I will preface this list by saying that while I wish I had the opportunity to visit each one of these to personally ensure that I am recommending something that is truly innovative, alas I have not had that chance. If you’ve been to any of these, and have a perspective to share, please let me know what you thought about it.
In the meantime, here are the store innovations that have caught my eye in Europe, along with a short description of why. For the record, over the last year the hottest spot in Europe for store innovation appears to be London (or Google translate is just plain doing me wrong), followed by Madrid, Berlin, Copenhagen, and a remote mountain in the Italian Alps.
Store Innovation London
In no particular order:
- Vita Mojo
I first met Vita Mojo at the Retail Business & Technology Expo in London last June. The company shared its vision of using technology to digitize every aspect of the restaurant experience, from populating its menu with items that were freshly available, to letting customers dictate the combinations of sides and mains – as well as portion sizes – to even making meal recommendations based on customers sharing their DNA results.
The net result is the ability to give customers more control than ever over the food they eat, while balancing local variety and availability. Even better, investing in digitization has provided the company with an unprecedented level of visibility into customer behavior and ordering patterns, leading to insights that are unmatched by other restaurants.
You can find Vita Mojo online and at two locations in London.
Natoora is a high-end natural grocer based in London, for me first covered by RetailWire. Their concept is very simple when it comes to execution: they display fresh produce according to its seasonality, dividing foods by “early,” “in-season,” and “late” so that consumers get a sense for the rhythm of food and their growing seasons.
There’s no technology here, just an organizing principle that happens to convey a lot of information very compactly. You don’t need a smartphone or digital display in order to educate consumers about how much real food is really available in any given month. It’s grouped on the stands right there for you to see.
In grocery, and this appears to be a global phenomenon that is not limited to mature markets, consumers increasingly care about what goes into their mouths – where it comes from, how old it is, how far it traveled. While other verticals, like fashion, may be falling into a period where brand “experts” are not as trusted as “my friends,” in grocery retailers still can play an expert, educational role – and one that defends and enhances consumers’ desires to access healthy, “clean” food.
You can find Natoora online and at three locations in London.
- Sweaty Betty
This was actually one of the first athleisure brands I found that appeared to embrace experience over retailing space. Athleta gets credit for its in-store events – yoga in the retail environment – but British brand Sweaty Betty turned the concept on its head, offering an experience space that also happens to sell some products.
The brand offers a café and a blow-dry bar alongside a fitness studio at its flagship that it opened this year in Soho. Other athletic brands have followed suit – I recently covered Nobull in Manhattan – but Sweaty Betty gets credit as the first.
You can find Sweaty Betty online and the flagship store at 1 Carnaby Street, Soho.
- Hello Love
This retailer started out with the intention of disrupting the retail model, and found itself disrupted instead, when one of the two founders was diagnosed with breast cancer. Hello Love soon became a true labor of love – a way to combine retail and services with mindfulness and a focus on overall well-being. It’s a perfect example of using the consumer medium to convey deeper meaning. The space is almost a storefront-as-a-service, featuring rotating offerings like a juice bar or a flower arrangement service, but in the end it’s a curator of the things that people need that go beyond simple “stuff.” And the proceeds raise money for a foundation focused on a cure.
You can find Hello Love online and at 62—64 Southampton Row, Bloomsbury.
- Samsung Coal Drops Yard
Samsung is opening a “20,000 square foot digital playground” in the Coal Drops Yard shopping district in King’s Cross. It’s not clear to me if it’s open yet or still in the process of opening, but the description makes it sound worth checking out.
Samsung 837Samsung has opened a concept store in New York, , but the location makes the point to say that they “don’t sell anything” there. The King’s Cross location sounds like it is perhaps building on lessons learned from that showcase location, but also expanding more directly into retail. Twenty-thousand square feet is a lot of space, even for a company selling smart refrigerators. I am intrigued to find out what kind of balance exists between “experience” vs. selling products.
You can find Samsung UK online, and the Coal Drops Yard store behind King’s Cross Station (stop at Platform 9-3/4 for me, while you’re there).
- Tiffany Covent Garden
Tiffany opened a concept store in Covent Garden this summer, with a focus that sounds like an even more extreme version of the revamp of its Manhattan store in New York. While the Manhattan store made it possible to “have breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the Covent Garden store dives deeper into experiential retailing, with a fragrance vending machine, engraving, and in-store customization and design. It also features an event space for exhibitions and parties.
You can find Tiffany’s Covent Garden store online and at 13 James St, Covent Garden.
- In Memoriam: Pop-Ups That Have Come and Gone
In the August Store Innovation Watch, I covered WhereWolf, a digital shopping app that opened its own pop-up store to demonstrate the value of its technology, which enabled stores to be searchable online. The store was located in Covent Garden from August 3-15. There are several tech companies that opened their own stores in 2018, including Google and Facebook. But it is something of a testament to retailers’ skepticism and conservatism when it comes to trying things in stores that it makes more sense for a vendor to go all-in on a retail concept, just to prove that their technology is worth looking at.
And I would be remiss not to mention the Amazon Fashion Pop-up in London, which ran the end of October. If you take nothing else away from Amazon’s experiment with fashion bricks & mortar retailing, take away that the company has expanded its experimental radius well beyond the US. There are plans to open several pop-ups across Europe over the holidays too – this seems to speak to a new phase in Amazon’s bricks strategy.
Store Innovation Madrid
I will confess, I am a bit of a whisky fan. A label like Johnnie Walker deciding to open a retail experience is not really that notable (I know several people who still rave about the Heineken Experience at that company’s headquarters, and I can also confess to having experienced the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh). But the fact that a whisky company is opening a high-end tasting room / retail / experience location in Madrid – not what I would normally consider a hotbed of whisky drinking – seemed notable to me. If Johnnie Walker can make a distinctive experience – one also focused on education – work at this location, then it may usher in more brands trying to reach consumers more directly.
Patrón, the higher-end tequila brand, has been running “secret dining experiences” in the US for several years now – I still get the occasional email from them. But that’s not anything like the level of commitment behind running a full-time store location in a city more known for sangria than whisky.
You can find Johnnie Walker online and in Madrid at Calle Serrano, 2.
Store Innovation Copenhagen
IKEA Space 10
I’m not even certain that you can walk in to Space 10 if you go to Copenhagen, but I know that the “innovation lab” of Swedish retailer IKEA is putting out some fascinating work. In addition to completely re-envisioning what the giant blue box of IKEA will look like in the future, Space 10 is reaching much farther in the future to imagine things like, what you could do with the interior of a self-driving car. This is a lab worth paying attention to.
You can find Space 10 online and at Flæsketorvet 10, 1711 København, Denmark.
Store Innovation Berlin
The “startup supermarket” opened last March with the name KaDeTe (Kaufhaus des Testens), with a focus on assisting brands as they take their products to market. But after KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens), the long-established department store, threatened to sue over the name, the founders changed it to the Feedback Factory, which is how you’ll find it today. It too operates more like a storefront-as-a-service, but specifically focusing on things like consumer shelf approach and reactions to packaging – the kinds of insights that grocery brands usually get only through expensive test marketing.
The store itself is intended to bring together the brands, consumers, and buyers who might eventually opt to bring these new products into distribution at major retailers.
You can find the Feedback Factory online and in the Wilmersdorfer Arcaden in Berlin.
Store Innovation The Italian Alps
In Memoriam: North Face Pop-Up Shop
This was probably my favorite pop-up shop of the year. North Face literally popped-up a tent 7,000 feet high in the Alps, accessible only by a two-hour hike. This was done in conjunction with an outdoor event, so it wasn’t totally random and had a built in audience, but it combines a lot of store innovation trends together very neatly: its inaccessibility makes reaching it something of a badge of honor. Some of the products there were exclusives or early releases of products, so anyone who reached the tent had something to take back with them that also gave an air of exclusivity and authenticity to the experience. And it was a perfect match of the brand values and the gear to the audience.
Other retailers have experimented with making just the fact of getting to the store something of an adventure – Adidas created a Snapchat scavenger hunt that led people to a store selling a limited edition run of sneakers. I would not be surprised to see more of these kinds of pop-ups, where getting there alone is a badge of honor, in 2019.