LONDON, United Kingdom — Much has already been written about the opening of Burberry’s new flagship on London’s Regent Street — the sophisticated digital technology, the impressive multimedia event space, and all that Burberry product, housed in 27,000 square feet of selling space, about the same size as the landmark Apple Store just up the street. The flagship is said to be a “test hub and template” for future Burberry stores around the world, including a 14,920 square foot flagship set to open in Chicago in November.
But what is the shopping experience like? And what does Burberry’s new high-tech store herald for the future of physical retailing in a world that is increasingly digital?
When BoF visited the store, two days before the brand’s Spring/Summer 2013 show, the cavernous space was buzzing with people, in stark contrast to most luxury stores, which are often quiet and still. Everywhere we looked, people were trying on clothes, exploring the architecture or simply relaxing on sofas. While Burberry declined to provide footfall numbers, the store’s accessible location and inviting atmosphere have clearly managed to draw in the crowds.
Indeed, by opening on Regent Street — a busy shopping area with heavy tourist flows, better known for mass consumer retailers like Nike and Gap — Burberry seems to have made a conscious decision to make its new flagship much more accessible than the typical luxury emporium. The entrance is free of the imposing black-suited security guards with earpieces that man the doorways at luxury retailers on nearby Bond Street and the message is simple: “It’s a place that you can come just to hang out,” Burberry’s chief creative officer, Christopher Bailey, told BoF, backstage after the brand’s Spring/Summer 2013 runway show.
And like the bustling Abercrombie & Fitch flagship on New York’s Fifth Avenue or the Louis Vuitton maison on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, Burberry’s new megastore is sure to become a must-see destination for many of the millions of tourists who visit London each year.
Showcasing the brand’s entire offering under one roof, the new flagship offers a wide range of price points and is organised much like a multi-brand department store. On the ground floor, a large main hall features an array of accessibly-priced items from the Burberry Brit line. The ground floor will also soon house a dedicated area for cosmetics and makeup line Burberry Beauty, while the brand’s significantly pricier fashion collection, Burberry Prorsum, is sold in a more intimate and plush setting on the store’s top floor.
In all, the store houses 13 different product lines, so finding things easily is critical. Interestingly, the taxonomy of the store directory — which appears on screens throughout the flagship — corresponds exactly with the homepage of the company’s website.
In fact, many of the store’s innovations are concerned with the integration of the digital and physical worlds and Burberry has done much to synchronise its physical retail presence with monthly product drops and corresponding digital communications activities. “Online moves very fast and we wanted to make sure that in retail, every month, we were going at a similar pace,” said Bailey. “Every month, when we change the landing page on the website. We also change the windows; we change all the touchpoints throughout the store to make sure that it’s all consistent.”
Furthering the focus on online-offline integration, e-commerce purchases can easily be collected or returned at Burberry’s Regent Street store. The brand has also armed its sales associates with iPads, loaded with sophisticated “clienteling” apps, in order to give customers a more tailored in-store experience, linked to online profiles.
But so far, the integration of original digital content is the most compelling element of the new retail strategy. "Burberry Regent Street brings our digital world to life in a physical space for the first time, where customers can experience every facet of the brand through immersive multimedia content exactly as they do online,” said chief executive Angela Ahrendts in a statement.
RFID tags embedded in clothes and accessories trigger nearby mirrors, which transform into screens and display relevant video content. A handbag with a golden fox’s head triggered an engaging video on the craftsmanship behind the bag, while a dress retrieved a runway video that did not appear to be immediately relevant to the product in hand. It seems that building a large enough digital content library and the associated logic to deliver genuine relevance remains a work-in-progress.
But with a strong foundation now in place — the brand has installed miles of digital wiring, as well as nearly 500 audio speakers and 100 digital displays — the stage is set for Burberry to iterate: testing, learning and innovating over time, just as it does with its website.
When BoF visited, street style imagery and music videos from the brand’s marketing campaigns played on the store's audiovisual system, attracting attention from consumers. But most impressive of all was a dramatic ‘digital rain shower’ (weather is a major theme for the brand, best known for its raincoats) that swept across the flagship, appearing on all of the store's screens, from those in fitting rooms on the top floor to the soaring 22 foot screen in the main hall. It seemed that every shopper in the store stopped to experience the moment.
“We’ve tried to choreograph it so that you have content specific to certain areas, but then all of a sudden the whole store turns into one rain cloud and makes you stop and smile,” said Bailey. “It’s not just about shopping. The important thing for me is that when you go in, you feel entertained.”
Retail entertainment is at the very heart of Burberry’s new flagship. More than just a store for buying products, the flagship features museum-like brand exhibits and a veritable event space with a hydraulic stage and a full calendar of cultural programming, including monthly music gigs, soon to be announced.
Outside fashion, cutting-edge companies like Disney and Apple have also turned their stores into places where people go to spend leisure time, not just to shop. But make no mistake, these experiences can ultimately generate significant commercial value.
“Time is the currency of all experiences,” wrote business guru Joseph Pine on the Harvard Business Review website. “And a very simple rule applies: the more time your customers spend with you, the more money they will spend now and in the future.”
What's more, as transactions move online, consumers will no longer need to visit physical stores simply in order to buy things. In a recent blog post, technology investor Chris Dixon wrote: “What most people agree on is that e-commerce as a whole will continue to grow rapidly and eat into offline commerce. In the steady state, offline commerce will serve only two purposes: immediacy (stuff you need right away) and experiences (showroom, fun venues). All other commerce will happen online.”
This means physical stores, no longer a necessary stop on a Saturday afternoon, must learn to compete for precious leisure time with experiences like concerts, sporting events and museums.
Of course, it’s always nice to bring home a few souvenirs.
Vikram Alexei Kansara is Managing Editor of The Business of Fashion