Over the past 10 years the attitudes towards physical shopping and online shopping have almost completely reversed. The idea of putting credit card details on the internet, waiting for a product to be delivered and being unable to see it physically before buying it made people feel uncomfortable. But the expansion of smartphones, quicker connections to the web and a growing generation of an internet-savvy youth has changed the way we shop.
The dynamic shift in consumer spending and the exponential growth in ecommerce have led to many experts signalling the death of the high street. But it still represents a communal hub for social interaction with bars, fashion outlets, eateries, cinemas, fitness centres and art galleries that engage the residents of its neighbourhood. Because of this the high street will not become extinct, but it is suffering and it needs to reinvent itself.
The great department stores have long known the value of creating attractive venues that offer prestige, entertainment, information, inspiration and a personal touch. The challenge for high street retailers today is raising the consumers’ expectations to entice them back from their computers. Ironically, one way this could be achieved is by taking advantage of the one thing that drove them away in the first place – technology. Used creatively, integrated technology could create a new consumer experience raising the profile of the high street once again.
For this idea of integrated technology to be successful there needs to be something more substantial than simply dishing out iPads to sales staff to check stock levels. There has to be a dramatic statement signalling a leap forward in thinking - a new and invigorating digital experience that captivates the consumer and puts them at the heart of the retail experience. That statement arrived earlier this year in the shape of Burberry’s flagship store in Regent Street.
There is an unspoken rule in the luxury brand industry that says you have to stay true to your roots. Burberry has turned its back on this ideology without abandoning it. By taking a grade II listed building with a historically British façade and kitting out the interior with a swathe of wall-to-wall technology, Burberry have created the perfect hybrid of prestigious heritage balanced with contemporary digital relevance.
The store is spread over four floors and 44,000 square feet lending it that crucial feel of minimalism and spaciousness that was pioneered to such great effect by the Apple stores. The world’s tallest indoor retail screen at 6.9m high dominates the main hall. It was used to live stream ‘The Burberry Show’ from the London Fashion Week but can be used to keep customers entertained with fashion news, shows and programmes.
Interwoven into the fabric of the architecture are 100 screens or ‘video walls’ that interact with you when you approach them and 500 speakers which sporadically produce artificial weather changes. There is also a stage for live music from up and coming musicians and bands. Garment security tags have integrated chips that trigger changing room ‘mirror walls’ featuring catwalk footage of the garment being modelled as well as information clips on the textures, materials and craft used to produce it. The concept is all geared towards capturing the online essence and fusing it with the key elements that make physical shopping so attractive.
For example, to replicate the feeling of shopping from home, Burberry has dispensed with sales points and instead installed comfortable sofas where sales assistants bring a card payment swipe machine as you lounge. This simple but radical idea eradicates the wearisome requirement for standing in a queue and replaces it with a much more pleasant experience.
The store is a living, breathing, interactive and immersive museum which removes much of the boredom and frustration synonymous with traditional forms of shopping both online and off. By mixing the best of both worlds Burberry have given themselves every chance of enticing the consumer away from their laptop and back to retail’s spiritual home – the high street.
Following this success, it is only a matter of time before other brands, luxury or otherwise, have to sit up and take notice of some brave new changes taking place on the high street.