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Fast Retailing focuses on online-offline integration at new pilot store

BY Marianne Wilson

Japanese powerhouse Fast Retailing is blurring the lines between online and offline shopping at the newest location of its fashion-forward, low-cost apparel brand, GU.

GU Studio is located in Tokyo’s Harajuku fashion district. (GU operates nearly 400 stores across Asia.) The store allows shoppers to experiment with clothing combinations on a virtual mannequin and create a digital avatar. The merchandise assortment features samples of GU’s full lineup of products for men and women — with all goods ordered online and then picked up by the customer at their desired time and place.

The store has its own app, the GU Style Creator. After downloading it, shoppers can scan QR codes on their favorite items. They can save the merchandise for review later, or purchase items inside the app. Purchased items can be delivered to their home, or picked up at a nearby GU store or a designated Seven Eleven location. (Select Seven-Eleven locations in Japan serve as pick-up locations for merchandise ordered online from Fast Retailing’s brands.)

Shoppers can also create a personal avatar at an interactive digital display that allows them to virtually select items from the store’s assortment, and then model the clothing on the avatar (the display has a camera that takes a picture of the shopper). They can purchase the items on the app.

Shoppers can also link the avatar to their own personal account on the app, with the avatar and related information saved after leaving the store. And even if customers do not return to the physical store, they can continue using their avatar to model and coordinate outfits wherever they like.

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Photos: Richard Cadan
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Photos: Richard Cadan
Photos: Richard Cadan
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First Look: FAO Schwarz returns to New York with Rockefeller Center flagship

BY By Marianne Wilson

FAO Schwarz has made its Big Apple comeback some three years after it exited Fifth Ave., shutting the doors of one of the world’s most famous toy stores.

The iconic toy retailer on Friday opened a flagship in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Plaza. The two-and-a-half level, 20,000-sq.-ft. emporium blends the brand’s signature toys with an array of in-store shops and interactive experiences. Designed by Chute Gerdeman (DGC Capital Contracting Corp., Mount Vernon, N.Y. was the major contractor involved), the store references the history of the brand in New York while also looking towards its future.

The merchandise assortment includes more than 200 FAO Schwarz-branded toys as well as products from over 15 toy brands, ranging from Barbie to Hasbro to Steiff.

“FAO Schwarz was built on in-store experiences, which has made it a global destination over the years.” said David Conn, CEO of ThreeSixty Brands, which bought the brand in 2016 from Toys “R” Us and is in the midst of expanding it globally. “We are bringing back the wonderment of toys and a deep nostalgia for the larger than life experience that FAO Schwarz has offered to parents and children alike for over 150 years.”

The design capitalizes on the Art Deco architecture of the locale and amplifies memories of the best FAO Schwarz experiences from years past, complete with its walk-on piano keyboard. Similar to the Fifth Ave. location, toy soldiers (sporting updated uniforms) are stationed outside, on the 49th street entrance.

Entering the flagship, part of which overlooks the famous ice skating rink in Rockefeller Center, customers encounter the brand’s new icon, a rocket ship. Surrounded by classic plush creations, the 27-foot tall rocket ship—sponsored by Build-A-Bear Workshop—showcases teddy-bear astronauts. From the 49th Street entrance, guests are greeted by FAO’s iconic three-story, three-dimensional clock tower.

The famous FAO Schwarz dance-on piano, featured in the Tom Hanks’ movie “Big,” is featured on the second floor. It’s been jazzed up for the new location, and is now reflected with big lights on the ceiling above. Piano “dancers” will perform shows throughout the year, and teach visitors how to dance and play songs.

Also back is FAO Schweetz. The 2,150-sq.-ft. in-store sweets shop, operated by specialty candy retailer It’sSugar, features life-sized versions of classic toys such as a space ship, fire truck, and toy train, which serve as bulk candy containers. Design elements such as a New York City subway car serves as the check-out counter.

New store attractions include FAO Raceway where shoppers, working alongside trained mechanics, can build remote-control cars piece-by-piece by picking out their individualized body style, color, wheels, and designs. There is also a grocery store-styled space here kids can fill their carts with play groceries before heading into the Melissa & Doug-branded FAO Home to shop for kitchen equipment, housewares, and more.

Also new is the Baby Doll Adoption Experience, where “nurses” and “doctors” walk children through the adoption process and teach them how to properly love and care for their baby dolls. Once a prospective parent adoption form is completed, children are able to select the doll of their choosing. The baby dolls are then taken for a “checkup” before they are sent home with their very own FAO “certificate of adoption.”

Additional flagship features include a spa for hair color and nail treatments, a Build-A-Bear Workshop experience, a Transformers experience (from Hasbro) with a fully-automated, speaking 9-ft. Optimus Prime, and two 12-ft.-tall toy soldiers, created with over 3 million hand-applied Swarovski crystals, flanking a floor-to-ceiling Swarovski crystallized curtain at the store’s check-out.

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Photo: Tim O’Hara, Tim O’Hara Photography Inc.
Photo: Tim O’Hara, Tim O’Hara Photography Inc.
Photo: Tim O’Hara, Tim O’Hara Photography Inc.
Photo: Tim O’Hara, Tim O’Hara Photography Inc.
Photo: Tim O’Hara, Tim O’Hara Photography Inc.
Photo: Tim O’Hara, Tim O’Hara Photography Inc.
Photo: Tim O’Hara, Tim O’Hara Photography Inc.
Photo: Tim O’Hara, Tim O’Hara Photography Inc.
Photo: Tim O’Hara, Tim O’Hara Photography Inc.
Photo: Tim O’Hara, Tim O’Hara Photography Inc.
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Rocky Mountains provide backdrop for Denver Premium Outlets

BY Marianne Wilson

The stunning Rocky Mountain landscape provides the ideal backdrop for Simon Property Group’s new Denver Premium Outlets, in Thornton, Colorado.

Designed by FRCH Design Worldwide, Cincinnati, the LEED-certified, 375,000-sq.-ft. shopping center is family-friendly, with lots of fun features for kids. It blends such sustainable features as a solar paneled roof with a commissioned art program from three notable sculptors: Troy Pillow, Joseph Rastovich and Albert Dicruttalo.

The main entrance to the center begins at the food court, where floor to ceiling windows offer views of the landscape under a grand awning that draws inspiration to the area’s rustic roots. The food court thoroughfare includes a living wall of indigenous plants and a wide range of seating options.

A variety of outdoor spaces line the property in a strategic format created to bring a continual circulation of foot traffic, much like a single-level racetrack, which works to connect the entire property. The outdoor spaces vary from covered nooks with shade to open-air playgrounds. Water features, from large ponds to fountains, are located throughout the property.

The north end of the center features the majority of the public art and playground area, which includes a fun slide, a climbing playground and a dinosaur-themed climbing area.

Denver Premium Outlets houses more than 80 outlet stores, ranging from from Armani Exchange and Calvin Klein, to Kate Spade and Puma. It also includes a “media lounge” where shoppers can take a break from the action in a club-styled environment.

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