Concept Stores: Retail in Real Life

Quartz: “From Story in New York to Merci in Paris, the well-curated “concept store” has become the shopper’s favourite around the world, blurring the lines between the retail space and the cafe, with elements of an art gallery or a design studio in between. In these stores, customers are invited to spend time in the space, beyond just buying a product, and that approach is gradually spreading through India, too.”

“Take Nicobar, the breezy apparel and home decor offshoot of Good Earth that launched last year … Inside, the customer is greeted with a breath of fresh air and an island vibe, fitting with the brand’s design ethos, as well as a small collection of seasonally-appropriate minimalist clothing, alternating with quirky accessories and home decor items … A giant communal table dominates the upper level of the space, where customers are encouraged to take a seat to work, chat or just read a book from the curated selection on the shelve … A small desk lined with postcards and stationery sits next to a working postbox, so you can send friends a little note while shopping. And there’s also a photo booth, equipped with funky backdrops, for visitors to pose with the clothing of their choice.”

Nappa Dori “operates six stores, including a 1,200-square feet space in Mumbai’s Colaba neighbourhood. Here, pop-coloured trunks, leather satchels, and travel accessories are artfully arranged front and centre, but the space also has a coffee corner serving fresh brews, and a spot for customers to sit and peruse the selection of books and indie magazines on offer … While Nappa Dori’s products are available for sale on its website, Sinha says 90% of its business comes from its stores.”


Mobile Orders Create ‘Invisible Queues’

Quartz: As more people have turned to mobile ordering, they’ve created a second, invisible line. And when chains such as Starbucks and Chipotle don’t have enough extra employees to handle those orders, customers who expected to cut the line wind up waiting in the store anyway … To fix this” Starbucks will “be adding new ‘roles and resources,’ including sending customers a text message when their orders are ready so that customers aren’t left to wait in the store, in the second line, frustrated and under-caffeinated.”

“This isn’t a problem unique to Starbucks. At Chipotle, some customers had a wait time that averaged as much as 30 minutes to fulfill an online order. That led the company to create in-kitchen teams to work fill online orders, and gave consumers estimated wait times based on the how busy individual stores are at the time of order. As a result, wait times were cut in half.”

“At Panera, another popular US chain, adding the mobile ordering service was more than just creating an app for consumers’ phones. The chain reexamined its entire workflow, which led to redesigned kitchens and changing the assembly line to complement the new technology.”


Gourmet Gas Stations

The New York Times: “Encouraged by the changing tastes of consumers and the potential for profit, a metamorphosis has taken place in at least 1,500 locations nationwide: at independent gas stations as well as those owned by oil giants like Shell and Exxon and convenience store chains like 7-Eleven. As a result, roller-grilled hot dogs and little packaged cakes of indefinite shelf life are, in many places, giving way to fresh produce, elaborate sandwiches and even grilled tilapia and Korean bibimbap. Popular food trucks and food carts are adding to the variety, many setting up shop just feet from gas pumps to take advantage of a steady stream of customers.”

“Major oil companies still tend to shy away from the complicated and risky food business. But in the early 2000s, when a long-term decline in revenue from food, gas, cigarettes and other products approached troublesome levels, many gas station and convenience store owners started to rethink their business models. Now, an estimated 10 percent of the 154,000 convenience stores across the country — a $31 billion industry — could be described as food-forward, the National Association of Convenience Stores says.”

“The largest chain, 7-Eleven, with 10,900 stores in North America, has been polishing its game for more than a decade. Nearly all of its fresh food, heavy on fruits and vegetables, is prepared in regional commissaries.”


Nike Zoom Vaporfly: An Unfair Footwear Advantage?

The New York Times: A new Nike shoe design, Zoom Vaporfly, has “produced fast times and impressive results in international races. But they have also spurred yet another debate about the advance of technology and the gray area where innovation meets extremely vague rules about what is considered unfair performance enhancement for the feet. Where to draw the line of permissible assistance?”

“The shoes weigh about 6.5 ounces and feature a thick but lightweight midsole that is said to return 13 percent more energy than more conventional foam midsoles. Some runners have said the shoes reduce fatigue in their legs. Embedded in the length of the midsole is a thin, stiff carbon-fiber plate that is scooped like a spoon. Imagined another way, it is somewhat curved like a blade. The plate is designed to reduce the amount of oxygen needed to run at a fast pace. It stores and releases energy with each stride and is meant to act as a kind of slingshot, or catapult, to propel runners forward.”

“Nike says that the carbon-fiber plate saves 4 percent of the energy needed to run at a given speed when compared with another of its popular racing shoes … In truth, some experts said, debate about Nike’s latest shoes may only help increase sales to joggers and four-hour marathoners. A less expensive model than the Olympic shoe, with similar technology, goes on sale in June for $150.” Bret Schoolmeester of Nike comments: “To me, it’s kind of a compliment when you are delivering a big enough benefit that people are starting to ask, is this unfair? We don’t believe it is, but that’s pretty flattering.”


Edible Regimen: Food as Beauty Products

The Wall Street Journal: “A blurring of the lines between food and beauty products has some shoppers raiding their kitchen cabinets to replace everything from blush and lip plumper to deodorant and conditioner. The trend has people rubbing mayonnaise in their hair, lemon juice in their armpits and pork fat on their face. Erica Strauss said she buys a pig every year from a local farmer in Seattle. In addition to cooking chops and roast, the 37-year-old chef renders the fat into lard for use on her hands and face … Other animal grease can also be used to substitute for hand cream, though she doesn’t recommend bacon.” She explains: “It’s way too smelly. Every dog in the neighborhood will come up and lick you.”

“The idea of using edibles in a beauty regimen dates back centuries. Cleopatra is believed to have bathed in milk. Mary, Queen of Scots, is said to have washed herself in white wine. The Romans and Greeks doused their bodies in olive oil. In a memorable scene from the 1993 movie Mrs. Doubtfire, actor Robin Williams dunks his face into meringue cake to mask his identity as a man.”

“Beauty companies, too, are blurring the lines between kitchen and bath. They tout food ingredients on the labels of everything from shampoo to nail polish. Some are putting makeup in containers that resemble condiment jars or making creams that look like hors d’oeuvres … Organic beauty companies insist that using food isn’t as easy as rubbing apple juice on your face … Faz Abdul Gaffa has learned the hard way. She tried rubbing turmeric on her face after hearing about its skin-brightening qualities. She ended up with yellow stained palms for several days.” And her face? “I looked jaundiced,” she said.


Gummy Pills: Helps The Vitamins Go Down

The New York Times: One reason gummy vitamins are so popular with adults these days is “pill fatigue.” A 2005 AARP study found that, on average, adults 45 and older said they take four prescription medications daily. But some people say that switching to a gummy version of a vitamin or supplement makes them feel as if they aren’t taking so many pills. Gummies also appeal to people who … have difficulty swallowing pills. The flavorings in gummy candy can also hide the taste.”

“But the pleasures of chewing come at a cost. Consumers can take one Nature Made Vitamin C 1,000 milligram pill costing about 10 cents … To get the same amount of vitamin C from a Nature Made gummy vitamin, consumers would need to take eight gummies, at a cost of about 70 cents … And gummy vitamins typically contain one to two grams of sugar each.”

Susan Pica agrees. Ms. Pica, 40, … saw a gummy vitamin C display at CVS, along with a coupon to ‘buy one get one free.’ She had fond memories of the Flintstones chewables she took as a child, so she thought she’d try them … After seeing sugar sprinkled on the vitamins and settled at the bottom of the bottle, she checked the ingredients on the label. The bottle listed sugar, corn syrup and sodium citrate among the ingredients.”


Gucci & Groceries: The Malling of Supermarkets

The Wall Street Journal: As the internet reshapes the way Americans shop, landlords of mid- and low-quality mall properties are adapting to stay relevant, trying everything from restaurants to indoor skydiving. Now a few are bringing in supermarkets … The goal for landlords of covered malls is to provide one-stop destinations where consumers can pick up a broad array of items and, ideally, visit multiple times a week. These massive rectangular structures surrounded by vast parking lots are usually built to serve shoppers up to 25 miles away.”

Tom McGee of of the International Council of Shopping Centers, comments:”Consumers, particularly millennials, are placing a high priority on experiences while also valuing convenience. As a result, among other things, we are seeing more restaurants, movie theaters, health clubs and grocery stores serve as anchors.”

“But supermarkets might not do much to lift other retailers in struggling malls, analysts said. Grocery shoppers, especially seniors, often are sensitive to the distance between their car and the store, and might not want to navigate busy malls with grocery bags in tow, or supermarkets with mall purchases in hand.” Jeff Edison, a mall grocery-store operator, observes: “You’re not going to buy a Louis Vuitton bag or a dress when you’re carrying your groceries.”


Bulgari, Baccarat & The Hoteling of Retail

The New York Times: “The convergence of hotels and merchandise started, perhaps unsurprisingly, at luxury properties. Almost two years ago, Baccarat, a French crystal manufacturer, opened a 50-story building with a hotel and apartments across the street from the Museum of Modern Art, six blocks from its Manhattan flagship store. Crystal designs are displayed in public areas. Guests can order from the display and have their purchases shipped to their homes, saving time and a trip to the retail store. Select guest room entrances exhibit art inspired by crystal pieces.”

“Bulgari, an Italian designer of jewelry, watches and leather goods, has properties in Bali, Milan and London. Hotels in Shanghai, Beijing and Dubai are expected to open by the end of the year. The hotel website links to an online store … Tommy Hilfiger, whose designs include apparel, luggage and linens sold at Macy’s, Kohl’s and online, purchased the Raleigh Hotel in Miami Beach in 2014 and is developing it in conjunction with the Dogus Group, a Turkish conglomerate.”

“West Elm, a division of Williams-Sonoma that sells modern furniture and accessories online and in nearly 90 stores nationwide, has created model hotel rooms.” Stephani Robson of Cornell “said she expected that West Elm was hoping to reach beyond existing customers.” She observes: “A brand like West Elm can signal ‘our brand is experiential’ — reinforce positioning for customers not familiar with the brand.”


Family Video: Not Your Daughter’s Netflix

Forbes: “Family Video is the dominant player in rural America, where 90% of its stores reside. There, many customers either have limited access to high-speed internet or are reluctant to adopt alternatives like Redbox, Netflix and Hulu. Inside the stores, employees greet every customer who walks through the door, often by name; kids’ movies are always free to rent; and late fees are negotiable. When new locations open, the ribbon-cutting ceremony is a community affair, complete with face-painting stations, promotional giveaways and snow cone machines. Almost all of Hoogland’s top executives started in one of his stores, and many employees have enjoyed benefits like full-tuition scholarships for their children.”

“Instead of accepting discounted movies in exchange for agreements to split revenue, as Blockbuster did, it has opted to buy films outright and keep 100% of rental proceeds.” Keith Hoogland “has also kept his stores entirely company-owned, and he keeps costs down by making many of the items needed for new locations in-house—everything from shelving to point-of-sale software. Most important, though, the company owns just about all the real estate underpinning its stores … Keith acknowledges that his movie rental empire won’t last forever, but he sees Family Video as an easy way to expand his real estate portfolio, which has no obvious expiration date. The formula is simple: Open a store, use rental sales to pay off the mortgage and hold on to the property.”

“Most significantly, copyright agreements on motion pictures are often less stringent for physical videos than for streamed content, meaning that rental stores frequently have access to new releases weeks, or even months, before Netflix or Hulu get them.”


Sensory Memories: Smells Like Olfactory History

The New York Times: “Over the past year, a Columbia University preservation expert and a curator at the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan have been engaged in an unusual poetic-scientific experiment in the little-visited olfactory wing of history, trying to pin down the powerful connection between smell and memory — in this case, collective memory … Their goal is perhaps someday to be able to convey a sense of the building’s history beyond just its look and feel. Their primary tool is a sampling device that looks like a contraption out of Jules Verne: a crystalline dome with plastic tubing snaking from its side.”

“The sampler is placed gently on objects — rare books, furniture, carpets — to capture the escaping molecules that create a distinct smell … Carlos Benaim, a master perfumer … said that the thousands of molecules that were trapped in the glass-bell sampler would be categorized to determine which of them constitutes the smell profile of objects and surfaces from the Morgan … The project, which drew attention after an article in the art blog Hyperallergic, may end up some day recreating these smells as a way to help visitors experience the library in a different way, possibly through an olfactory exhibition or sensory gallery.”

Jorge Otero-Pailos, professor and director of historic preservation at Columbia, explains: “In the end, we’re after meaning, historical meaning, cultural meaning and how to do that is something we hope to figure out.”