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Shopping Re-defined:
The New World of Retail

Restoration Hardware West Palm Beach Exterior

Modern retailers are finding creative ways to incorporate the world of online and offline as they contend with changing shopping habits. Shopping just got a whole lot more interesting.

It’s being called the retail apocalypse. According to research company FGRT, 7,000 physical stores were shuttered in the U.S. in 2017, the largest number since the recession. And things are only going to get worse as not only boutiques, but entire shopping malls, continue to disappear from the American landscape, with 25-percent estimated to close by 2022, according to a Credit Suisse 2017 report.

While the rise of online shopping has a lot to do with these changes, it’s not the only reason brick and mortar stores are closing. As shoppers’ habits are increasingly split along socio-economic lines, premium brands are going above and beyond to attract customers. This means that high-end retailers are getting more creative than ever, innovating novel retail experiences that incorporate technology and multi-conceptual spaces for new heights of luxury and personalization.

“Speed and convenience are the greatest luxuries for modern customers. The goal is to make it easy for them to access our services and shop on their terms, regardless of the channel,” says a Nordstrom spokesperson.

Nordstrom is growing and even opening new locations in an era in which other major department stores are closing. The company is also experimenting with new concepts, like the recently-opened, 47,000-square-foot men’s store at 57th and Broadway in New York, and the new Nordstrom Local in Los Angeles. It’s a bold move in a time when physical retail is shrinking.

In fact, Nordstrom Local doesn’t even carry actual inventory, but rather offers a multitude of other luxury experiences such as beauty services, tailoring, and an in-store bar.

“Speed and convenience are the greatest luxuries for modern customers. The goal is to make it easy for them to access our services and shop on their terms, regardless of the channel,” says a Nordstrom spokesperson.

Shoppers can try on clothing samples pulled by their personal stylist, but actual purchases are sourced from other locations or online. They can utilize in-store technologies to customize their look with digital style boards assisted by personal stylists.

Even haute couture brands are coming to appreciate the importance of technology in their retail models. While most maintain the exclusivity of only selling goods in store, online luxury clothing retailer Farfetch is creating a new way for these brands to integrate online and offline through “augmented retail”, an in-store experience facilitated by a platform they call Store of the Future. A wish list that is viewable by staff, a mobile payment system similar to Apply Pay, and RFID technology installed in the clothing racks to track customer preferences are just some of the features that brands may use. This platform will be customized to the exclusive brands utilizing it, which include high-end retailers like Browns in London, Thomas Browne in New York, and soon Chanel, who has just announced a partnership with the innovative company.

Luxury furnishing company RH (formerly Restoration Hardware) is dealing with technology’s influence in a completely different way, by doubling down on creating a compelling reason for shoppers to visit its stores. These have been re-imagined as luxurious, multi-use galleries, complete with hefty catalogues that visitors can peruse while they test out the furniture. The RH West Palm in Florida was the company’s first gallery concept store, and it feels like a five-star hotel complete with a rooftop restaurant, wine vault, pantry, and barista bar.

The West Palm is not so much a store as a lifestyle destination, with gardens, a design atelier, four levels of art installations, and even a mural created by a street artist covering the back of the building. “We are moving the brand beyond creating and selling products to conceptualizing and selling spaces,” explains RH Chairman & CEO Gary Friedman. “We are aiming to build a brand that creates a firm reason for its physical location, by building something that cannot be replicated online.”

RH is planning to continue to open more retail galleries with Nashville, Yountville, and New York launching this year. The most anticipated opening is RH New York, The Gallery in the Historic Meatpacking District, a 90,000-square-foot indoor and outdoor space featuring stacked cast iron columns, a grand staircase, and an art installation at its center. Each gallery destination is adapted to the location; for example, the new store Yountville in Napa Valley includes a historic masonry building with a stone wine vault, and a trellis area for wine tastings.

Photo by Francesco Sapienze

These kinds of experiential retail models may be new to the U.S., but they are reminiscent of mixed-use concepts in other parts of the world. One multi-use space that works deliciously well is Eataly, an Italian restaurant and food retailer that now has five branches across the U.S. Eataly mixes restaurant with food store, cooking space, and educational platform. The Italian chain is a reflection of how important food is in Italian culture. Visitors can choose from a huge selection of foods such as dried and fresh pasta, wine, cheese, fresh butcher’s cuts, and more. Or dine in instead and try the cannoli bar or seafood counter, and get an in-depth education about any ingredient or dish from the staff.

As the offline and online worlds become more integrated, our reasons for shopping are fundamentally changing. Whether shopping becomes an experiential event or an extension of the digital, there are certainly exciting things in store.

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