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Pent up Demand: Attention All Brands – The Shoppers are Coming

Our environment is changing rapidly, and customers are returning to in-person retail experiences. We need to be ready for them by making their first engagement positive, welcoming, and inspiring at the same time.

This April, we held a long-awaited Bar Mitzvah for my thirteen-year-old son. Having and hosting a limited Bar Mitzvah ceremony and celebration during Covid had its fair share of the challenges we are all too familiar with: gathering limits, venues, masks, food sharing, quarantines, and the other usual suspects. However, the most daunting challenge that really caught me by surprise was outfitting myself and my family for the big event.

Due to the various restrictions, we waited until we were about six weeks out to dig into planning, and by the time I remembered that we needed to wear something beyond our now-standard athleisure, time was of the essence.

With cash in hand, I carved out some precious weekend alone time and ventured out to my favorite stores for an indulgent day of shopping in search of the perfect dress. But what I found was a different story. It has been a challenging year for retailers, and unfortunately – it showed. I visited a department store first. It was immediately clear: what was not there was more apparent than what was. Heading into the spring season, the floor looked anemic, inventory was low, the merchandising was half-hearted, and salespeople were scarce.

But I had a mission, and more importantly, a deadline. I picked up as many dresses as I could find to try on and headed to the dressing room – or so I thought. In actuality, the fitting rooms were closed, which was a prospect that hadn’t even crossed my mind. Feeling slightly defeated, I continued my mission to a few more shops, but unfortunately, my experience was consistent.

The retail experience was failing me, and I needed a new game plan.

What had started as a fun day of long-awaited self-indulgence turned out to be a bust. Instead, I returned home, found a quiet room, did a deep dive on the web - and ordered a mass quantity of dresses in multiple sizes from a range of vendors. Essentially, I became my own Rent the Runway.

While the post-pandemic in-store shopping experience frustrated me as both a consumer and a designer whose objective is to create spaces and experiences that speak to the needs of the end-users, the digital experience was also not without its upsides and downsides.

The Upsides

  • With plenty of natural light, a full-length mirror, a large selection of shoes, and undergarments to choose from – my bedroom turned out to be the perfect dressing room for my very own runway show.
  • I pulled in my consultants – in this case, my husband, 10-year-old daughter, and a neighbor to help judge and critique my selections. I didn’t have to incentivize anyone to come to the store with me, and better than any salesperson on commission – their feedback was immediate, honest, and direct.
  • I did not find my dress from the usual suspects – but from an online site that I found during my deep dive. It was less expensive than I had budgeted for and worked better than I’d imagined.

The Downsides

  • With five different vendors, it was very tricky to coordinate shipping times and deliveries. I actually needed a spreadsheet to track their progress, arrival times, and return schedules (cue project management skills).
  • Multiple shipments arrived over the course of a few weeks. Between boxes, individual deliveries, packing materials, etc., this option did not feel like an environmentally friendly choice.
  • Managing the returns and credits proved to be just as complicated as tracking the orders. Ensuring that proper credit was received was a nuisance, and getting items returned before my credit card bill exploded was an extra task. My day of self-indulgence had turned into weeks of checklist and to-do items. Where is the fun in that?

We worked with the Calvin Klein brand to design a retail prototype that's true to the brand's modern aesthetic while also supporting a full range of women’s athletic and performance wear.

The Takeaways

Every touchpoint of your brand matters.

It matters from the minute the shopper walks into your store, from the visual merchandising to the level of engagement of the salespeople, and from the online shopping navigation to the way you manage online returns. I was still chasing down the credit from one retailer eight weeks after sending it back to the warehouse. Each point of engagement is an opportunity to create and retain a customer.

Be ready.

Our environment is changing rapidly, and customers are returning quickly. The pent-up demand is real. Be ready for them by making their first engagement positive, welcoming, and inspiring at the same time. They’re cautiously optimistic and curiously seeking something new, so be the brand that gives them something to look forward to as we re-enter the world.

We go to stores for memorable experiences.

After this year we are more accustomed to, and dare I say, addicted to online shopping MORE than ever before. Online-only retailers have the brand savvy, multiple channels, and back-end technology to know how to keep customers’ eyes on the page – while delivering almost immediate gratification. Maintaining stock, having effective delivery channels, and a solid return process makes the customer wonder if the store is even necessary.

However, I do want to go to the store. I want wonder and wow. I want to be transported, find something special and new, and head home feeling pampered and invigorated with a bag enveloping my special purchase in hand. The shopping experience needs to transcend the physical environment, product, and salespeople.

I rarely remember times when I’ve added something to my online shopping bag – but I almost always remember the emotional high and the special details when I buy something in person. Special events, curated shopping assistance, in-store experiences – these matter. Want to discuss ideas? Say hello.

Brands that can think bigger and go bolder can aim to WOW beyond expectations.

Our Wrangler x Fred Segal pop-up brand activation experience was envisioned as an immersive interpretation of four of the brand’s pivotal decades in history: the 1920s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. The store merchandise, graphics, and decor were changed three times throughout the duration of the activation to highlight these different eras in the brand’s history.

Pictured at the top: Nic+Zoe. Our retail design team was brought on to help identify the uniquely resonant attributes of the Nic+Zoe brand, develop a strategy for their retail environments, and ultimately a visual expression and meaningful touchpoint of their culture that would connect with their customers.

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