Brands use retail as media

10 July 2014
NEW YORK: More brands are rethinking their approach to the physical store and looking beyond its traditional sales function to embrace ideas such as branding and curation.

While top-end brands such as Apple and Burberry have long offered experience-led retail stores, and sportswear brands like Nike have experimented with concept stores, more workaday brands are also entering this arena.

The existence of an outlet such as Story in New York, built on the idea of treating retail as media, has attracted a new range of brands in-store. Story curates its merchandise every month, much like a magazine, and gets a brand to sponsor it. General Electric has taken this month's theme of "cool" as an opportunity to showcase a smartphone-controlled air conditioning unit.

According to Sam Olstein, global director of innovation at GE, "a product tells a much bigger story than just a transaction and in Story every item has a long-tail narrative attached to it".

"That is really what we want to do," he told the Guardian. "Not to enhance every transaction and sell more, but to tell the story behind our work through product, commerce and experience."

Nike had a similar thought in mind with its recent launch of NikeLab to highlight its innovative designs and provide an insight into how the brand collaborates with other innovators. Six boutique stores built using the same design principles as the brand's products, with a particular focus on sustainability and functionality, aim to fuse the physical retail, online commerce and digital engagement environments.

Exclusivity was the angle taken by Nestlé when it opened a Kit Kat concept store – The Chocolatory – in Tokyo, offering unique products unavailable elsewhere. Stewart Dryburgh, Nestlé's global marketing head for KitKat, explained that this tapped into a Japanese custom of buying thoughtful gifts and helped build an emotional connection.

Rachel Shechtman, founder of Story, thought the new retail was in its very early days. "We are barely scratching the surface, " she said, "and while bricks-and-mortar is often referred to as dying, I think it will only give way to a new frontier with endless and untapped potential, light years beyond looking at sales per square foot".

Data sourced from The Guardian, The New Age; additional content by Warc staff
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