Physical retail is becoming less about the products that consumers take home, and more about the overall experience they have in-store.

With more digitally native brands expanding into brick-and-mortar, and a growing number of omni-channel retailers investing in digital features in-store – physical retail is becoming an exciting space (and a bigger part of brand building).

Here are five new and innovative examples for 2019.

Neiman Marcus Hudson Yards

It’s been a tricky few years for the luxury department store chain Neiman Marcus, with debts of nearly $5 billion (from two leveraged buyouts) still hanging over its head.

However, with new lender agreements and a period of relative stability, the retail chain is intent on upping its game, recently entering the battlefield that is luxury retail in New York City.

Its first-ever store in NYC has opened in Hudson Yards – a seven-story shopping centre inside a large-scale luxury development. With fierce competition from other high-end department stores including Saks and Macy’s in the same city, this Neiman Marcus store is much slicker than its other US outposts. Geoffroy van Raemdonck, CEO of Neiman Marcus Group said in a press release: “(It) will be all about providing physical and digital experiences in a way not seen at other stores, creating a personal customer experience that is seamless and magical.”

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Старый автомобиль такси не пропадёт: после серии капитальных ремонтов его остатки пустят на запчасти, или мексиканские рабочие отпилят половину и кряхтя затащат на четвёртый этаж молла. Где позже наикрутейшему из местных «десигнеров» после пятничного угара стукнется в голову замутить в авто цветочную клумбу. ⠀ Это творение какое-то время выставлялось в магазине “Neuman Marcus”, что на Hudson Yards. В данный момент текстуры клумбы никак не прогружаются – зайдя в магазин снова, я уже ничего не обнаружил. ⠀ Если внимательно присмотреться – этот автомобиль не имеет с такси ничего общего, кроме цвета, да и тот, слишком лимонный (но всё равно красивый). Здесь – стандартная версия Ford Crown Victoria, в то время как для такси использовались автомобили с удлинённой базой, которые имели более широкие задние двери – всё для удобства пассажиров. ⠀ ©howtwonyc2k19

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These ‘seamless and magical’ elements include beauty and spa treatment services, multiple food and beverage spots, a kitchen for live food demonstrations, a personal shopping suite, and even an in-store performance space (called Neiman Marcus Live). Note that all of these features are fluid and experience-based, as opposed to being centred around fixed or specific products or brands.

Interestingly, Neiman Marcus doesn’t see its NYC store as a huge revenue opportunity – especially considering it generates most sales online anyway. It’s surely hoping that it will benefit from footfall from Hudson Yards’ (eventual) thousands of residents and office workers, but as van Raemdonck explains, the chain is ultimately “going to New York to mature the customer relationship we have with the New Yorkers.”

Whether or not it will succeed among New York’s discerning luxury shoppers remains to be seen, but its impressive location and unique features is likely to at least generate a surge of interest.

Showfields NYC

A number of direct-to-consumer or online-only brands have already ventured into brick-and-mortar. Glossier, Casper, and AllBirds are just a few names that spring to mind.

Showfields, which is located in Bond Street in New York, is a new retail concept that is dedicated to housing new and up-and-coming ecommerce companies – most often brands that are unable to move into physical retail off their own back.

This ensure that Showfields somewhat lives up to its self-proclaimed title of ‘the most interesting store in the world’, sustaining consumer interest with its continuously evolving space. Each ‘room’ not only houses a different brand, but a completely different design and aim.

Showfields doesn’t only have new or unheard-of brands. Business Insider describes pop-ups from more established retailers like Daniel Wellington and Quip. Most ‘interesting’ of all perhaps is how the space integrates art and fashion design installations, which creates the feeling that visitors are inside a gallery or museum rather than a retail store.

This also makes Showfields a destination experience, generating interest from tourists and out-of-towners as well as local shoppers.

Reformation Notting Hill

After a successful pop-up in Selfridges, womenswear brand Reformation has opened its first permanent store in London’s Notting Hill. As well as a specific kind of fashion aesthetic, Reformation is known for its eco-friendly credentials, such as its packaging being 100% recyclable, and 75% of its clothing being made from sustainable materials. It also aims to become 100% zero waste across the board in future.

Naturally, Reformation’s London store reflects this brand purpose; it includes sustainable design features such as vintage furniture, eco-friendly fabrics, hangers and reusable totes.

However, the store is most notable for its integrated technology, which helps to create a seamless and pared-down shopping experience. There is minimal clothing out on display, but customers can access real-time stock information via various touch screens dotted around the store. Shoppers can use these touch screens (or an app on their own phone) to select what items they want to try on; the items are then sent directly to the fitting room where they appear in a hidden wardrobe. This means that customers do not have to interact with employees if they don’t want to.

In addition to this, Reformation’s fitting rooms also include different light settings and the option for shoppers to choose their own music while trying on clothes. These features are quite subtle but have a big impact on the customer experience.

Overall, Reformation’s store is bound to appeal to its already-loyal UK consumer-base, who are used to shopping online and having their items shipped internationally.

Walmart Intelligent Retail Lab

Earlier this year, Walmart opened its ‘Intelligent Retail Lab’ (or IRL for short) in a Walmart Neighbourhood Market in Levittown, New York. Described as a ‘store of the future’, IRL enables Walmart to test out AI technology in a large and busy working store – one that houses 30,000 items.

Currently, most of the technology comes in the form of AI-powered cameras, which are used to monitor inventory levels. From this, store employees will be notified when to (pre-emptively) refresh stock, so that customers never see empty or low-stocked shelves.

Another interesting part of IRL is how the technology is on show. Instead of being hidden away, it is showcased to creates a unique and futuristic store experience. There is a glass-encased data centre, for example, as well as a ‘Welcome Centre’ where customers can find out more about how the technology is being used. One of the coolest features is an interactive wall to help people understand how AI technology monitors and reacts to their body positioning.

There’s been a lot of talk about how Walmart IRL will affect employees. If, as it says, the technology helps to streamline and improve processes – will there still be a need for as many people working in-store? Walmart insists that the answer is yes. Mike Hanrahan, CEO of IRL, explains that “the technology has been built to improve associates’ jobs, to make their jobs more interesting, to help them alleviate some of the mundane tasks.”

In the short-term, the technology is unlikely to affect much. Going forward – and for consumers now visiting IRL – it certainly contributes to an impressive and innovative shopping experience.

Boots concept store

Boots can be found on near enough every high street and train station in the UK. In 2019, however, the health and beauty retailer has announced a brand new concept for its stores, and opened up a brand-new flagship site in London’s Covent Garden.

The 28,524 square foot flagship is largely focused on wellness and beauty, with the ground floor’s beauty hall housing a whopping 300 brands – including some that are new or exclusive to Boots (such as Fenty by Rihanna and Too Faced Cosmetics). This focus is cemented a YouTube studio for video makeovers, and a ‘selfie wall’ where consumers can take and share photos of their purchases.

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Perhaps the most innovative part of the store – for such a popular and widespread retail chain at least – is its sustainability elements. This includes a water refill station whereby consumers can top up their own water bottles for free.

While this might sound at odds with a store that sells plastic-bottled drinks, it’s certainly a sign that Boots is taking more responsibility. Another is the fact that Boots has completely banned plastic bags in the store, introducing paper ones as standard instead. This push is predicted to reduce plastic usage across the retail chain by 1,000 tonnes this year.

According to Sebastian James, Managing Director of Boots UK: “Our new Covent Garden store starts a journey of reinventing Boots for the future. We will learn what people love and want from this shop and this will help us shape a blueprint for our whole 2,500 store estate.”

Indeed, with 170-year-old chains like Boots reinventing themselves for modern consumers, it surely marks a sea-change for physical retail.

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