If you, like we, closely follow retail and technology news in fashion, you’ll consistently be boarded with the same few angles. Physical retail is dead or ecommerce has far eclipsed physical stores. Big box, industry (American Eagle) and mall brands (Wet Seal, True Religion, Aerosoles) are closing faster than inventories at a Target collaboration and this is evidenced at legacy (Abercrombie & Fitch), designer (BCBG Max Azria) and affordable (Payless Shoesource) levels of fashion. In a perfect maelstrom of scenarios, historic levels of customer preferences, infinite and vastly more convenient virtual catalogs and increasing labor, warehousing and real estate costs are overlaying onto a more sophisticated customer that demands high levels of personalization, accessibility and convenience across the board. From another angle, customers are becoming increasingly global leaving brands to deal with the murky waters of international logistics and customs or the poison pill of physical retail in another market. If this all sounds grave, that’s largely from industry takes on the future of retail, but Marie Claire teamed up with MasterCard to present something different.
Why not view the rising real estate costs as an opportunity to scale back and create curated retail spaces a la Story or the Birdcage at Lord &Taylor? If customers shop and compare with their phones, then why not use that as the method of purchase, making for seamless integrated purchasing a la Amazon Stores or now Marie Claire? If it is difficult and costly to bring customers to the store, why not making the outing an experience to meet true experts that share personalized insights, fitness and style advice that encourage group dynamics and increase time spent in store (a direct correlation to spend)? If the Next Big Thing Concept Shop has any say, the question isn’t a matter of why not but when.
Sherri Haymond, executive vice president of Digital Partnerships at MasterCard had this to say. “Today’s consumer is seeking a seamlessly integrated experience across both the digital and physical environment. At the Next Big Thing Concept Shop, we will showcase how retailers can do that by blending Internet of Things (IOT) devices, such as smart mirrors and windows, with Mastercard’s industry-leading security and analytics solutions, and Masterpass digital payment service to allow every consumer interaction to be unique.”
That payment service was made possible via an app on the Google Play Store and Apple App store and while we didn’t get a chance to try it out, there were a couple of cool things that seemed well worth the experiment.
What made the Concept Store feel different (aside from the very sleek Nike-esque futuristic displays) was the concept of daily evolving programming, almost like flipping through different reality TV shows for more relevant storylines. With a focus on beauty, fashion and wellness, the revolving door of activations included nail estheticians, manicures and meditations one day, DIY floral-bracelets and anklets another and artistic coffee cup mugshots the next. On the day we went, there was a beauty display by Nizuc Spa featuring ESPA Skincare products that popped up. It was a little weird with a semi-permanent Clarins’ skincare display directly adjacent, but at least there was a skincare expert from ESPA on hand to talk about your regimen.
From a bird’s eye view the actual space was a mixed bag. On the one hand the store was decidedly normal. Don’t expect androids, pulsing futuristic tech music, interactive holographic displays and hovering drones to assist with fetching clothing. But on the other hand the store was decidedly different. Divided into three areas of @Work, @Play and @Peak, the store featured two large well designed clothing rack areas that were balanced in terms of ambient lights (for mood) and digital displays. However, if you counted the individual styles, there were less than two dozen different clothing items on display, unless you include the sunglasses on the MasterCard display.
The focus here was definitely on the tech gadgets and rightfully so. While there was nothing truly futuristic or advanced about the tech displayed on the sales floor, the presentation would definitely wow the average fashion girl or Marie Claire’s core audience. There was a charging purse and wallet, nothing that hasn’t been seen before at your local TJ Maxx or Kate Spade, a few cute toys that were of course activated by an app, a Bluetooth speaker and a giant U-Shaped “pelvic” vibrator among others. It was the perfect assortment for the younger Marie Claire demographic.
Other notable tech on the sales floor included virtual mirrors that add new utility to in-store shopping. One section had the Clarins’ Sensor Mirror Pro, which basically helped you find the best Clarins’ selection for your skincare needs (note you didn’t see the products on the sales floor but I’m sure they were available for purchase). This was possible by taking a picture on the display that then helped it inform further questions, such as your desired skin improvements and specific facial areas of interest (problem areas). Then it uses that information to create custom recommendations with Clarins’s products. Additionally, the Neiman Marcus / MasterCard display area featured a Sunglass Memory Mirror from Neiman Marcus in conjunction with MemoMi that allowed customers to view how sunglasses look from all angles and compare the styles to one another.
Heading over to the dressing room area, which felt a little darker compared to the neon lights and sleek interior of the salesfloor, you were greeted by a large interactive mirror, a cocktail table and high chair. For creating the dressing room of the future, Marie Claire partnered with Oak Labs to showcase smart mirrors that revamp the dressing room. The mirrors recognize products brought into the dressing room using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and use an on-mirror display to show other colors and sizes available. Equally as fun, the mirrors could be used to request associates retrieve additional options, and of course everything was linked virtually to the store’s dedicated app from Mastercard. Out of everything in the space, this felt simultaneously contemporary and futuristic, like something you could see stores using today.
All in all, Marie Claire’s The Next Big Thing Concept Store had some cool ideas about the future of retail shopping, some of which seem set (dressing room mirror) and some of which (sunglasses memory mirror????) seem a little overdone. It definitely follows the minimalist inventory and greater physical interaction space model of market leaders like Nike, Adidas and luxury fashion brands. One thing that seems missing though is the social aspect. Shopping is both deeply personal, emotionally charged and to an extent, socially driven. For a Marie Claire girl, it would be cool to see more opportunities to shop and style together.