On Launches The Monster Den At Liverpool ONE 7 Scaled

The On Running Monster Den pop-up in Liverpool.

You don’t have to work in the industry to know that bricks and mortar retail has had a bit of a fight on its hands over the past few years. Not only has online retail upped its game from both a tech and experience point of view, but the additional physical store hiatus experienced during Covid has widened the gap even further, firmly positioning the high-street store as the poorer relation.

Personally, I believe physical retail is still relevant - if done properly. What online channels lack in human interaction, personal service and tactility, physical stores can deliver in abundance.

So how are the top physical retail brands getting it right? Who’s doing it best? And who has stepped up to take on the digital world like Harry Hamlin taking on the Kraken in the epic finale of Clash of the Titans? (Too young? Sam Worthington then). Well the joyous news is, a number are getting it right, and quite refreshingly, are all doing it in different ways.

On Running + IRL moments 

If you want to drive consumers to store, what better way than to create moments that can only be experienced IRL. By offering up something that is unique to a space, and in the case of On Running, has an expiration date, you immediately create a sense of FOMO amongst your target audience. This is the approach taken at the Monster Den pop-up which launched at Liverpool One and ran during the month of June this year. 

The ‘Den’ was conceived predominantly to launch the brand’s new Cloudmonster product-line, but instead of just going down the route of pure product focus, the brand sought to immerse the consumer into the mindset, purpose and potential of the footwear. Done playfully, with tactility, and most importantly with the focus on in-person interaction, the space commanded the presence of its consumers.

With the strapline of ‘Come get weird with us and catch it while you can’ the space played host to social runs, yoga classes, coffee meets, and live DJs every weekend. On top of this, visitors could try on products from the full On Running range, and most importantly receive tech guidance to ensure they got the best fit for their needs. Again delivering on something that online simply cannot offer, and therefore elevating the need and desire to visit a physical space. 

Physical spaces can really harness the power of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moments, as well as using it as a tool to encourage repeat visits - offering something new on each encounter. 

1 Arcteryx Store Still Young China

The Arc'teryx store in Jilin, China

Arc’teryx + be more than a store

Why offer the same as your online channel can offer? This should be a question that every brand asks themselves in all honesty, and certainly one that Arc’teryx has considered in depth. 

Situated in prime ‘ski-country’ in Jilin, China - the store could have taken the easy route of product-heavy, captive-audience, sell, sell, sell. But no, the brand opted to be more than this. It wanted to be the beginning of the adventure for its consumer - to be part of the journey - whether that be one well travelled, or a new experience. 

Aside from being aesthetically pleasing, the facade has also been carefully considered from a usage POV. A sweeping varanda provides a space for visitors to leave their gear immediately limiting any physical barriers to entering the store. Nods to exploration can be found throughout - the ‘ice’ effect created with acrylic, the triangular ceiling shapes mimicking a tent structure, and mechanical pulleys from old cable cars. But this is more than just a superficial piece of retail theatre. In fact, the brand’s commitment to being more than just a store is shown in how it's carved up the space, with only a third dedicated to sales. The rest is made up of cosy log-fire seating areas, communal bar area, and a mountain skills training zone. It's a space that people would want to be in. 

This is where brands can capitalise on their physicality, being more than just a retail space and really honing in on the behaviours and needs of their consumer. It sounds so obvious, but something that either brands don’t think about, or they apply it in the wrong way - either by placing too much of a lens on what the brand wants to get out of it, or worse, mistaking theatrical wizardry for something meaningful. 

Nike House Of Innovation

The Nike 'House of Innovation' flagship concept

Nike + ‘One size doesn't fit all’

Nike have long been at the forefront of retail theatre. Their new ‘House of Innovation’ concept is a digital-fest of tech and, unsurprisingly, innovation. Visitors to the store can experience real-time sporting moments from both within the community and internationally through airport style screens known as Mission Control. 

Products displayed in perspex pods can be scanned to reveal filters on your phone to mimic the weather conditions that each particular garment was designed for. Consumers are treated to pure digital immersion, which creates talkability, footfall and a reason to step inside bricks and mortar for, ironically, a digital experience.

Interestingly, Nike’s more recent store approach takes a more low-fi stance, drawing hugely on understanding the nuances of their consumers and the communities in which they live.  

Embracing a more bespoke concept, their three different store types - RISE, LIVE and UNITE - are designed to feel intune with the geographic location they reside in. Most importantly, each offers something the brand’s online experiences cannot. 

All are designed to sell products, but where RISE is more city-centric and athlete-focused, LIVE offers a more local approach and specifically focuses on women. UNITE, the third and newest offering, is very community driven, both in how it hires and how it represents in store.

This is an incredibly interesting approach to physical retail experience, with Nike focusing on what their brand can do for a community and positioning themselves authentically to do so. 

From a purely commercial sense, it also allows the stores to really focus on what sells well in each location and as each store evolves its identity, provides a reason for consumers to keep visiting the spaces.

Bottega Veneta Sloane Street Store 3

Bottega Venetta's new brand home, Sloane Square, London

Bottega Veneta + Brand Homage 

Bottega Veneta’s new store on London’s Sloane Street has aspired to nail brand immersion. Conceived as the embodiment of Creative Director Matthieu Blazy’s vision, the space literally throws the consumer into the Bottega Veneta universe and pulls no punches in the process.The decadence and craft in the interiors replicates the sophistication and traditional craft of Venice (the Director’s key creative influence).

Of course, no expense has been spared in this space.

Step into the store and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into the world that the product lives and breathes in - one that you have to experience to believe. It goes without saying that the brand immersion approach doesn’t work for all brands; the beauty of luxury is the ability to sacrifice retail space for brand experience with little-to-no impact on commercials. 

But the major point here is that consumers need to experience more in physical stores and that Bottega Veneta’s example - one of creating a brand space like no other - proves that amplifying your physical space in this way gives them a quality digital can never get near. 

Bottega Veneta Sloane Street Store 4

Instead of trying to beat online at its own game, physical stores work best when they embrace what they can offer and then go on to ensure they smash it out the park. The reality is that all brands in all sectors need to think harder than ever to get consumers into their physical spaces.

Consumers need to walk away from that store, that interaction, that purchase, filled with positivity and joy. There will now always be a significant need for online. This piece isn’t about vanquishing the dragon and suggesting we should go back in time; it’s about properly pulling apart the purpose of the online and offline channels and maximising the potential of both. 

Physical locations - whether they are stores, restaurants, shops, bars, pubs, hotels gyms or spas - aren’t dead, but they do need to keep adapting to meet the continually changing expectations of the consumer.

The best way to do this is with an experience strategy grounded in a serious understanding of what will ‘wow’ your audience. Because if you don’t understand your audience, chances are they won’t understand you.

Click to find out how we can help you to craft a world-class Experience Strategy.
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