“Unstores” Underscore the Intangible

On the face of it, it’s an extraordinary idea. A store as showroom only, no cash registers in sight. Shoppers in these spaces aren’t shoppers at all. More like tire kickers. They look around, ask some questions, maybe try something out. But they leave empty handed. And that’s just the point.

The concept of the “unstore” is that customer engagement and product education trump hard purchases in the customer experience game. And though still fairly new to the retail scene, this stock-free paradigm shifter is an idea on the rise.

Samsung’s got a big one, with its 837 store in New York. At this colossal three-storey hotspot in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, consumers can “capture the holiday spirit” with a 360 selfie from inside a snow globe, get interactive with the movement-responsive snowflakes in the window display, or hang out in the “holiday living room,” where “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story” play in rotation.

Michael Koch, Samsung’s senior director of store development, was the first to reference the un-store concept during his presentation at the International Retail Design Conference in September. He talked about aspiring to create a retail situation where people could relax without feeling the pressure to buy.

Nordstrom has an unstore, too, in Nordstrom Local. This unique small-scale space in West Hollywood has a styling suite, eight dressing rooms, on-site alterations, personal styling services, beverages and manicures. What doesn’t it have? Inventory.

Other examples include:

  • Starting with three Boston-area stores, Staples has just started a partnership with office-sharing startup Workbar that sees it devoting a portion of its square footage to workspaces—where customers can’t buy a thing.
  • With its magnetic wall panels, in-store power concerts and interchangeable displays, Sony Square NYC is set up to do everything but sell product.
  • In one of its San Francisco stores, Target operates an Internet of Things concept store that functions as a learning lab for shoppers.
  • Reebok has CrossFit gyms at its FitHub stores.

“The idea was never, ‘Let’s go and create a store without any inventory for our consumers,’” Samsung’s Koch says. “The intent was always to find a better way to display products in a way that people would understand them, and be educated in a more comfortable environment.”

store unstore

Inaugural “Reimagined” Target Store Unveiled

Its lack of success in this country notwithstanding, Target USA is continuing its full-speed trajectory toward an unprecedented future that stares e-commerce right in the headlights.

The next generation of this company’s appearance on the American retail landscape launched last week with the opening of a grand and exceptional store in Richmond, TX, thirty-five miles from Houston.

This 124,000-square-foot original is the first of 500 “reimagined” stores the retailer plans to open within the next two years with a customized view to create an enhanced shopping experience. It’ll do this, Target’s chairman and CEO Brian Cornell has said, “by offering more elevated product presentations and a number of time-saving features.”

It’ll also exemplify a commitment to a new retail posture that seeks vigorous competition with department stores and supermarkets by way of specialized consumer goods in home decor, apparel and groceries.

What sets this next-generation store apart is its embrace of two concepts in one. On the “ease” side of the store, busy families on the hunt for convenience get a supermarket-style experience where they can pick up online orders, and buy grab-and-go items.

For shoppers looking to indulge their consumptive outing a bit more, there’s the “inspiration” side of the Target store. Here, customers can undertake leisurely perambulations among beauty products, seasonal décor and specialty brands from celebrities like “Fixer Upper” stars Chip and Joanna Gaines.

There are even two distinct entrances for customers to choose between, each offering a different promise of the shopping experience.

This next-generation store showcases a modern aesthetic. Polished grey concrete floors offer wide, airy passage through expansive aisles set off with natural wood accents and illuminated by windows that let in natural light. Smaller signage and LED lights dim automatically to be more energy efficient.

Other features of this unprecedented retail environment:

  • A Starbucks with outdoor seating.
  • Apparel, cookware and seasonal décor retail sections with whimsical names like TrendSpot, Kitchen World and Wondershop.
  • Strolling tech experts ready to advise on electronic purchases.
  • The Kid’s Node, a curved centre aisle near the children’s clothing section highlighted by a carpeted book aisle and an expanded toy section with coolio interactive offerings like a heat-sensitive touch wall and talk tubes.
  • A curbside pickup station where attendants will ferry purchases—paid for electronically—to busy shoppers’ cars.

With this revolutionary dual-concept store design, Target is making a statement about a blended future in which an established brick-and-mortar presence demonstrates its adaptability to an e-commerce upstart.

The retailer plans to eventually remodel more than half of its US-based 1,834 stores. By the end of 2017, it will have tackled 32 of them, with plans for an additional 35 in 2018.

New Target Store Design

Walmart Canada Unveils Scan & Go

First, there was the self-bagging innovation. Then there were the self-serve checkouts (and their attendant hovering sales associates, ready to help with inevitable technical mishaps). Now with Walmart’s introduction of Scan & Go technology, shopping enters a freshly interactive age.

Last week, Walmart Canada picked 22 stores from across the country as inaugural hosts for a new electronic payment-processing system that has an app as its central piece.

In this (almost) pain-free shopping scenario, customers pick up portable barcode scanners at the launch of their shopping trips, and use them to scan and tally up purchases as they go. At the end, an itemized receipt on their display lets them know what to pay—to either a flesh-and-blood cashier or at a self-serve kiosk—at checkout.

The Scan & Go-equipped stores in BC, Alberta and Ontario mark the first appearance of a Scan & Go in this country; the technology’s been available at Sam’s Clubs in the States for more than a year.

Eventually, says Walmart, the handheld scanners may be abandoned in favour of a smartphone app, as is the standard in the US stores.

While the big-box retailer has claimed this move to automation will not result in human-resource cutbacks (citing customer convenience as the objective), many with an eye on the developing scene are skeptical.

So pokes through the iceberg. By the end of 2016, according to research from London-based research and consulting group RBR, there were 255,000 self-checkout machines in stores around the world; by 2022, that number’s expected to have topped 400,000.


RealREIT Conference Tackles Industry Challenges

The intelligentsia of the retail real estate crowd congregated in Toronto last Thursday to talk property management and disruptors.

The fourteenth annual RealREIT conference dove headfirst into its retail focus, and the spate of grim prognoses the media’s been assigning the scene of late.

OneREIT CEO Richard Michaeloff was succinct in his efforts to put the hysteria in perspective. “Retail,” he said, “has always had turmoil. . . . The key thing is for landlords and property owners to stay focused, be adaptable and recognize trends.”

Among the forces vying for their focus, find the aggressive encroachment of technology and ecommerce.

Ken Silver, CEO of CT REIT, told the crowd that retail success boils down to a commitment to the stuff. The retailers that are investing in technology—not just in support of their website and e-commerce efforts, but in every move they make—will always be the victors, he said.

And for the retailers not among this laureled crew, the fallout of addressing the space they abandon falls to the property owners. Not surprisingly, the conference made room here for a lively discussion about the legacy of Target—which left 16 million square feet of unoccupied Canadian retail space in its wake.

Clever managers, conference participants concurred, can make a virtue of such failures by turning them into opportunities. One third of the old Zellers stores are now Planet Fitness centres.

The conference also dipped into comparative analysis, and the consensus was that the differences that distinguish the American and Canadian markets are significant.

For one, the population split means there’s about 25 square feet of retail space per capita in the US, versus just 15 square feet per capita in Canada. That, commented Don Clow, president and CEO of Crombie REIT, means “there is a bit of a cushion.”

For another, there’s the vacancy rates in the two countries’ major shopping centres: below five percent in Canada, almost eight percent south of the border.

“The bottom line is we do have reasonable level of occupancy in this country,” Clow told the group.

“You just need to be working with your retailers to adapt very quickly and make your centres successful through that accelerated change.”

Retail Real Estate CBSF

New Accolade Honours Pros Who Make Spaces Beautifully Liveable

There’s nothing like a prize to make all the effort worth while. By keeping their eyes on the thing, professionals challenge themselves to achieve performance levels beyond those they might hit on a non-competitive landscape.

It’s why Antalis, a noted European distributor of papers, packaging and visual communication products, has partnered with Wallpaper* magazine to launch the Antalis Interior Design Award.

This brand-new international contest is aimed at celebrating the talents of architects and interior designers, among others, in transforming spaces into areas for splendid, and exemplary living.

Two types of submission are eligible for the contest, including projects completed (or launched) between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2017, in the hospitality, restaurant, retail, office, home and public building domains.

 The organization will award six separate prizes:

  • the Hospitality Award for hotel design;
  • the Restaurant Award for restaurant and dining design;
  • the Retail Award for shop/retail design;
  • the Office Award for office/workspace design;
  • the Home Award for home design;
  • the Public Premises Award for public/outdoor space design.

The contest will be judged by an international jury presided over François Confino, a world-renowned specialist in museum exhibitions, and Wallpaper* Bespoke art director Aneel Kalsi.

The prizes for the Antalis Interior Design Award are juicy. For one, winners will get a burst of media exposure in all of Antalis’s communication sites, as well as through its press partners, Intramuros and Wallpaper*.

 Selected works will be on display on the Antalis Gallery website throughout the competition’s gestation.

Winners’ work, along with their profile pics, will also be published in a book—The Book—showcasing the best projects from the competition. Ten thousand copies of it will be distributed among the world’s key interior design players.

Finally, the Antalis Interior Design Award will recognize the contestant/project that scored the most likes on social media.

Interested parties are invited to submit their entries for the competition from between September 1 and December 31, the day the contest closes. The winners will be announced on January 15, 2018.

For more information, visit Antalis Interior Design Award.


RCC Program Facilitates Meeting Accessibility Targets

The Retail Council of Canada (RCC) is making good on its pledge to facilitate Ontario-based retailers’ efforts to meet the province’s new accessibility laws.


The RCC’s training program—a workshop and webinar series that’s part of the EnAbling Change project—offers practical assistance for retailers charged with adhering to an end-of-year complying deadline for a revised set of accessibility laws.


The EnAbling Change program is an initiative of the Government of Ontario, administered through the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (ADO), that provides financial support and expertise to help industries and sectors comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

The series, which launched on August 22 with the webinar, “How to comply,” will include five webinars in all, on such topics as the ramifications of non-compliance and mental health in the workplace. And on September 29 at the RCC office, retail participants will be able to take part in a workshop with a guest speaker from the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario.

Other guest speakers in this series include representatives from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“We’re very honoured to have been selected as a key partner in helping retailers in Ontario succeed at making their stores more accessible,” Diane J. Brisebois, the RCC’s president and CEO, has said. “Shopping is such an important part of peoples’ everyday lives, and removing barriers to help all people in Ontario have a better retail experience is an excellent example of how retail matters in this province.”

The EnAbling Change webinars are free and open to all retailers.


Free Workshop and Webinar Series for Retailers (CNW Group/Retail Council of Canada)

Free Workshop and Webinar Series for Retailers (CNW Group/Retail Council of Canada)

Pot Shops Need Clean, Comfortable Designs to Break the Mould

With marijuana legalization slow-burning on the horizon, Canadian entrepreneurs are racing to lay hands on whatever part of the retail pie they can.

Retail design is part of this looming revised reality.

Pot stores, legit though they might be, are hitting the scene at a significant disadvantage. After all, their head-shop predecessors have established a sketchy reputation for purveyors of such dubious pleasures. These are the seedy, dark dens of iniquity—populated by sketchy characters and staffed by cut-from-the-same-cloth clerks—a mother hustles her child across the street to avoid.

Though there’s still lots of haze around what legalization will look like in this country, there’s no doubt that the looming legislation offers a fresh opportunity for those involved in this trade to reinvent themselves, and those in on the ground floor know it. This next generation of pot-dispensing retail outlets can set the bar high from the start and the retail sector’s buzzing with ideas on how to do it.

Among them:

  • Sidestep psychedelic posters and reggae music in pursuit of a more professional image. Nobody wants a store to tell them who they ought to be.
  • Don’t eschew the traditional head-shop look so fiercely that you end up like a clinical drug counter—that’s just as unappealing, particularly to the older population looking to replace pharmaceuticals and opioids with something natural.
  • Include a clean, cozy consultation area that, ideally, says consumer research conducted by Toronto-based interior design company Figure3, looks like a kitchen.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of featuring an assurance of safety in the design of the space. That means lots of glass and an open view in from the street.

In January, the first-ever business-only national trade show devoted to the marijuana retail and dispensary business will take place in Oregon. The “RAD Expo,” whose booths will be populated by retail design firms, fixture manufacturers and lighting companies, will look to offer pioneers of this retail arm some guidance.

Photo: Surterra Wellness, Tampa Florida. Design by figure3


CBSF Surterra Wellness

World Interior of the Year Finalists Announced

The spotlight at this year’s World Interior of the Year contest—the theme for which is “performance”—is on colour, acoustics and volume, and the impact these elements can have on a professional interior space.

The shortlist for this prestigious competition—featuring the efforts of practices in the States, Canada, Japan, China, Australia, Mexico, India and Europe—was announced a month ago, and it’s crowded with innovation. We just can’t get enough of these entries.

Among the highlights, find: a spectacular floating bar at the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, a jade green spa in the basement of a Shanghai hotel, and the extraordinary new contemporary headquarters for Airbnb in Dublin, set inside a disused warehouse and designed from scratch.

Amsterdam studio UXUS is shortlisted in the retail category for the stunning shop it designed for the Herzog & de Meuron extension to the Tate Modern Gallery in London, heralded as Britain’s most important new cultural building in almost 20 years.

And a design studio in Shanghai called Neri&Hu converted a former missile factory in Beijing into a car repair garage with offices and an on-site café by way of an industrial-style metal staircase, mesh cages and painted brickwork.

The two World Interior of the Year Canadian contenders are: the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, in Montreal, in the Health and Education Category; and McCarthy Tetrault’s Vancouver office, in the Office category.

In all, 78 projects were shortlisted for this competition, a focal point of the prestigious World Festival of Interiors show, which takes place in Berlin in November.

There, the entries will compete in eight different categories: Bars and Restaurants; Civic, Culture and Transport; Creative Re-Use; Display; Health and Education; Hotels; Offices, Residential and Retail.

Last year’s World Interior of the Year winner was a clothing boutique in Hangzhou, China, that was remarkable for its strikingly monochromatic matte-black interior. China dominates again this year, with more than a third of the finalists based there, including 19 from the mainland, five from Hong Kong and four from Taiwan.

The overall World Interior of the Year winner for 2017 will be crowned on November 17.

OHLAB concept store MiamiUSA

Pop-Up Shops Get Digital Boost

Appear Here may be a pioneer in the field of short-term-rental retail space.

This smart new British app connects brands, entrepreneurs, retailers, designers and creative types with available space in some of the world’s most vibrant cities. Better yet, it all happens on line.

In all, Appear Here offers more than 10 million square feet of commercial space looking to be temporarily transformed into any number of retail reinventions.

The stated mission of this cool new marketplace that bloomed out of the pop-up-shop craze? “To create a world where anyone with an idea can find space to make it happen.”

Appear Here was hatched in London in 2012, when a 20-year-old, Ross Bailey, sought to capitalize on the popularity of the encroaching Diamond Jubilee. With a friend, he opened Rock & Rule in a recently vacated shop and sold limited-edition Queen-Elizabeth-inspired T-shirts and apparel for a few days.

Bailey was surprised at the number of inquiries he fielded during the short period his store was open about how he’d manage to score such a cool short-term rental space. Thus, the idea for Appear Here was born.

The startup quickly expanded into France and, most recently, into New York. It operates in three offices now: one each in London, Paris and NYC.

To date, Appear Here has listed more than 4,000 “exclusive spaces” for consideration by its short-term retail clients. Its clever marketplace has been used by more than 80,000 brands, including headliners like Nike, Loewe, Givenchy, Coca-Cola, Net-a-Porter and Kanye West. But it’s the independents who make up the bulk of the company’s clientele. These are the little guys who want to take their idea for a spin around the block without having to commit to anything long term or insanely expensive—the ones precisely for whom Appear Here was created.

In a recent IPO, Appear Here raised another US$12 million, bringing its total raised capital to US$21.4 million. It’ll use the proceeds to expand into other locations.

CBSF AppearHere

How to Launch a Pot Shop

That recreational marijuana is poised for legalization in this country (starting July 1, 2018) has been all the buzz for the past long while in Canada, as the government scrambles to clarify the particulars. Lots of folks are keen to capitalize on this flaming development, and the uncharted possibilities beckon with tremendous promise.

The only question is: how and where?

Given that the retail oversight of this sparking new merchandise channel has been left up to provincial and municipal governments to decide (and that those decisions are still unmade), and, here’s what would-be marijuana retailers have to work with.


Excluding the homegrown and mail-order options, the LCBO has emerged as the most likely channel for retail sale in Ontario, given the provincial agency’s experience with handling controlled substances. Still, the anti-LCBO stance argues that these vibrant self-service outlets are hardly transferable to the world of cannabis distribution.

If the publicly run provincial monopoly for alcohol distribution wins out, it will almost certainly have to establish new retail outlets for this unique product offering.


Another much-discussed conduit for pot sales is pharmacies. The Canadian Association for Pharmacy Distribution Management, which supplies drugs to pharmacies and hospitals, has declared itself a no-brainer on this front for its well-established system for marijuana distribution.

And, in October, Shoppers Drug Mart applied to be a licensed producer for the purposes of distributing medical marijuana.


Finally, there’s the option of small community storefront dispensaries, such as those selling pot—and attracting tourists—in Colorado. The Retail Council of Canada is said to be consulting with its members and the government on the stuff.

Critically, says Michael Gorenstein, CEO of cannabis firm Cronos Group, these new-style shops have got to be appealing places for folks to visit. “A lot of what drives cannabis tourism isn’t just legal access,” he’s said. “It’s the character in the dispensaries they’ve opened up. It’s a unique retail experience.”


Along whichever path the retail distribution system for cannabis emerges, there’s no doubt the stakes are high. There’s a blaze of money to be made in this field.

Pot Shop