The retail landscape has changed drastically in recent years, and digitalization continues to alter it further. With insights from Jeff Kindleysides, one of the UK’s most revered retail strategists and designers, we look at ways to engage the modern consumer.
American Eagle flagship, New York
Since co-founding design consultancy Checkland Kindleysides in 1979, Jeff Kindleysides has created hundreds of fashion and sports stores. Levi’s, Wrangler, Hunter, Nixon, Jigsaw and Ugg are some of the names on the client-list. The art of brand storytelling is one of the UK-based creative’s most potent tools – and one he embraced long before it became the buzzword it is today. An early example: the first Levi’s store in London’s Regent Street, which swung open its doors in1995. A key part of this concept was a fit-center that functioned almost like a library, in which you could find every style of Levi’s placed in separate drawers, each jean presented with its own story. It was quite revolutionary at the time. “The store was the first of its kind, focusing on different ways in which stories can be told,” says Kindelysides.
So how is storytelling best applied today? “I always like to describe storytelling as the art of the shopkeeper. A brand or retailer can tell stories by delving into its own history, as well as looking at the craft behind the product. Work out the hierarchy of the stories you want to communicate – is it more about the particular people who’ve crafted the products or the overarching history of the brand and its roots?”
The offline/online convergence
The digitalization of retail is partly to blame for the death of the highstreet, but the offline and online worlds are suitable bedfellows. To make the physical shopping experience as convenient and inspiring as possible, the best bits from its online equivalent can be brought in-store – but don’t add screens for the sake of it. “Each digital element added to a store has to be truly relevant, bringing the choice associated with online shopping into physical retail, for instance. I believe the one huge benefit the merging of online and offline brings, is a greater ability for retailers to fulfill consumers’ need for products – offering them what they want exactly when they need it,” says Kindleysides.
The retail expert goes on to stress that digital in-store tools should also inspire, enhance service or create awareness of your brand and the products you sell, but don’t distract consumers with the kind of interaction available on every smartphone, and never attempt to replace genuine customer service, knowledge and dialogue with technology alone. “Be creative and engaging, and use digital tools to enhance face-to-face storytelling opportunities,” advises Kindleysides.
Do your shopping – and put on a load of washing
A tangible example of how the online and offline worlds can come together is the American Eagle flagship in New York’s Union Square. Designed by Checkland Kindleysides in 2017, the so-called AE Studio serves as a collaborative platform between the brand and its customers, as well as a crop of external creatives. This community-focused concept has seen merchandising areas transformed into spaces putting customer experience first.
Said Michael Goldberg, VP, Executive Creative Director at American Eagle, when doors opened last year. “Retail is alive and well, but consumer expectations about shopping have changed. In close collaboration with our retail design partner Checkland Kindleysides, American Eagle is reimagining its retail strategy to reflect our consumer’s desire for engaging in-store social experiences, and genuine opportunities for co-creation with the brand.”
The 1,476 sq.m. space is home to the brand’s social media team, allowing consumers to engage in direct dialogue with the brand, sharing content in real time. This element is balanced with more tangible experiences, such as The Maker’s Shop within the Jeans Gallery, in which consumers are invited to put their creativity to the test by personalizing their American Eagle jeans.
There’s also a space dedicated solely to collaborations, housing capsule collections co-created with new brands, emerging designers and artists. But the in-store laundrette is arguably the most unique addition – students of the nearby university are invited to put on a load of laundry in-store, free of charge. There’s even a convenient space for them to study – the Studio Bar serves up complimentary snacks and wifi. Creating a home away from home is the purpose of the AE Studio, and we’d say that Kindleysides and his team have helped American Eagle accomplish their mission.