On March 24th, we hosted a panel discussion to shed light on retail creativity currently at play — keeping customers engaged and tills ringing.
As part of a series of events — exploring the ideas, challenges and opportunities facing modern retailers today — we welcomed three generous speakers, representative of the shifting forces at the fore of consumer culture, to take part in a panel discussion in the quiet of the Library at Shoreditch House. YCN Insights Editor Sheena Patel moderated conversation between Chloe Macintosh, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at Made.com, Ross Bailey of Appear Here and Carmel Allen, Creative Director and Brand Champion at Heal's. Each speaker first introduced the story of their brand, some recent work and key learnings, before stimulating an insightful discussion around modern retail phenomena.
Ten things we learned:
1. Have a mantra
"If in doubt, innovate." This phrase – coined by founder Ambrose Heal – has inspired Heal's for generations. Carmel spoke of current innovations such as using stores as a space to start conversations, not just about furniture (as she quite rightly pointed out – "you only buy a bed every five to seven years"), but around common customer interests such as art, design, craft and opera. This last is apparently a staple favourite among Heal's shoppers, leading to its hugely popular in-store silent opera events. Part of the Tottenham Court Road flagship is currently undergoing refurbishment, and the cafe – soon to be run by the folk at Forge & Co – will soon be used in a variety of ways for co-working, meetings, workshops and the annual Designer Dinner – which functions as a thank you gesture for collaborators and champions young designers. Coming from an extensive background in publishing, Carmel describes how she approaches stores as magazines – your windows are the cover, so they have to have impact; as you turn the page and step inside, you want to see what's new; further in-store are your main features, the core product lines; and the back page is a fun little surprise on the way out!
2. Experience is everything
The lack of 'touch and feel' was Made.com's biggest barrier, and so the team adapted their office space in Notting Hill to launch its first showroom, with subsequent spaces opening up in Soho, Old Street and just outside Leeds, West Yorkshire. The showrooms – where you can try before you buy – were instantly popular with the audience and proved to be a new and important avenue from which to receive customer feedback about products not yet on sale. Designed to reflect Made.com's online aesthetic, the spaces are intended to continue and further the brand experience in the physical realm. This approach seems to be paying off as Chloe reported the average time a customer spends in the Made.com showroom is 45 minutes, and the conversion rate for visitors is 20 times greater compared to online.
3. Retail space is media space
Ross also spoke of shopping as an experience, also describing the sales generated as customers buying a souvenir of that experience. Brands are now using retail theatre and in-store innovation to create lasting memories, and an engagement with products through the attachment of stories. But it's not just companies that have physical products that are engaging with these spaces; tech giants such as Spotify, Google and Lyst have worked with Appear Here to create experiences, Ross claims that investing in physical space is as financially beneficial as purchasing Google AdWords. Contradictory to what was once thought, he says, "the internet isn't killing the high street. It may well save it."
4. Harness the passion of your customers
Made's customers are style conscious, curating furniture, art and homewares to exhibit their own personality and taste, then socially sharing images of both these spaces – and the ones they aspire to create. Made.com has tapped into this trend by launching its own Unboxed social platform, where shoppers can share how they're using Made.com products in their own homes. As well as providing an invaluable research tool for emerging interiors trends, it's also become a way to connect customers around the world – turning living rooms around the world into inspiring showrooms, with some even going as far as to invite nearby users to visit and try out products in real life!
5. Cut out the middle man
Retail is shrinking down. Made.com's business model is based on streamlining the retail process, from maker to marketplace. Stock is made to order, delivered direct from the designers; cutting out the need for permanent retail space and surplus stock storage. This transparency is continued throughout their open-plan offices, which are separated from the showrooms only by a glass partition, allowing customers to gain the full brand experience – and allowing internal to observe what's working and what's not on the shop floor, and respond accordingly.
6. Make it simple
The clear layout and easy access to all essential information at Appearhere.co.uk makes it possible for brands to swiftly research, pick and pay for their space. The quickest Appear Here booking was made in under two hours! Although the majority of bookings are made with just a few clicks, Appear Here has been conscious of the importance of customer service, appointing a specialist team of experts in the fields of retail, production and marketing to quickly and efficiently assist potential customers.
7. A legacy is both a blessing and a curse
Heal's has been trading for 205 years (that's 198 more than both Made.com and Appear Here combined) and upholds a pretty spotless reputation for craftsmanship, quality and value. Previous Heal's employees include artist Roger Fry, novelist Dodie Smith and a young Sid Vicious as the cafe manager! The company also counts Brad Pitt as one of its many collectors of vintage Heal's furniture. Believing that good design should be for everyone, Heal's has adapted to the changing markets over the years by understanding its customers – from producing limed furniture that didn't require extensive polishing for working women shortly after the war, to more recently launching a range of durable furniture that's easy to contruct and transport, based on the insight that the average Londoner now moves house no less that nine times between the ages of 18 and 35. But operting a 205-year old store comes with its difficulties, from dealing with bureaucracy and long leases to struggling with obselete systems, not to mention tackling the more day to day issues (such as making sure mice are kept firmly at bay!) of working in a grade listed building. Sometimes, it's only after pushing through this that a heritage brand can open its mind to more creative activities.
8. Listen to your customers
Customer feedback curates Made.com's collections. Careful attention paid to customer behaviour online, coupled with acute observations made through human interactions in the showroom, ensures that the website sells only the most successful products. Similarly, the popular events programme at Heal's is curated based on the interests and passion points of its shoppers.
9. Lease lengths are decreasing
In 1992 (the year Ross was born) the average commercial property let was 20 years. This time period has decreased incrementally since, and currently the average lease is just five years, with many more properties expected to become available in the short term. Appear Here make it possible for independents and start-ups to rent public spaces temporarily to launch an idea or product, without the need for a covenant or millions in the bank. This platform allows brands to experiment, whilst having the freedom to adapt quickly to changing customer behaviour and fleeting trends. Global brands such as Coca-Cola, Net-a-Porter and Etsy are using these spaces to create unique shopping experiences, allowing them to connect with their customers in fresh new ways. All space is fair game, and the more imaginative options available to rent on Appear Here range from a broom cupboard in a run-down tube station, to the luxury Burlington Arcade in Mayfair.
10. Your online store is your flagship
Ross, Carmel and Chloe were in agreement that the online store is the heart of all retail businesses; accessible to all, open 24 hours a day.
More details on our panelists:
Carmel is Creative Director and Brand Champion at Heal’s, the international furniture and homewares retailer renowned for its design integrity and support of young designers. Carmel is also an award-winning journalist with 15 years experience in print and online publishing, working at the Financial Times, Condé Nast, Time Warner Inc. and InStyle, and as Editor of lifestyle interiors magazine Living Etc. As editor-in-chief at trend forecasting company GDR Creative Intelligence, she consulted some of the world’s top brands, including Coca-Cola, M&S, P&G, Kraft, Macys, GAP, L’Oreal, Diageo, Moet and Waitrose.
Ross is the CEO and Founder of Appear Here, the leading online marketplace for short-term retail space. Based on the concept that renting commercial property should be as easy as booking a hotel room, Appear Here’s mission is to make retail space accessible to everyone. Hailed a "digital game changer for the high street" by the Guardian and chosen as one of Wired’s 100 Hottest Start Ups, Appear Here has become the go-to destination to make innovative and creative retail ideas happen.
Chloe Macintosh co-founded Made.com in 2010. As Chief Creative Officer, she leads the brand vision and customer proposition. She directs the collections, designer collaborations and marketing campaigns. Chloe was born in Paris, and has lived in London for the past 16 years. Her career in design spurred from her early training in architecture, working as an associate partner in Norman Foster's London practice for ten years. In 2007, Chloe joined Brent Hoberman at interiors brand mydeco, where she led the design board and collaborated with Philippe Starck, Marc Newson and Terence Conran. In 2014, Chloe received a Red Women of the Year Award.
Location:Shoreditch House Library,
London, E1 6AW,
Start:24th March, 2015 at 7:00pm
End:24th March, 2015 at 9:00pm