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Blog / Jul. 17

Store Innovation Watch: July 2019

Nikki Baird

My plan for this month’s Store Innovation Watch was to visit a whole list of stores in the London area, as I just spent a week there. However, while London is a very vibrant store innovation market, things move fast there – so fast, many of the concepts I wanted to see were already closed. I did find one that was still operational, but as you’ll see below, it wasn’t really a store, and it wasn’t really doing the things that everyone was saying that it did. This is a challenge when it comes to evaluating whether consumers are enthusiastic about new innovations: if they’re oversold to begin with, then they can appear to under-deliver, whether that opinion is justified or not.

With that warning, let’s dive into this month’s innovations. They fall into two categories: extending the store beyond its four walls and making what goes on inside the four walls work harder.

Extending the Store Beyond the Four Walls

7-Eleven 7NOW Pins
It wasn’t that long ago that Domino’s announced the ability to deliver to public spaces using delivery pins. Walking in the park and suddenly struck by a craving for pizza? Domino’s can meet you at a designated pin near the park to help you out.

Now you can add a Slurpee to the mix via 7-Eleven. The use case is not as natural a fit for a convenience store as it is for something like pizza (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Domino’s has a much higher average basket than 7-Eleven does). But the intent is the same – even in convenience retailing, retailers clearly feel the need to provide services that enable the use of the products they sell, whether that’s as sophisticated as training someone on how to use their new TV or as simple as dropping a Slurpee off at the fountain in the park.

REI’s Print Magazine, Uncommon Path
Companies may have been thinking for a long time about getting rid of their print catalog. There are two schools of thought here. One, that it’s a waste of money, out of date as soon as it hits the mailbox, and not at all personalized. On the other hand, catalogs serve as a handy reminder to consumers that they should check out the website, and it’s no coincidence that catalog retailers (with possibly the exception of Sears) have adapted very well to an omnichannel world.

REI, long a company known for bucking trends, has struck out on a whole new path around print media. The 81-year-old retailer will retire its full-price mail-order catalog in favor of Uncommon Path – a print magazine published by Hearst Magazines in collaboration with an in-house team of journalists and editors at REI. Rather than ditch print, the company has chosen to elevate it – to a magazine worthy of gracing newsstands around the world.

This is an interesting compromise: it still achieves the purpose of reminding consumers to check out the website (and thus also the store), but does it in a more long-life kind of way by focusing on stories rather than products – which is also in keeping with the event-driven ethic of the in-store experience as well.

L.L. Bean Pop-up Campsite
In four different cities, L.L. Bean is partnering with Uber to offer free rides to people to take them to pop-up campsite experiences. The experiences themselves tap into L.L. Bean’s outdoor adventure capabilities, but also include lower-pressure activities like roasting s’mores and playing yard games.

Goodwill x OfferUp
Goodwill is partnering with the OfferUp app to sell high-end goods that are donated to stores. The objective is to surface high-end goods that might only find a limited market in one store – so that they have the opportunity to secure the highest resale price found by tapping into demand that exists well beyond the store.

Part of the incentive, I’m sure, comes from the success of resale retailers like The RealReal, which not only went public but manages to capture quite a lot of value out of reselling high-end luxury items. However, it’s important to keep in mind Goodwill’s charitable motive here – this isn’t about maximizing profit, but about capturing as much value out of donated goods as can be had – so that it can be used to help those in need.

Singtel Unboxed
In the most literal sense, Singtel, the telecoms company of Singapore, is extending its store by putting it into a box that can be moved from one location to another. This store, however, is unmanned. It uses facial recognition to let people in and identify them/validate their account details, and then also makes use of AI for personalization and video chatting to provide easy access to help without having to permanently staff the store.

Making the Store Work Harder

Fenty Pop-up
To say that Rihanna’s fashion brand, Fenty, is much anticipated is a vast understatement. And the buzz around the first pop-ups to open with her lines reveals that the anticipation is just getting started. However, one element of the Fenty pop-ups quickly captured consumer attention: body-positive mannequin shapes.

Fenty isn’t the only brand to be able to take credit for this innovation. Nike just recently introduced plus-size mannequins as well. But the attention paid to the shapes of the mannequins – forget about the clothes they wear – proves that thinking of the little things can have just as much impact on consumer imagination and perception as focusing on the products themselves.

Westfield x Nextatlas: The Trending Store
Westfield is the mall operator; Nextatlas is the AI company wanting to bring something different to a retail store. The result (The Trending Store at Westfield White City), however, was less than exciting. Yes, Nextatlas uses AI and public social media channels to identify fashion trends and the specific products that are satisfying those trends

However, the reality of this in the store is far less dynamic than it sounds. While you can buy the stuff in the store, the real focus is more on education alongside charity. The store features smart vending machines where customers can tap to donate £5/£10/£20 to the charity Save the Children for a chance to win a top trending prize.

The goal is admirable, but to say that it is an AI-driven store that gives consumers access to whatever they want, no matter which store it’s in at that mall – that’s a huge stretch. And that’s where the word of warning comes in: don’t oversell. It’s hard enough to get consumers to show up. Don’t get them there under overblown or false pretenses!

The Bottom Line

Extending stores far outside their traditional four walls is a growing and important trend – it is one way that stores can leverage digital to reach consumers. And stores themselves have to work harder, whether through small touches that show thoughtfulness and consideration for the way real shoppers look or through curation that helps consumers feel smarter about what they buy. That already delivers a lot of value – retailers don’t have to overpromise on top of that!