Every once in a while, a story catches your eye and makes you realize just how powerfully D2C-inspired experiences are reshaping retail. This week’s jolt came from reading about Hermès, the brand so fancy many of us aren’t even sure we’re pronouncing it right. The Wall Street Journal reports that its comfy new store in the Meatpacking District is deliberately cozy, welcoming customers to sit down, sip espresso and recharge their phones while they size up skateboards and fanny packs from the Parisian legend.
Yep. The idea that consumers need a welcoming in-store space to experience brands has become so compelling that Hermès seems willing to set aside 182 years of hard-earned snobbery, suddenly inviting consumers to come in and cop a squat.
(We’re taking the Journal’s word for it. This reporter has been Hermès-phobic since she was harrumphed out of the Madison Avenue flagship back in the ‘80s for getting her sweaty paws too close to one of those $18,000 handbags.)
What makes Hermès suddenly want to be in the same category as Allbirds, let’s say, or Madison Reed or Glossier? Not to mention physically close to a Tesla showroom and Warby Parker store?
It’s because D2C brands are reshaping physical retail, asking themselves the basic growth question:“How should we express our digital brand as a physical store?” That trend is forcing brick-and-mortar retailers to ask themselves a basic survival question: “How can we make stores that are as varied and inviting as those D2C brands?”
Creating the right physical space means everything to brands like Burrow, for example, the D2C furniture company that competes with bigger names like Wayfair, Ikea and West Elm. “Everything in the home brands and furniture worlds looks so similar,” says Gianmaria Schonlieb, Burrow’s creative director, explaining why its Burrow House in New York’s Soho is so important to the company. “And since our couches are something we believe should be lived in and not just looked at, we want people to feel like they are entering a home, not a store.”
Prospects are invited to sit in those couches and really relax. A movie theater with Burrow seats is open to the public. It hosts events ranging from comedy to macramé workshops to lectures about venture capital. (That last one seems more on-brand when you learn that Burrow, like Warby Parker and Casper, was founded by a pair of Wharton grads.)
“Our strategy boils down to how we relate to customers,” Schonlieb tells Marketing CPGWeekly. “Social media, especially Instagram, is of course a big part of it. It’s how we answer questions, and it’s our biggest touchpoint. But there, and in the store, the idea is not to put any pressure on the transaction."
The strategy is similar to The Dreamery experience at Casper, which lets you book 45-minute naps on a mattress to try it out, or Allbirds stores, which offer plenty of empty space to test-walk shoes while looking at tactile displays that show how the shoes are sourced.
It’s the D2C mantra: More experiencing, even if that means less transacting. “Even if they leave without a purchase,” says Schonlieb, “at least they understand what the brand is about.”
As alien as that mantra is to legacy retailers, it’s fun to watch that group integrate more radical ideas about customer experience, whether it’s Macy’s teaming with Facebook for its pop-up shops featuring fun new brands like Love Your Melon and Two Blind Brothers, or Nordstrom with its Local concept, shops with practically no inventory but plenty of personal services, like shopping, tailoring and nail grooming.
As they step away from more traditional concepts, they’re cooking up strategies that may help them grow online as well -- and I’m betting many of them will wind up better at it than some D2C brands.
Stores may or may not be portals of commerce, but they are definitely learning labs, lifestyle comfort stations and brand-building tools. Who knows? Maybe one day soon, we’ll find Hermès is offering scarf and tie-tying workshops to boost its flagging silks division, offering Brooklyn-based classes in artisanal saddle-making or in-store yoga for the High Line-weary.
Change -- or maybe le changement -- is good.