Anyone who has equated the pandemic with “slowing down” hasn’t been paying attention. In retail, the season has been rich with creativity, tech advances, bold experiments and more — all delivered at breakneck speed.
A word of caution, then: Don’t wait too long to check out our annual collection of ideas worth stealing. Let’s go!
Dive into the metaverse for enriching experiences
The metaverse has never looked so good. Gucci has continued to stay one well-heeled step ahead of industry trends by launching a collection on Roblox. The virtual Gucci Garden experience was unveiled in May 2021 in conjunction with the immersive multimedia Gucci Garden Archetypes in Florence, Italy. Over the course of two weeks, the interactive virtual exhibit drew more than 19.9 million visits, allowing guests to experience a variety of themed rooms, watch their avatars transform and explore a boutique of limited-edition virtual items from Gucci, created by Rook Vanguard.
Take a look at the NRF 2022: Retail’s Big Show event recap to learn more about retail industry trends of the future.
Roblox, a global online platform, is helping those of all ages redefine immersive 3D “play.” Why shouldn’t a luxury fashion house celebrating its 100th birthday be included? Especially since the definitions of shopping “experience” continue to shift: A digital iteration of Gucci’s Dionysus Bag with Bee sold for almost $800 more than the real-world version — even though the accessory has no monetary value outside of Roblox. This is one destination for the “must-see” list. – F.S.
Continue creating ease
Walmart continues to lead in its digital adoption — and two new projects take on tasks that consumers would likely be happy to hand off. The first is in meal planning. Partnering with media company Meredith Corp., Walmart now offers shoppable recipes. Consumers can take a photo of an ingredient they have on hand and generate recipe suggestions for using it.
They also can see a recipe advertisement on TikTok, click “shop now” and add all the ingredients to a Walmart online shopping basket.
A more cutting-edge concept is being tested through Walmart’s tech incubator Store No. 8: Text-to-talk technology allows customers to add items to their grocery lists. Using an Apple or Google device, the Walmart app opens, and the items are added.
Yes, Walmart has offered voice capabilities for a few years now through the Walmart Voice Order. But this goes deeper than a digital voice recorder. The product is added to the list based on shopper preferences. Got a budding superhero in the house? Ask for Band-Aids, and the app knows to select a variety featuring favorite characters.
“By understanding our customers’ preferences, we also solve the paradox of choice and save them time by serving up what we know they love best,” wrote Dominique Essig, VP of conversational commerce, Store No. 8, in a company blog.
It also helps that customers don’t need another device and can use one that’s already available. Walmart’s innovations continue to prove that technology will play a significant role in shopping — especially when it’s easy to use. – S.S.
Challenge the status quo through product and manufacturing innovations
Alohas is making significant strides in on-demand, sustainable fashion with a novel manufacturing process, localized production — and the chance for consumers to do more by purchasing less.
The Barcelona-based company constantly releases new drops; for the following three weeks, those drops are available for pre-order at a 30 percent discount. After that, production begins based on pre-orders, and the discount is 15 percent. Once shipping begins, the items are full price. This on-demand process, according to the company, “reverts the sales cycle and waves goodbye to the traditional fashion calendar.”
Alohas offers shoes, clothing, swimwear and accessories, including vegan items. It invites consumers to take part in “pre-planned responsible shopping,” and provides “Mindful Tips” on Instagram, with past installments covering how to give a second life to clothes already owned and care for shoes so they’ll last longer. Consumers also are invited to make donations to help reduce the overall carbon footprint of ecommerce at the time of purchase. Projects might include gifts to native forest regeneration or international renewable energy projects. For brands not yet making inroads in these areas, consumers are already there. – F.S.
Allure’s new retail offering: Play to specific expertise
Both magazines and physical retail have had their obituaries written in the past. But a new bricks-and-mortar store from Allure proves that both concepts remain alive and kicking.
Located on Lafayette Street in New York City, the retail location showcases beauty and skincare products chosen by Allure’s editorial team, aligning with themes in the magazine. It’s a perfect home for brands chosen in Allure’s annual Best of Beauty Awards.
Stour, which works with publishers and influencers to bring digital concepts to life, collaborated with Allure on the concept. Stour’s goal is to create an offline experience that closely mimics online shopping — certainly a twist on the way things are typically done. But that means including tech like augmented reality try-ons, QR codes that provide more content, and smart mirrors.
Allure editors will regularly host in-store events, including tutorials and master classes. Stour says it is working with a major fashion publication on a similar concept.
This store proves that physical retail remains strong, and that new players might find their way into the market. When one has the depth of expertise, contacts and brand awareness of Allure, it’s a trend to keep an eye on. In some ways, Allure might have a leg up on other beauty retailers, with content serving as a bridge between reading and buying. – S.S.
Set new standards for transparency
Nashville-based footwear brand Nisolo has introduced a Sustainability Facts label for each of its products, with the hopes that the idea will spread far and wide.
Here, percentage scores and overall grades go beyond carbon footprint and worker health and safety. There’s also information on raw materials integrity and durability, gender equality and empowerment, workers’ rights and governance, and post-use produce lifecycle.
The labels, akin to the FDA’s Nutrition Facts, are aimed at increasing accountability not only for Nisolo, but also for the industry as a whole. “From megabytes to miles per gallon, we know a lot about the products we buy, but almost nothing about the hundreds of hands they touch or thousands of miles they travel before they get to us,” the company states on its website. “It’s time the transparency we get for the food we put in our bodies exists for the clothes we put on our bodies.”
Nisolo incorporates 92 data points for its scores related to people, and 108 data points for planet. The methodology is open-sourced for greater potential adoption. Patrick Woodyard, Nisolo CEO, recently told Glossy that the company had spent the last several years developing the label, specifically to offer it to the industry to build upon. Nisolo has also called on consumers to become advocates by sharing #SustainabilityFactLabel on social channels and inviting their favorite brands to participate. Still waiting for an invitation? – F.S.
Claim new ground and broaden boundaries: the Anya Hindmarch Village
Anya Hindmarch believes it might just take a village. The brand has opened five stores on the same street in London; there is a plastic shop focused on sustainability, a shop dedicated to the art of organization, a bespoke shop, a café and an ever-evolving concept space.
All told, The Village will be “a place where we pour all of our creative energy and collaborate on the subjects that interest us,” according to the company. The bespoke shop has been present on Pont Street since 1996; in a season when many have been closing physical doors, the bold move gives shoppers a decidedly different retail experience. No surprise that it comes from Hindmarch, long recognized for making statements with a bit of playfulness and whimsy.
In 2020, the designer behind the original “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” collection closed her London stores for a few days and filled them with 90,000 plastic bottles, showcasing how many plastic bottles go into a landfill every 8.5 minutes. Hindmarch continues to take new ground, far beyond a single street. If ever there was time for creativity, this is it. – F.S.
Reimagine livestreaming and social strategy
Shoppable livestreaming has grown tremendously, with some anticipating it will be the retail trend of 2022. There’s good reason behind the growth: Coresight Research forecasts $11 billion in livestreaming retail in the United States in 2022, more than doubling to $25 billion in 2023. Granted, that’s a pittance compared with the $480 billion expected to be spent on livestream shopping in China this year.
But with all this growth comes a question: How can a retail brand use livestreaming as more than glorified home shopping? Look no further than Vans. Its Channel 66 features a robust lineup, with live broadcasting from New York City, Chicago, Mexico City and Los Angeles. Each city can display its unique culture with DJ sets, radio shows, workshops and performances in music, art, action sports and street culture. A chat function allows its fans to connect with each other — and with the brand.
Vans’ Channel 66 is worth watching for how it continues to expand the lifestyle aspect of its brand and to use livestreaming to connect consumers more deeply to the lifestyle — all without the traditional sales ask.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Lush, which quit Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok in 48 countries. Its CEO told Forbes it was concerned about the mental health aspects of social media on its young shoppers and the lack of transparency around algorithms. The company continues to post on Pinterest and YouTube, and to use Twitter for customer service.
Both brands — popular with younger consumers — show that being on every platform in the same old way just won’t cut it. It might be time to rethink social strategy. – S.S.
Creatively use tech to increase consumer confidence
There’s still nothing quite as tangible as the in-store experience. But Yeti is coming close. The American outdoor living gear brand has incorporated augmented reality and 3D technology on more than 50 product pages to give consumers a better feel.
Clicking on a “see in 3D” or “view in your space” button — there’s no need to download a separate app — allows shoppers to experience what a product might look like in a real-life setting, to zoom in for product features and to see the product from every angle. The offering comes via a collaboration with Los Angeles-based tech company Vertebrae.
“More than half of all consumers are willing to use AR for shopping, more than any other emerging tech including retail self-checkout, and 76 percent of those who have tried AR say the tech has increased their confidence to purchase online,” said Vince Cacace, Vertebrae founder and CEO, in 2021. “Yeti saw the opportunity to break new ground by bringing this to a new category, and we are thrilled that our Axis platform was their first choice for a fast, flexible and high-impact deployment.” – F.S.
Up the ante in the virtual fitting room
Fashion retailer H&M has introduced virtual fitting rooms in some German stores in a short-term pilot. During the pilot, customers used an in-store scanner and app to create their own avatars based on real-life measurements.
“By creating digital twins of our products, customers can try on clothes virtually,” said Frans Borgstrand, who is working with developing 3D technology at H&M Group. Borgstrand was quoted further in a blog on the company’s website: “If these virtual try-ons are based on individual measurements, for example from a digital body scan, the customer is more likely to find the ultimate size of a garment.”
H&M says about half of its returns are based on size and fit. “With the help of technology and this way of trying and experiencing products before deciding on a purchase, the number of returns could be reduced extensively in the future.”
Returns remain a costly problem for retailers. But H&M may have found the holy grail: reducing cost while amping up the cool factor. – S.S.
Redefine “full circle” in sustainability
Ingka Group, a strategic partner in the IKEA franchise system, has put down roots in southeast Georgia. In 2021, it acquired 10,840 acres of forestland property from The Conservation Fund. The move, according to press materials, “strengthens Ingka Group’s commitment to responsible forest management, as conversation measures are fully included in the forest management plans.”
It’s far from Ingka Group’s first foray in this area; it owns and responsibly manages about 613,000 acres of forestland in the United States and Europe, including land in South Carolina, Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma. But the investment in Georgia, according to Krister Mattsson, managing director, Ingka Investments, is special, “as our partners from The Conservation Fund understood our long-term vision and have entrusted us to ensure the protection of the forestland. We are committed to managing our forests sustainably while at the same time meeting our business objectives. In all our properties, we pay special attention to ensuring environmental protection, so we are happy to see that our efforts in working with responsible forest management are being seen and trusted.”
Between September 2019 and August 2020, Ingka Group also planted 600,000 seedlings in the U.S. and almost 7 million seedlings worldwide.
As part of the agreement, Ingka Group must protect the land from fragmentation, restore the longleaf pine forest and safeguard the habitat of the gopher tortoise. The public will continue to enjoy access to the lands normally forbidden by typical forestland owners — and, apparently, sustainably made furniture for some time to come. – F.S.
Go where the customers are
People are busy. They might not be so inclined to spend their Saturday afternoons in a mall. Three retail concepts have brought shopping closer to where those shoppers are.
In early 2021, Louis Vuitton delivered its LV by Appointment directly to consumers. Rotating through a variety of cities, these well-appointed and sleek travel trailers pulled up to homes and offices with a helpful sales associate and a personally curated list of items from which to shop.
LV was hardly alone. Cuyana in Motion also brought its fashion directly to consumers with a traveling pop-up showroom. The mobile store was loaded onto a truck and moved from location to location, mostly focused in Southern California.
Adidas Thrift and Ride offered a slightly different take on the idea. In re-introducing its Forum sneaker — a revival of a 1984 shoe — Adidas put four fashion influencers and several fashion magazine editors on a 1984 city bus to tour around the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The influencers visited several thrift stores and put together outfits — topped off, naturally, by Forum sneakers.
All three concepts proved that retailers are going to have to become more flexible — and, perhaps, more willing to travel — when it comes to meeting consumers where they are. – S.S.
Follow — and extend — the positive energy
Magnetic resonance imaging scanners can be daunting for anyone. They can be loud. They can bring on claustrophobia. And for children, they can seem really big.
The Lego Foundation is working to bring the experience back to scale with plans to donate 600 Lego MRI Scanners to hospitals worldwide. The idea is to help kids cope with the process by allowing them to better understand the machine and how it works. The initiative also includes four free training videos designed to help medical staff guide kids through the process — and facilitate their social and emotional learning through play.
The 600 sets will go to the first 600 eligible applicants; hospital radiology departments were encouraged to apply. The models will be built by Lego volunteers and shipped for free; the Foundation will also use feedback from participating hospitals to keep building evidence-based research and guide potential future projects.
All told, it’s a nod to discovering — and growing — what’s already working. It started in 2015 as a passion project for Lego employee Erik Ullerlund Staehr and Odense University Hospital in Denmark; other like-minded radiologists and Lego experts have joined the collaboration. Close to 100 hospitals worldwide have already benefitted from the use of the Lego MRI Scanner. Every idea has to start somewhere — and every positive idea might deserve a little backing. – F.S.
Starbucks: Add an expanded sustainability commitment to that order
Starbucks’ Greener Store Framework has expanded beyond North America with a new Shanghai location. Opened in September, the store was built using recycled materials, like wood reclaimed from renovations of other Starbucks stores. Its modular bar and back-of-house system was built to be dismantled and reassembled in a variety of configurations, allowing for more reuse and recycling in the future.
The iconic green aprons are made from Starbucks cups and used coffee grounds are recycled as fertilizer. The store, which is powered through renewable energy, will host exhibitions where artists use coffee grounds and other materials in innovative ways.
Even the menu has received a sustainable touch. More than half of the menu items are plant-based, and oat milk is the default option for most beverages.
Starbucks has long been a sustainable-first company. But the Shanghai store proves that companies can — and must — continue to expand in both understanding and execution of environmentally friendly policies. – S.S.
Merge physical, digital and social à la L’Oréal Paris
L’Oréal Paris’ new Shanghai store might just provide a new definition of “omnichannel” as it offers a unique mixture of digital and social. Shoppers can take an immersive bike ride through the streets of Paris and gather shopping discounts along the way, watch a social media influencer broadcast from the store’s livestream studio, or use face-scanning technology for a skin assessment and receive a personally coded key to unlock recommendations throughout the store.
Those products can be purchased on-site and shipped anywhere in China, or be added to a digital shopping basket or linked to a consumer’s account on L’Oréal’s WeChat for later purchase. WeChat, China’s social messaging app, keeps the conversation going after the customer leaves the store.
AKQA, which designed the store for L’Oréal, calls the concept “phygital.” This combination of physical and digital is here to stay; some might call it beautiful. – S.S.
Make the most of 5G opportunities: Virtual Harajuku
Yet another concept in Asia explores how digital and physical intersect. Tokyo’s trendy shopping neighborhood, Shibuya, has gone virtual. Virtual Shibuya, which launched in mid-2021, allowed pandemic-weary homebound consumers to enjoy entertainment, including performances, art exhibits and discussions.
Soon after, Harajuku was added to the virtual experience, allowing shoppers to walk the streets as an avatar, see live performances from Japanese pop stars and buy products that are delivered to their homes.
It’s powered by Cluster, a Japanese social media platform. But at the backbone of the concept is the adoption of 5G technology. According to Opensignal, Tokyo is one of the top five cities with the fastest 5G download and upload speeds. These virtual tours and trendy shopping experiences offer a peek at possibilities. Retailers that aren’t looking at ways to further blend virtual, social and shopping could be left behind, especially as 5G becomes more widely available. – S.S.
Look to small businesses as an engine powering the future
For Vietnamese sisters Vanessa and Kim Pham, collaborations go far beyond mere family ties. Omsom, their direct-to-consumer meal starter brand — which provides recipes, sauces, aromatics and seasonings for “proud, loud Asian home cooking” — launched new partnerships in 2021 with Instant Pot and cookbook author Pepper Teigen. The goal is for consumers to be able to cook restaurant-quality Asian dishes within 30 minutes; there are subscription bundles, samplers, gluten-free sets, vegan options and offerings in Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Chinese flavors. There’s even a “heat lover’s set” for those ready to bring on the spice.
The company takes its name from “om sòm,” a Vietnamese phrase meaning “noisy, rambunctious, riotous,” the sisters say on their website’s “meet us” page. “Most often used by parents (hint: ours) to scold unruly, raucous children in the back of the car.”
In keeping with that theme, the brand infuses a good dose of fun with its emphasis on cultural integrity — and so far, to rave reviews. Omsom works with iconic chef “tastemakers” to craft each starter; the chefs receive royalty fees for starters sold. That rising tide raises all boats, according to the company — and helps spread love and good taste at the same time. – F.S.