During the design:retail Conference and Expo session titled How Coach Embraces Retail Transformation: From Physical to Immersive Experiences at the Retail Innovation Conference and Expo, Giovanni Zaccariello, SVP of Global Visual Experience at Coach, revealed how the brand’s prioritization of connecting locally with consumers is successfully driving interest in the Coach brand.
“I couldn’t do what I do today without understanding local culture,” said Zaccariello. “Localization is critical for success with a global brand.”
At Coach, Zaccariello is responsible for visual merchandising through the company’s 3D creative studio, including store windows, showrooms and pop-ups, design and production of events and the digital experience team. A vital component of his expertise has been the understanding of the common traits shared by consumers globally — but also their differences.
Zaccariello noted that physical stores not only remain important sales channels, they also provide opportunities to deliver vital connections to and among customers. For Zaccariello, it’s not a question of digital-first or physical-first — to be successful, brands must embrace an approach that puts people first.
“Community, belonging and entertainment will be at the height of retail,” he said. “As people, we’re humans, we want to touch things, we want to be together. That is just the way we are. There is definitely a need to return to the physical experience.”
A New Take on Location, Location, Location
Coach’s approach to physical retail relies on thinking outside the confines of its traditional stores. As part of this strategy, Zaccariello seeks neighborhoods with little to no presence of its category. For example, in October 2021 Coach unveiled its concept store in the ANFU Road area of Shanghai — home to many cafés but few retailers.
“It’s a location filled with coffee shops and Gen Z is everywhere there,” Zaccariello said. “They put their laptops out and they work and do all kinds of things there. We thought, ‘Okay they’re not coming to us, let’s go to them.’ Let’s really try to find a new way to work with real estate. Real estate is such a big part of how luxury can show up as a brand.”
Coach partnered with interior goods retailer Indigo Living to develop a six-month installation that included six rooms dedicated to the fashion brand. Each room reflected a different facet of the Coach brand, such as space dedicated to mascot dinosaur Rexy, a Coach TV room and an area dedicated to product restoration.
“We were blending the craft to the heritage of the brand, but at the same time we played with something that was a little bit more local,” said Zaccariello. “We worked with the local team to understand what is going to work for this young customer in Shanghai. Maybe in Beijing it’s different, so it’s really about the localization. It’s a little bit more work, but it definitely is helping us to talk to the local consumer in a different way.”
Adjusting Physical Experiences to Local COVID Lockdown Conditions
As the 2021 holiday season shifted into full swing, Coach developed methods of interacting with customers across geographic locations, but also made sure to connect these experiences with physical locations. Zaccariello saw opportunities to bring communities together as they emerged from lockdowns, whether that was in-store or outdoors.
“We were trying to capture the audience in different regions because each region was in a different state of the pandemic,” Zaccariello said. “We still went ahead and got traditional pop-ups, such as one in Shanghai to launch our Winter ski collection.”
The December 2021 launch of the interactive Snow City game was complemented by a live experience at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s Pavilion center. In the game, Rexy and her winter-weather animal friends collect hearts, known as “love,” against the backdrop of snowy New York City-inspired conditions. Coach projected 3D animation featuring Rexy and her holiday friends on the shopping center’s giant outdoor LED screen, while guests could scan a QR code to access Coach activations including the game. They could play Snow City on-site during the activation or access the game at any time on mobile.
In Shanghai, the brand encountered challenges because indoor events were restricted at holiday planning time. Coach decided to cater to local residents by producing an enormous 3D projection of its Snow City characters on the Broadway Mansions building, providing consumer interaction opportunities in a new way in order to relay the holiday spirit and the brand’s campaign to encourage others to “Give A Little Love.”
As part of this winter campaign, Coach also launched 80 NFTs, complementing its eight Snow City characters with 10 unique tokens of each one. Coach launched a video on TikTok to introduce the concept and within seconds after its release the NFT sold out, according to Zaccariello. With Rexy as the No. 1-requested NFT and her polar bear companion second, Coach’s new offering crashed the website as popularity skyrocketed with younger kids, allowing the brand to develop relationships with these consumers.
Remain True to Your Roots
While blending digital with brick-and-mortar experiences, it’s crucial for companies to remain true to the roots and heritage of their brand. In Singapore, Coach tested the launch of a shop dedicated to vintage, as these types of collections consistently resonate well with the brand’s customers. For this installation, the customer experience was not solely a sales opportunity — visitors could engage in games, stop in for a bag cleaning appointment and learn about the Coach heritage.
“It was definitely a space where the community was coming together to learn about the brand,” Zaccariello continued. “They were interacting with friends and family or coming in groups.”
While preserving Coach’s heritage is crucial to the brand’s success, Zaccariello wanted to go further by sharing the culture of its hometown within other regions of the world. By telling the New York City story through the Coach lens, the brand afforded a connection with its own culture to customers who live thousands of miles away.
This meant drawing on iconic Central Park images for Japan’s Umeda Hankyu pop-up in Osaka, and producing a New York City laundromat-style activation at the Nanning, China MixC mall, where visitors could have their Coach goods professionally cleaned. Coach also entered a new category in Singapore with the pop-up Coach Bagel Shop that operated in April and May 2022.
Designed to resemble and operate like a New York City bagel shop, visitors to the pop-up could sample New York City-style bagels but also shop for bags, play games, explore ready-to-wear collections or customize their own product with an on-site artist — and not coincidentally, record all those Instagram-worthy and TikTok-perfect moments.
“It created a different reason for people to come and shop or experience the Coach brand,” said Zaccariello. “Activation, community, people being together — physical is very, very important. All the young kids are going there, maybe they’re just taking a photo, maybe they’re not buying the bag, but they are experiencing the Coach brand.”