Gap will experiment with new ideas through four new retail spaces at its San Francisco headquarters, designed to support the Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic and Athleta brands. The new “laboratories” add a combined 18,000 square feet of retail space to Gap’s home base, which also includes a “Co-Lab” maker studio where visitors can watch creative teams at work.
“Our customers are central to every business decision we make, and we’re excited to welcome our hometown community and visitors alike to experience our four iconic brands inside our redesigned San Francisco hub,” said Sonia Syngal, CEO of Gap in a statement. “This reimagined space invites customers into the heart of our company, where our artists and designers, data scientists and technologists, sourcing and logistics experts, customer evangelists and futurists will test new store technologies, consumer experiences and product innovations.”
Flexible retail stores that double as labs have led to some of the most interesting innovations of the past few years, both customer-facing and on the back end. In 2020 Walmart turned four of its stores into labs that tested a number of technologies, including:
- An omni-assortment where most apparel items from the location are available to customers both in-store and online;
- An in-house app that shortens the time needed to get items from the backroom to the salesfloor using augmented reality (AR) to highlight which boxes are ready to go;
- A combination of in-store signage and handheld devices to help associates navigate more quickly to the right locations when picking items for an online order, which increased by as much as 20% the share of times associates found the item on their first attempt; and
- A new checkout experience introduced earlier this year with a focus on enhancing a contact-free checkout experience.
Retail labs aren’t limited to brick-and-mortar companies. In October 2021, upscale resale marketplace The RealReal launched a Circular ReSource Lab in partnership with luxury fashion site Mytheresa. The space is being used to test, learn and share new solutions to address fashion waste, with an emphasis on finding new ways to give items that are damaged beyond repair a new life in other forms. The RealReal’s ReCollection upcycling program, which creates new items from damaged pieces, is led through the Circular ReSource Lab.
However, not all retail experiments result in a success. B8ta, which tested a range of approaches to experiential retail through its physical stores, shut down its U.S. brick-and-mortar operations in February 2022. The retailer focused on discovery and tactile experiences, but pressure from COVID, burglaries at its San Francisco stores and declining foot traffic led to its demise. B8ta will still be remembered as a trailblazer that helped retail gain a better understanding of how shoppers use experiential spaces.