Why the retail industry needs a fast-forward

John Michael O'Sullivan
Retail’s been playing the waiting game too long; it’s time to get ahead of the curve. Brands need to reposition themselves as dynamic, interactive, and responsive, in order to deliver the most holistic and optimized retail experience possible.

Risky business

For the past decade, much of the retail sector has been treading water when it comes to innovation. That’s understandable, given the cost of investing in significant global change.

But today’s demanding customers have grown used to instant gratification. And those customers face a marketplace where outdated formats and infrastructures are falling further and further behind expectations. Yet they are finding their demands met in different ways: by emerging names that are bringing radical new technologies and inventive customer strategies to the table.

Beating the curve

From BIBA to Fiorucci to Dover Street Market, the greatest retail success stories through the years have come from brands that anticipated the moment and gave the customer something they didn’t yet know they wanted. The same is true today, as brands cut through the noise by focusing on future opportunities and driving innovative, relevant, imaginative new solutions.

We’re starting to see the emergence of formats that challenge what retail is, what it does, and who it’s for. Take Cargo, a new app that’s partnering with Uber to provide passengers with an in-car retail offer. Or Depop, the online resale network whose retail space functions both as a brand HQ/showroom and as a forum for the platform’s users to create and curate their own brands.

Coming attractions

In the months ahead, we’ll continue to see brands making bigger and bolder moves. For example, when Hedi Slimane makes his Céline debut this autumn, it will be accompanied by a makeover of the label’s entire retail network. Farfetch’s cutting-edge Store of the Future technology is already being rolled out to partner stores worldwide, with a pioneering multiyear innovation partnership with Chanel in the pipeline. And planned openings for Neiman Marcus and Galeries Lafayette in 2019 both promise dramatic advances in experience, technology, and customer strategy.

Perm-Agility

To anticipate this evolving landscape, brands need to think differently. Instead of being strictly defined, they need to reposition themselves as dynamic, interactive, responsive entities built around a clear and authentic core. And most critically, they need to develop a new way of thinking about the retail experience itself.

Brands like Nordstrom are showing how retailers can commit to change across multiple levels, combining transformation with successful trading. Its existing stores are being energized by partnerships with breakthrough names like Everlane, Casper, and Gentle Monster. Its Nordstrom Local format, which is on a trial run in Los Angeles, is responding to new customer needs by dispensing entirely with inventory and replacing it with service, fulfillment, and interaction. Next year, the opening of a seven-floor Manhattan flagship looks set to make an audacious statement about the brand’s future ambitions by establishing a presence in one of the world’s most competitive locations.

In this bold new landscape, businesses looking to others to lead the way will inevitably be left behind; the future’s already here, and it won’t wait for you to catch up. But there are exciting opportunities ahead for those willing to take the leap and to regenerate today’s businesses, transforming into brands that future customers will find engaging and relevant.

Design Team Leader