and the SVP stores want to know.
Just a few passing thoughts.
Winston Wright is a brand consultant in New York City. He has a professional passion for branding and brand communications, particularly how brands show themselves directly to the consumer. With a depth of experience in retail, having worked for Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s, over the past 20 years he has worked on “bringing brands to life” globally for Apple, Nokia and Jawbone. Most recently, he was on the Brand Consumer Marketing team at AOL.