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The new concept store

by Helen James

The concept store has changed.

What was once about selling a certain lifestyle is now a space where a brand explores a new direction, idea or initiative.

Concept stores stand apart from the rest of a brand’s store portfolio. They may be testbeds, they may be wildly different to the other spaces, they may be storytelling and engagement spaces. They may be permanent or pop-ups or something in between. Some approaches have even been so well received they’ve been rolled out elsewhere.

We’ve scoured the world to find the very best new retail concept stores out there and in doing so discovered some key trends that connect the new, inspirational approaches to retail that are redefining what the concept store can be.

This article is a condensed version of ‘The World’s Best in Retail Right Now’, which originally appeared on my blog, This Is Retail.

Food will save retail

Crate and Barrel (Chicago)

Restaurants are a great way to keep customers in-store for longer. The Table at Crate, a restaurant in US furniture and homewares retailer Crate and Barrel’s Chicago store, has the added perk that most of the items in the restaurant can be bought within the store. The retailer has partnered with local chef Bill Kim to manage the dining area, which will be used for other activities, such as cooking demonstrations, outside of restaurant hours.

Rouje (Paris)

Fashion brand Rouje has opened its first physical store in Paris, and as is often the case with digital-first brands, it’s no ordinary store. It features its own restaurant next door, Chez Jeanne, named after the brand’s founder Jeanne Damas, the daughter of a brasserie owner. For Jeanne, food and Rouje go hand in hand, and there’s no better way of communicating that chemistry than with classic French brasserie food that also nods to her heritage.

AT&T (Seattle)

Tapping into Seattle’s coffee culture and booming tech scene, this concept space is described as a ‘second living room’. Customers and non-customers can hang out, work, host events, browse various technology, or enjoy coffee and food. This space represents a bold step for the global telecomms company.

Create community spaces

Lululemon (Chicago)

At 20,000 square feet, Lululemon’s brand new ‘experiential’ space in Chicago is also the retailer’s biggest ever store. Home to a restaurant, a yoga and meditation space for classes, and a concierge desk, the space will also play host to events such as movie screenings and concerts. The athletic apparel brand entices customers into the store by offering them the opportunity to try out Lululemon products in its workout classes, free of charge.

The Body Shop (London)

With this new store, The Body Shop reminds customers of the brand’s heritage and ‘activist roots’ by creating a community hub for like-minded individuals and promoting the message that its products are environmentally friendly. Featuring an ‘activism corner’, the store provides a direct line for customers to join local and global activist groups and spread the word on social media.

Convenience is key

McDonald’s (London)

Fast-food giant McDonald’s is piloting a take-away-only service on Fleet Street in central London. There’s no seating and a reduced menu, and the goal is to get customers in and out of the store as quickly as possible. Customers use a touch-screen kiosk to place orders in the stripped-back space, and the whole experience is deliberately different to typical newer McDonald’s spaces, which have aimed to be more engaging, social spaces.

Whole Foods (Chelsea, New York)

The new Whole Foods store in New York focuses on its ‘grab and go’ concept. Although the store will still sell a selection of its raw ingredients, the focus is on prepared foods, including paninis and other hot dishes, and an acai bowl station. As well as appealing to lunching locals, the idea reflects a growing trend for supermarkets and wholesalers to showcase their ingredients in the best way possible: by showing off how delicious they are when combined in great recipes.

Keep it local

Tiffany (Tokyo)

Luxury jeweller Tiffany & Co. has a new concept store in Tokyo, located on Cat Street, an area popular for used-clothing shops and athletic brands rather than luxury retailers. The brand is targeting a younger customer: the space has photo booths and a retro, American diner with hot-dogs on the menu, and it’s exclusively releasing pendants engraved with the location’s unique cat logo, which you can’t buy anywhere else in the world. It’s a much more informal and playful store than other Tiffany locations, but it still communicates the brand’s world beautifully.

Balenciaga (New York)

Luxury fashion retailer Balenciaga has recently opened a flagship on Madison Avenue that focuses on the concept of the space as a public domain. The store’s theme is ‘urbanism’: the internal environment is inspired by the city of New York. Its benches and seats mimic the ones found in city parks and subway stations. This is also the only Balenciaga store that will sell a limited-edition NYC shopping tote.

Design an artistic moment

Alexander McQueen (London)

Alexander McQueen’s store on Bond Street is a flagship with a difference. Along with the label’s latest collections and archive designs, photographs and artworks are displayed throughout, and the top floor is entirely dedicated to showing the history of the brand and the stories behind specific designs. The store also hosts talks and exhibitions to inspire students and foster new fashion talent.

Cos (London)

In the new Coal Drops Yard shopping area in Kings Cross, H&M-owned fashion retailer Cos has a store that is more like an ongoing exhibition. This hybrid space works as both a special edit of the brand’s collection and a destination for art and design, as it hosts work from established and emerging artists. As well as curating its own collection, Cos also offers limited-edition prints, a selection of books and other products from brands with a story to tell, which gives customers a better insight into the lifestyle of the Cos brand.

Make it social

Boots (London)

Health and beauty retailer Boots has launched a concept store in Covent Garden that represents the biggest makeover in the company’s 170-year history. The white marble-tiled beauty hall is home to more than 300 brands, and it has its own YouTube studio and Instagram area where shoppers can film or take pictures with their new purchases.

Gymshark Hub (Solihull, UK)

British sportswear retailer Gymshark has redesigned a former warehouse in Solihull into a £5 million tech innovation hub, with the goal of it being seen as the best gym in Europe. The space is designed to support the brand’s focus on social media and working with influencers. It also boasts several high-tech photography studios that will support the launch of Gymshark’s new fitness app.

Ba&sh (New York)

French fashion retailer Ba&sh’s brand new concept store in NoLita will hold monthly events for influencers and their friends as a way of getting promoted on social media. The store features a ‘dream closet’ for customers to choose some of the label’s signature items and ‘borrow’ them for 72 hours. The boutique will also hold French lessons and pastry-making classes to draw more people in.

Sustainability sells

Lush (Manchester)

Lush has launched a high-tech ‘Naked’ store in Manchester in an effort to reduce packaging. The retailer invites NGOs and activist groups that work on reducing waste and plastic pollution into the store to educate both staff and customers, which shows that this is more than a token gesture from the retailer – it’s something it truly believes in. There’s a financial gain for Lush too: the money it saves on packaging can be put towards ingredients instead.

Tim Hortons (Toronto)

Canadian fast-food chain Tim Hortons has launched its first ever ‘innovation café’, with a focus on sustainability, in downtown Toronto. The store is offering 100% compostable cutlery, coffee cups made from 30% post-consumer recycled material, and china and glassware for dine-in customers. This store reflects what customers are coming to expect from retailers.

Get personal

Levi’s (New York)

Iconic denim retailer Levi’s launched a flagship in Times Square that is its largest store in the world. At the Tailor Shop, customers can sit at the customisation bar with iPads to see how items would look when personalised. They can browse custom options from local artists or sit down with a master tailor – it’s retail theatre at its best.

Freitag (Zurich)

In Zurich’s District 4, German-Swiss bag brand Freitag has opened a micro factory store where customers can create their own one-of-a-kind version of the brand’s famous tarp bag. The bags are made from recycled truck tarp and fully compostable textiles. The space provides visitors with an engaging and unique experience but it also educates them on the sustainable-making processes that the retailer is so passionate about.

The Perfume Shop (Sheffield, UK)

The Perfume Shop’s first experiential concept store features a centrally located ‘perfume wheel’ with sensors that customers can touch and feel. There are also centred funnels with iPads to help customers build their preferences, and a personalisation station where customers can decorate and engrave their bottles.

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