It’s an exciting time to be in retail — really. The “retail apocalypse” narrative that dominated the headlines for far too long made it seem as if the end was near for the retail industry. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sure, retail is tough. (But it’s never been very easy.) But many retailers — like the industry itself — are transforming and evolving. They are getting more personal, more local, more connected and more experiential.
At the same time, start-ups are bringing a new level of energy into the industry. Many of these retailers are a bit more sophisticated than the newbies of the past, having already honed their concepts online or in pop-ups.
Here are four of my faves:
Bulletin: Founded in 2014 as a shopable digital magazine for online-only brands, Bulletin now has three stores in New York City and an e-commerce site devoted to emerging brands led by women.
The venture-backed company operates with a membership-based model: Each brand pays a monthly fee to rent out space to sell their product. Bulletin is all about female empowerment, with regular events around progressive issues.
Parachute: The fast-growing home décor upstart, founded online in 2014, brings luxury linens to the masses. Parachute has amassed a devoted following for its premium quality, responsibly manufactured and affordable bedding and bath products.
The company has three stores (in Venice Beach, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and New York City), with two new ones set to open in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The brand is accelerating its expansion on the heels of a recent influx of new financing.
Outdoor Voices: The digitally-native brand known for its color-blocked activewear has its sights set on brick-and-mortar growth. Outdoor Voices has seven carefully-crafted stores and no two look the same — the design of each references its locale. Five additional outposts are planned by year-end. Looking further ahead, it envisions a national footprint.
The retailer’s reputation has swelled thanks to its Instagram savvy and a slew of hip celebrity brand ambassadors. The brand is expanding its website with categories targeted at specific types of exercise activities. (Retail vet Mickey Drexler is company chairman.)
Harper Wilde: This online bra start-up has only been around for one year but it’s already attracting attention — and a following — for its no-fuss, no-nonsense approach to bra shopping. It offers three basic styles in a variety of shades. And taking a page out of Warby Parker’s playbook, Harper Wilde offers free home try-on.
As for the brand’s name, it’s a blend of Harper Lee and Laura Ingalls Wilder, women who represent values at the core of Harper Wilde: education and empowerment.
Interesting new concepts are by no means exclusive to start-ups. Nike’s new Nike Live format uses technology to provide a localized shopping experience. The first one, Nike by Melrose, just opened in Los Angeles. It features city-specific products, with the inventory determined by Nike’s digital commerce data.
The retailer analyzes buying patterns, app usage and engagement of the local members of its NikePlus loyalty program to stock shelves, with a goal of giving the members the product they want, when they want it. And if that’s not in sync with today’s demanding customers, nothing is.
Casper to go big in brick-and-mortar with 200 stores
The online brand credited with starting the disruption of mattress retailing is planting its flag in the physical space.
Casper plans to open 200 stores during the next three years, according to CNBC, which cited a report by the Wall Street Journal. The news comes amid reports that the nation’s largest mattress retailer, Mattress Firm, which operates some 3,400 stores, is mulling filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and as other online upstarts have jumped into the market.
Casper, which upended the industry with its mattress-in-a-box product and generous return policy, opened some 15 long-term pop-ups across the United States last year. In February, the brand opened its first permanent location, in downtown Manhattan, followed by a second location, in May, at Toronto’s CF Sherway Gardens mall. Casper plans to open additional locations throughout Canada.
Philip Krim, CEO of Casper, told the Journal that the new stores will help the brand move from being primarily known for its mattresses-in-a-box to a place to buy all types of sleep products, according the Journal report. The company’s product line-up has expanded to include sheets, duvets, pillows and other items.
“Customers aren’t always in the market for a mattress, but everyone cares about how they sleep,” Krim said in the report.
First Look: Lululemon, Santana Row, San Jose, Calif.
Lululemon has gone high-tech in the Silicon Valley, with a couple of firsts.
The retailer has expanded — and updated the look and feel of its store at Santana Row, in San Jose, Calif., to provide a personalized shopping experience. The space features digital mirrors for shop assistance and the retailer’s first-ever “story arc” fixture, which uses projection mapping to spotlight product features. (Click here for a video on the store)
In addition to a wide assortment of men’s and women’s athletic, the location is the first lululemon to also feature a rotating collection of online exclusive gear. Shoppers can touch, feel and try on the samples on display and have their purchase shipped to them (at no cost). The selection is refreshed every four to six weeks, allowing shoppers to see the items in person before ordering them online.
Additional store highlights include:
Brand screen: A focal point in the space, the screen serves as a digital for new products and community events.
Digital mirror: With the tap of a price tag, shoppers can quickly locate product inventory in-store (and nearby) or online via RFID technology. The mirror also profiles local stories, upcoming events, lululemeon ambassadors, as well as detailing local run and ride route recommendations curated by the store through Strava.
Story arc fixture: The new story arc fixture designed to showcase lululemon’s most loved and favorite gear. Projection mapping tools wrap animations directly on showcased product, spotlighting specific features and design details such as a hidden pocket, reflective detailing or water repellency.
Enhanced check-out: The checkout has been relocated to the center of the store, which also boasts the retailer’s first-ever fitting room check-out kiosk.
New fixture package: New fixturing allows shoppers easier access to see merchandise.