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From retail to me-tail

Asics, London.

Inspire me

International trends allow Kiwi retailers to get a glimpse of the future of retail before it hits New Zealand’s shores. Whaley says the biggest retail design trends overseas right now prioritise unique, fun and interactive experiences; personalisation; and social media integration.

As Whaley commented in ‘Setting the stage for retail theatre’ on page 36, many retailers in New Zealand remain focused on a transactional kind of trade that hasn’t kept pace with changes in consumer behaviour.

Today’s consumers no longer want to choose between ecommerce and bricks and mortar retail – if they’re visiting a physical store, it must also sport digital integration. However, technology is only worth using if it adds value to the customer experience, Whaley says.

Its real power in-store is to enhance the physical environment and help the retailer tell their brand story in a more coherent, immersive and interactive way. In-store technology must support a unique brand experience that surprises and delights.

The complimentary soda bar at Asics Regent St is a great example of technology that adds value, Whaley says, adding that it shows retailers it’s possible to offer shoppers an extra service without fuss. It’s controlled by two iPads which dispense shoppers’ choice of still water, sparkling water or fruit juice.

“It doesn’t have to be hot, there doesn’t need to be a person to manage it, and it can still be fun.”

Hospitality activations are another tool in retailers’ kit to stop shoppers leaving the store. Even a simple water cooler will encourage customers to stay and play.

“At its best, retail elevates a product from the ordinary to the extraordinary,” Whaley says. “In a world where we can now buy everything online, stores are the physical face of a brand and have to work harder.”

Retailers can move from transactional retail to experiential by moving away from emphasising product to brand-building and services, Whaley says. However, in doing this, she warns, they should be careful to remember that Kiwis prioritise authenticity very highly.

“Even what I’ve seen overseas is that gimmicks don’t stay around for long. There is an element of authenticity and tall poppy syndrome everywhere, but international consumers may enjoy the odd gimmick more.”

Whaley is trying to encourage retailers to reduce their signage, or at least the volume of it. She speaks of “a less literal interpretation of branding”, describing imagery inside shops as increasingly featuring fewer models wearing product and more “pretty pictures” of nature or art that relates to the brand’s essence.

Retailers should embrace the opportunity to showcase their creativity, passion and expertise with interior design and creative merchandising, Whaley says.

Gong Cha.

Make it personal

The personalisation trend is sweeping retail stores overseas. It can be as intimidatingly technical as using virtual reality technology to display the customer’s name on an engraved perfume bottle which appears against a Burberry billboard, or as simple as a pair of embroidered jeans, but with every activation, it turns commodity products into precious personal treasures.

Personalisation doesn’t have to happen during the sale, Whaley says. Customers will return to pick up high-value items later or make an appointment for experiences such as watch company Nixon’s customization bar.

“You can get people to come back.”

Making sure stores relate to their local context is another form of personalisation. In order to read as authentic to Kiwi shoppers, international insights must be adapted to fit a New Zealand audience, and even local large networks should make sure each individual store is appropriate for its immediate community.

“The multinationals need to be local,” Whaley says.

Incremental improvements made while updating stores is a subtle way retailers with large networks can move with the times and evolve their concept. New Zealand menswear retailer Barkers does this well, Whaley says: “Every site is a bit different and unique, which is refreshing and shows they are keen to try new things and are not going to be stuck in a box. It also means the stores never get tired because they are constantly moving and changing.”

Whaley also encourages her clients to change their storefront slightly at each location.

Some international retailers offer a local art exhibition in-store alongside their product. Canadian apparel multinational Kit and Ace did this during its brief period of operation in the New Zealand market, showcasing work by by Nadia Zoricich, and overseas, Galeria Melissa will host rotating exhibitions of emerging artists which change four times a year. Initiatives like this help create reasons for the customer to return.

Gong Cha Takapuna’s new fit-out by Spaceworks localises the Taiwanese-based global bubble tea brand to the New Zealand market. The first of five new Gong Cha stores scheduled to open in New Zealand in 2018, Whaley describes it as “much lighter” and “Kiwified” than its overseas fit-outs.

The design is based on an international trend towards creating ‘Instagrammable’ spaces specifically for social media, featuring interactive sets, backdrops and on-trend areas.

At the entrance to Gong Cha Takapuna, customers will be able to be photographed on a swing in a faux grass area in front of a graphic featuring one of Gong Cha’s tea fields.


Get social

Social media is a way of life for shoppers these days, and encouraging in-store social media interaction is another great way for retailers to get attention, increase engagement and create a welcoming environment. Photobooths, selfie sets and printing stations are just some of the many ways social media can be integrated with branding and brought to life within a store.

Branded social media walls featuring contributions from the public are famous for their obvious vulnerability to misuse by those with their minds in the gutter, but Whaley says this is avoidable if care is taken with the settings.

“You don’t have to allow it to show comments, it can just be pictures.”

Algorithms governing social media platforms like Instagram are very quick to stop rude images from seeing the light of day in the first place, she says. Images are proactively detected and deleted by the platform itself.

There was a time when offering free WiFi for unrestrained social media activity was considered a risk as it would allow customers to comparison-shop on the spot, but Whaley says top retailers in developed markets have largely moved past this kind of insecurity.

“In most stores now, they encourage you to search for competitors.”

As well as encouraging shoppers’ social media use, Whaley says retail brands should themselves be active on social. For those which lack an ‘Insta-friendly’ product like fashionable apparel or make-up, it’s possible to showcase your brand’s personality using images and messages that fit its brand identity.

Most of all, Whaley says: “Don’t blatantly sell.”

“Think less about the transaction and more about people having a good time in your store.”

Sweet Salvation, Dubai.

Lizzi Whaley’ top picks from world cities

Part of the point of embarking on a global retail safari is to immerse yourself in a new environment and seek out exceptional retail experiences. The element of surprise is important, but sometimes it helps to have a place to start.


Top pick: Asics.

A great incorporation of personalisation, hospitality in-store and connection to social media.” – Lizzi Whaley.

Japanese sneaker company Asics’ London flagship in Regent St is the biggest store of its kind on the world. It’s also the only space where all of Asics’ brands – Onitsuka Tiger, Haglöfs, Asics Tiger and Asics – are sold in a single retail space.

With a footprint of more than 800 square metres, Asics Regent St is spread over three levels and boasts features like interactive touchscreens and ‘motion ID’ areas where customers can have their running style recorded on video and assessed by computer to help recommend the most suitable Asics footwear for their needs. There’s even an in-house DJ booth.

This store is a masterclass in integrating social media with retail, Whaley says, highlighting the large digital feed across one wall.

Whaley also admires the self-service hospitality on offer at Asics Regent St. A juice dispenser tap means customers can help themselves and stay a little longer, but staff aren’t burdened with the need to serve them.


Top pick: Aesop

Interactivity and engagement with the product, encouraging trying with the ability to wash your hands after. Also a great example of concept retail where the fit-out is a beautiful experience in itself.” – Lizzi Whaley.

Australian skincare brand Aesop is known for its innovative and architectural fit-outs worldwide. Each location receives a unique fit-out that suits the store’s local identity.

In Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich, Aesop’s fit-out was carried out by March Studio, which crafted a “deliberately unadorned” space referencing Zurich’s famous cleanliness and order. March was inspired to use recycled construction material by Zurich-based company Freitag, which sells bags made from reused truck tarpaulins, car-seat belts and inner tubes all over the world.

Whaley describes the store as “just beautiful concept retail”.


Top pick: Sweet Salvation

Themed retail where you can almost taste the product.” – Lizzi Whaley.

Canadian ice-cream franchise Sweet Salvation’s first outlet in the Middle East is “just a really, really beautiful thing,” Whaley says. The store opened in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai at the City Walk district in 2017. It stands out from the crowd by offering innovative soft serve flavours like saffron and pistachio, lemon coconut cream pie and birthday cake.

Sweet Salvation’s Tiffany-blue fit-out by Navigate Design is made for the ‘gram, with strategically-placed hashtags like #blessyourmouth encouraging social media users to post in a trackable way. A repurposed shipping container has been transformed into a serving station and accents of marble give the space a luxurious feel.

Los Angeles

Top pick: Gentle Monster

Concept retail, where the retail fitout itself is a piece of art.” – Lizzi Whaley.

Korean eyewear company Gentle Monster’s Los Angeles showroom on Broadway is closer to an art gallery than a retail store. Product takes up very little space in the 445 square metre space – instead, the floor is filled with kinetic sculptures and installations by artist Floria Sigisomondi based around the concept of ‘harvest’. Knitting designer Misu A Barbe and artist Jung Uk Yang also have work present in the space.

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