According to PwC last month, a record net 2,481 stores disappeared from the UK’s top 500 high streets in 2018 – 40% more than in 2017 – prompting fears for the future of the high street. It’s a chilling fact, but within this turbulence a new breed of stores is emerging. Rather than simply stocking goods, these new outlets are transformed spaces to “stage” goods and “host” experiences.
Opening and closures of multiple retailer units, 2013-2018
image source: Local Data Company
Take Made.com’s new flagship outlet in Soho, London for example, which opened in February 2019. It’s very much a showroom designed to inspire and elevate the customer experience in a refreshing, more engaging way. This is all part of chief executive Philippe Chainieux’s master plan to ensure Made.com becomes the go-to brand for millennial homemakers. His view is that trendy products, a super-slick website and Instagram-friendly marketing can be greatly enhanced by amazing physical spaces that bring the brand experience to life, and lock in shopper loyalty.
Made.com in Soho
image source: Essential Retail
Staged items that lead to sales
The chic Soho showroom is three times larger than its original design, and will house a café to encourage dwell time, similar to IKEA's famous in-store eateries. Although Made.com began life as a pure play online retail operation, it now has several strategically located stores, where large ticket furniture items and homewares can be seen, tried, and, tested but not purchased on the spot. Shoppers in-store are directed to buy online and have items delivered to their home.
"Developing a truly integrated business model that combines the best aspects of online and offline commerce is a big challenge."
Tech-enhanced customer experiences
As we see so often when innovative retailers bring ideas to life in the brick and mortar space, technology underpins the new elements of the venture. At Made.com’s Soho showroom each product in-store is assigned its own QR code, which shoppers can scan with their smartphone camera to be taken directly to the product page online to make a purchase. Adding drama and functionality, there is also a gigantic digital tablet in the centre of the store, which allows shoppers to search the brand’s 5,000 products online and browse their Instagram page to buy exact looks from its feed.
While away an afternoon
Other retailers progressing with the showroom model include IKEA, bed brand Silentnight, and speaker specialist Sonos which has a stunning New York music-themed showroom.
Sonos in New York
image source: Cool Hunting
Also of note is British furniture brand Loaf, which recently opened it fourth showroom at Tunsgate Quarter in Guildford, Surrey.
Loaf describes its showrooms as 'slowrooms' because as founder Charlie Marshall has said: “We want customers to explore our laid-back world and flop around on our beds and sofas, chill out, smell, feel, and even hear the brand through the music we play.”
These locations include mattress testing stations, arcade games, a cinema room playing 80s movies, and even old-school-style ice cream parlours. Complimentary drinks are also available in fridges dotted around the space, and there are even colouring stations for children. Every effort is being made to meet customer needs, welcome people in, and treat them incredibly well.
Cost advantages of the showroom
The showroom concept has many advantages for retailers, not least the fact that almost all stock can be held at a less expensive location cutting down on a supply chain cost. Also, staff no longer need neglect customers as they set about unloading boxes and stacking shelves because so little stock is on site. As a result, stock loss is minimised and staff motivation is higher as the mundane elements of running a store are taken out of the equation.
The promise of a smooth customer journey
The challenge though is maintaining customer expectations. In these places, shoppers planning high ticket purchases or big home design projects, will need a good experience throughout the shopping journey and personalised service at all touchpoints. This means delivery must be reliable and ongoing care well executed. They will expect their subsequent online purchasing to be linked to the visit and to run smoothly, regardless of whether they are ordering via their mobile from the store, by laptop, or tablet once they are back home. As might be expected today, showrooms must be designed to sync seamlessly with the brand's website, brochure, and marketing content.
Showrooms just part of the omnichannel jigsaw
Showrooms are not the universal answer for retail of the future. But just like pop-ups, they may serve a powerful purpose as part of a brand's wider omnichannel strategy. Developing a truly integrated business model that combines the best aspects of online and offline commerce is a big challenge that most retailers are facing. It requires a multiyear vision, carefully planned capital investment, and tech partners with the skills, cultural fit, and collaborative approach to help retailers put far-reaching plans into action.
It’s clear that consumers are ready for the next era of retail, where brick and mortar space is designed around the customer experience rather than serving purely as sales outlets. If retailers put all their efforts into meeting these needs and truly deliver the omnichannel dream, traditional shopping is about to move into a new era.