With high-street retailers anxious to counter the rise of online sales, our author takes a look at some of the innovative concepts on show, from Swedish department store Åhléns City via Metro, eBay, Lafayette and ECE to pop-up stores.

The rise of e-commerce has changed the face of retail – and made life uncomfortable for downtown stores. Nobody is yet prepared to predict the complete demise of high-street retailing, but there is no long-term guarantee that it will continue to exist in its present form. New ideas are urgently needed in order to attract the increasingly discerning customer – who, these days, is just as likely to purchase online as travel into town. While multichannel retailing is one response to this challenge, most experts agree that more is required. Shopping, they argue, must offer an experience that the Internet just cannot provide. A growing number of stores are now beginning to experiment with new ideas such as bars and chill zones, display screens and info desks. For the observant shopper, there is already a host of interesting concepts to discover.

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At Åhléns, the fun for kids spreads out onto the terrace. Audio technology even defies a cold Swedish winter

Sound adventure

Visitors to the children’s department of the Stockholm store Åhléns City are met by a magical world. Here, young shoppers are treated to a visual, tactile and audible feast, where they can use knobs and buttons to activate a host of exciting animal and other funny noises. There is even a telephone with a message from – this is Sweden, after all – Pippi Longstocking. The 1,200-square-metre children’s department has its own distinctive soundscape that incorporates and overlays other ambient noises such as elevators or customer conversation. Devised and implemented by the Stockholm agency Lexter, this exercise in sound design is designed to reinforce the positive feelings associated with the shopping experience. This concept has been applied not only in the children’s department but throughout the store as a whole, which now has its own distinctive audio branding. The intention is that customers should recognize where they are merely on the basis of the ambient soundscape. Back in the children’s department, however, the emphasis is very much on the fun factor of discovering new things. “The concept is only a few month’s old,” says store manager Daniel Karlsson. “But our impression is that sound design adds a whole new dimension to the shopping experience.”  www.youtube.com/watch?v=EikYoCSOyEE

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Metro and eBay have been testing out new retail concepts in their Inspiration Store.

Inspiration in store

In a joint project with eBay and PayPal, the Metro Group opened its “Inspiration Store” in Bremen’s Weserpark shopping centre. Over a trial period of three months, the outlet tested out a range of new retail concepts such as digital price labels, payment via mobile phone, digital mirrors in changing cubicles and access to online sales via digital display. The range of goods was changed several times in order to test consumer behaviour for different product groups. For Metro, the main finding of the exercise was that while customers already accept and expect multichannel retailing, very few have a clear preference for one specific channel. Instead, their decision largely depends on the nature of the purchase. In the case of technical products, for example, an online sale is often preferred, whereas the opposite is true of toys and games. There, customers prefer to go to a store and find inspiration for their purchase.

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The children’s department at Berlin’s Galeries Lafayette is a real adventure playground

Events for kids

The new children’s department of the Berlin Galeries Lafayette is a real adventure playground for kids, offering loads of room for fun and activity. With its bright colours and cool music, it is designed to create a relaxed atmosphere for children and parents alike. According to the store, lots of their customers need to know that their kids are occupied before they can shop in peace. Special events such as biscuit baking, making a mother’s day present and mini fashion shows all ensure that little ones don’t get bored. And there’s even a kid’s cinema and candy corner. “The children’s department is not necessarily a big generator of revenue, but it’s an important part of being able to offer families an all-round experience,” explains marketing director Louisa Baron, who also says that the response from children and parents has been very positive.  www.galerieslafayette.de/mode/kinder

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In the Future Lab shopping centres of mall operator ECE, even grown-ups can play with technology and take selfies

Laboratory of the future

Mall operator ECE has transformed two of its 196 shopping centres into so-called Future Labs and is busy experimenting with new concepts which, if effective, will be used in other malls. The most successful project to date has been the “Love-to-Shop” app. Now available in a number of ECE shopping centres, this generates personalised offers from mall outlets and sends them to users when they are in the vicinity. Other functions being tested include a car park navigator that guides customers back to their vehicle, a payment app that enables customers to pay for parking without having to hunt for a ticket machine and an indoor navigation system. “We are using a lot of technology, but that’s not the real point of the project,” says Sebastian Baumann, head of the Future Labs. “Basically, we’re always looking to  create a better service, a more agreeable atmosphere, a richer experience.” Not every experiment has been a success. An information avatar, for example, flopped, as customers with queries clearly prefer dealing with a human face. Popular, by contrast, are services such as click & collect, which enables customers to order online and pick up their purchase in a mall outlet. Similarly, a same-day delivery service means goods purchased in the mall are shipped directly to the customer’s home. For Baumann, the future lies in an integrated mix of online and offline. The challenge for local, bricks-and-mortar outlets, he says, is to ensure their store lists on the Internet in exactly the same way as a web shop. www.ece.de

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MAMA – littlepopup organises pop-up concepts for small retailers

For a short while only

Just ask the hipsters: pop-up stores are currently the rage in all the big cities. Rather than rent large commercial premises, retailers and small manufacturers take a short-term lease on a mini outlet. This offers scope to experiment with new products and ideas, while keeping tight control of the costs. “The idea works according to the principle of scarcity,” explains Patrick Burkert, managing director of Go-popup in Berlin. “If you don’t hurry, everything will be sold out. It’s just like a clearance sale: an additional inducement to buy.” Burkert’s start-up company brings together people offering suitable locations with those looking to set up a pop-up shop. Setting up a successful pop-up store takes not only a good idea and attractive products but also excellent marketing. Given a target group that is young and well versed in social media, networks such as Facebook have rapidly become a cheap and effective sales channel. Pop-up stores offer a kind of fusion of sales and marketing, which explains the fashion industry’s fondness for this form of retailing. The idea also works for children’s fashions. In Berlin, for example, the start-up company littlepopup specialises in pop-up concepts for kids where themed events play an important role. Well-established retailers can also make use of this concept by offering their premises as a short-term location for pop-up stores. This not only brings extra customers into the store but also offers regular shoppers a change of scenery. This idea is in use at the Bikini Berlin mall, where some of the outlets are short-term and housed in small modular “boxes”, thus ensuring that there is always something new on offer.

By Andreas Klähn

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