From brick-and-mortar to e-Commerce to omnichannel, retail is constantly reinventing itself in the face of ever-changing technology, trends and customer expectations.
Today, we’ll take an in-depth look at a retail phenomenon that is shaking up the industry — one that at first glance might seem counterintuitive, but that is inspired by the belief that retail is not just about product and price anymore, it’s about customer experience.
No, literally, enter some guideshops. Sit back and relax, and we’ll guide you through a guided tour of the latest in retail guideshop innovation.
But first, a bit of background.
E-Commerce today is booming, growing by an average of 15.3% since 2017. But the competition is fierce and there are some retail products and brands that struggle when only offered online. For certain items, including clothing and high-price-tag products, shopping online can lack what a physical store can provide — the ability to try on clothes, to touch and interact with products, and to receive personalized customer service in the form of a friendly conversation with a helpful human being.
Although some big names in retail are able to respond to this by offering same-day delivery, other brands are taking another approach — opening small brick-and-mortar locations that focus more on a unique, curated shopping experience, and that emphasize building brand recognition and loyalty rather than focusing on the transaction that has traditionally defined the in-store shopping experience.
Below, we highlight several brands that have optimized the brick-and-mortar shopping experience for the modern consumer. From custom fixtures to curated inventory, we focus on how the design of these spaces provides customers with a memorable shopping experience, creating a positive impression of the brand and leaving them wanting more.
Guideshop Tour Stop #1: Bonobos And The Evolution Of Retail
It’s probably just a coincidence that a company named after an endangered great ape is the highest-profile example of a key trend in the recent evolution of retail. But Bonobos, the menswear retailer founded online in 2007, became a much-watched retail innovator when it opened its first guideshops in 2012.
The Bonobos guideshop experience typically involves making an appointment to receive high-touch, one-on-one service without the hassle of crowds, imposing walls of merchandise, uncomfortable fitting room sessions and bulky shopping bags. Customer service guides, also called “ninjas,” help shoppers find ideal fit and styles, then place orders on the spot for one- to two-day direct delivery.
Freed to place far less emphasis on inventory, the Bonobos guideshops feature spacious, uncrowded interiors with adventurous designs and comfortable places to sit and relax while “shopping.” According to a report in Forbes, Bonobos’ quest to deliver optimal customer experience also includes offering guests a free beverage, with many opting for a cold, frosty beer.
Guideshop Tour Stop #2: Dyson Demo
Dyson, the household appliance maker best known for its high-tech vacuum cleaners, has also embraced the guideshop model with its Dyson Demo Stores, like this one in San Francisco.
“The best way to understand our technology is to experience it yourself,” says the caption under a photo of a young man maneuvering a sleek, cord-free cleaning device. “Test it against 30 different types of debris, plus choose from exclusive colors and a range of Dyson-engineered tools to help make your cleaning easier.”
Give your guests a 360-degree view: Dyson is a good example of one key tenet of guideshop strategy — showcase the product in a way that emphasizes the relationship you want shoppers to have with the product. Using large plinths, none of which are positioned against the walls of the demo store, products are displayed so customers can walk around and view them from all angles.
Dyson’s goal was to teach consumers about the technology behind their brand in hopes of fostering respect and a relationship with their line of highly engineered products. Other products are displayed on near-invisible mounts, keeping hairdryers and vacuum components freestanding with less visual clutter. The lighting design also keeps the focus on the products while interest is created with full-wall LED screens.
Guideshop Tour Stop #3: Cuyana
A well-known merchandising strategy is to give more expensive items more space. Psychologically, shoppers understand the value of square footage, so when generous space is devoted to a limited number of items, it gives a sense of quality and price point.
Spacing out items when designing your guideshop also gives your customers a better experience — ultimately creating a shopping environment that is less about the transaction at the end and more about providing an enjoyable experience that will motivate shoppers to come back and visit again.
Digital-first retailer Cuyana does this by using large surfaces to showcase a curated collection of products; they do not have rows or stacks of products, and all products have lots of breathing room.
If the new brick-and-mortar is about the experience you are able to provide to visitors, then unique fixtures and displays are a must. On-brand fixtures add to the overall aesthetic you are trying to achieve. Details great and small — from the materials and finishes to making a statement with oversized lighting — can push your guideshop experience to the next level.
The curves and pink color of Cuyana’s furnishings is great branding and can be seen in the shop from floor to ceiling. The curved walls with gold-colored hang rails running all along them lead guests through the entire collection and the curves are mirrored in the front window, bench legs and tables. Cuyana also offers in-house monogramming to create a personalized experience and encourage return visits.
Guideshop Tour Stop #4: M.Gemi
Getting creative with your fixtures and displays is one hallmark of the guideshop experience. One way that Italian shoemaker M.Gemi does this is by using mirrored displays to showcase just one shoe, while the reflection in the mirror mimics the look of putting both shoes on display. This reduces the amount of product displayed on the floor while still giving guests the chance to see the shoe as a pair.
M.Gemi maximizes its brand impact with the use of modular/movable plinths that can be turned, moved and stacked differently, allowing shoppers to see something fresh, but familiar, upon each return visit.
As guideshops like those operated by Bonobos and others have become an industry success story, a quick look at the pros and cons of this model helps explain why.
Retail Guideshop Pros And Cons
Andy Dunn, CEO and founder of Bonobos, said in an interview that when he started the online retailer in 2007 he didn’t envision Bonobos ever having a brick-and-mortar presence, but decided on the term “guideshops” to highlight a clearly differentiated shopping experience.
“In a lot of clothing and apparel stores, you’ll see the staff fussing around with the stock — straightening it, counting it, replenishing it. That sucks up a lot of their time, leaving only marginal attention for the customer. When you take the inventory out, your store personnel can focus more on your customers,” he said. “We chose to stay small, experiential, high intimacy, and high customer service.”
The formula has not only worked wonders, it has launched a trend, which is not surprising when you consider the pros and cons.
• Customers are more relaxed.
• Far less space needed for inventory.
• No competing for retail space with other brands.
• Guides help customers find the best fit.
• Guides also double as stylists.
• Average orders are larger than online-only orders.
• More repeat purchases (sizes are kept on file).
• Fewer returns.
• Brand loyalty is high.
• No “instant gratification.” Shoppers must wait one to three days for delivery.
Guideshops represent another example of how the future of retail is personal, how the most creative retailers are finding new ways to differentiate themselves with next-level customer service and unforgettable customer experiences. As his own empire evolves, Dunn observed, the focus will be on continuing to explore “how we can own the relationship with the consumer.”
Jeff Hastings is the Chief Marketing Officer for Visual Creations, Inc. A retail merchandising and marketing veteran, Hastings has over a decade of retail design experience, knowledge and insight from serving as the Senior Director of Retail Design, Director of Visual Merchandising and Senior Marketing Director for multiple retail and graphic companies across the U.S. Visual Creations/Rose Displays is a full-service provider of cost-effective custom fixtures, furniture, millwork and signwareä solutions. With decades of design and manufacturing experience, VCI/Rose partners with leading U.S. retailers and brands to create memorable in-store experiences.