The concept store has been hailed as the future of physical retail. But does a concept store make sense for your business?
By definition, a concept store is a store where new ideas are created and combined to enhance customer experience and increase sales. They go beyond traditional store elements like displays and lighting to add intrigue and encourage visitors to stay, play, test, and enjoy all of the features the store has to offer. Many concept stores also offer experimental elements like cafes or exhibition spaces to boost their appeal to shoppers.
But as a retailer, you may be wondering whether a concept store is right for your business. Some concept stores present challenges like cost, design, and maintenance, but also show potential not only for ROI but for developing a new experience that can be scaled across future retail locations.
In this article, we’re diving into the concept behind the concept store, how it works, and how retailers can approach testing concept models to see if a concept store fits with your retail strategy.
Why open a concept store?
Online shopping is giving traditional retailers a literal run for their money. It’s estimated that one in every ten retail dollars in Canada will flow through digital channels, with mobile devices accounting for a third of all e-commerce sales, and it’s having quite an impact on brick and mortar merchants.
With features like free next-day shipping and the ease of shopping from your home or mobile device at your convenience, stores must have more to offer their customers than product selection. Consumers expect something unique, fresh, and exciting when they visit a store — something that online channels simply can’t compete with.
For some shoppers, this is simply a matter of convenience. They can walk into a nearby store and get something immediately versus having to wait for delivery. But in other cases, such as the role of the concept store, consumers have a chance to hold, test, and use products in person. They’re introduced to new experiences that engage the senses and inspire their minds. They discover new products that cater to their needs.
In essence, concept stores don’t just sell products — they sell experiences. They focus on a specific audience and cater to their unique needs and expectations. And because they don’t aim for mass appeal, these stores are better able to prioritize consumers’ needs that make buyers feel closer to brands than they do when following them online.
What does it take to open a concept store?
Retail success has always been reliant on a brand’s ability to stand out from competitors, which is one reason why the concept store seems appealing. But simply choosing to provide new, unusual, and buzz-worthy experiences doesn’t guarantee instant concept-store success.
A concept store is all about engaging your consumers using a different approach without severing ties with your brand. It’s the process of telling (and selling) your story to your consumers in a way they may not have heard or seen before.
Retail design, store layout, displays, products, and other sensory-engaging elements all play a critical role, but it’s the experience that does most of the talking. There’s an overarching theme that ties all of the store’s elements together, creating a destination shopping experience that solidifies your store’s purpose and function.
For example, IKEA’s new all-in concept store is a far cry from their traditional warehouse-like stores, towering seven stories near the Westbahnhof train station in Vienna, Austria. Slated to open in 2021, the new store is forgoing a parking lot and doubling down on 24-hour delivery and shopping convenience.
Pop-up shops are also growing in popularity as a way of testing a concept store, offering unique opportunities to test new ideas with minimal overhead and permanency. These shops put products in front of a new audience while boosting your brand awareness in the process.
Another prime example is The Row, a fashion brand developed by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen that transformed a three-story townhouse into their Manhattan shop. The interior is much like a New York luxury pad, with elements of retail sprinkled throughout in a non-obtrusive way. The idea is to make the shopper feel more at home rather than being attacked by clothing racks and displays upon entry. The result ensures that clients don’t just buy into the clothing, but also the unique shopping experience they’ve created.
This evolution into hybrid retail strikes an ideal balance between in-person shopping and brand experience. It’s typical to expect the unexpected, as concept stores provide retailers seemingly infinite opportunities to bring their unique ideas to life. Anything goes in a concept store — provided it supports your brand in a positive way and encourages others to connect with you.
How to explore your concept store’s potential
Concept stores come with a financial investment but can also offer huge potential for brand awareness and sales. As you’re exploring options for your concept store, keep the following priorities in mind:
The idea behind concept stores like Macy’s Story in New York is a good example of a retailer focused on using concept stores to drive sales. The focus for this store is all about bringing new brands and products to light, offering magazine-like inspiration in a store-like environment. While Macy’s Story in NYC has the right concept, the retailer has had difficulty capitalizing on the concept store, which shows how important iteration truly is when it comes to creating a successful concept store.
Brands who explore concept stores should also take care to iterate based on consumer feedback and new trends. This allows you to test ideas on a smaller scale before rolling them out across other locations.
Though concept stores are designed to attract a unique audience, they shouldn’t alienate your existing customers. The elements within your concept store should exist to unify your audience and focus on the overall customer experience. When your store becomes the space where people want to visit and connect, you offer a greater experience than any traditional shopping experience can compete with.
As concept stores continue to grow in popularity, the race to push the boundaries of creativity will continue to intensify. We may start seeing more brands join the hybrid retail movement — a clear sign that concept stores can be the right way to innovate.
EXPLORING THE IDEA OF A CONCEPT STORE FOR YOUR RETAIL BUSINESS?
Having built thousands of retail environments for hundreds of North America’s largest and smallest brands, we know what it takes to grow a retail business from their 3rd location to their 4th, or from their 10th to their 20th, or even from their 100th to their 1000th. If you’re exploring the idea of opening a concept store to grow your retail business, get in touch with our expert team to discover how we can help you design a unique retail environment that will elevate your concept space.