Mortar to Mobile

Recently I was fortunate enough to attend the 10th Annual Retail & Luxury Goods Conference at Columbia University New York

It’s always a great event- and this year was no exception, speakers from Chanel to CVC to Chrysler.

The conference is run by and organised by the post graduate MBA students there and this year the main theme running throughout was customer experience and how ensuring that the message sent out to customers is consistent from ‘Mortar to Mobile’. Clearly, since we are in the mobile space now with fashion retail, customers want what they want, when they want it. The young Americans organising the conference were unequivocal in their message which came across loud and clear

"get it right - and you reap the rewards"

This theme from across the pond follows on from my last blog post, when I talked about changes in the industry from catwalk to customer; now we are seeing the customer revolution echoing through the streets of Manhattan to Marylebone High Street.

What fascinated me walking around the shops and streets I know so well  in uptown Manhattan was seeing how many stores seem to be moving downtown, DKNY, Barneys have followed Bloomingdales downtown and Pottery Barn has also closed off Madison Avenue.

Never have I found the big department stores (Macys, SFA, Bloomingdales and my favourite Lord & Taylor) less interesting; it was difficult to get excited about the fashion products there. Even in the shoe room at Macys!

The contrast was in downtown Soho where many new stores are opening and the ambience of walking around with great cafes, bars and the eclectic mix of retail - where independents and large chains rub shoulders.

It creates an interesting and more importantly, an exciting/compelling environment for customers. This may change in New York with the much awaited Hudson Yards project and Neiman Marcus moving in to Manhattan for the first time and opening by 2018.

Surely the department store is the best way to create the experience and retail ‘theatre’ for customers? It strikes me that this is what consumers want - 'the experience'. If we have to buy a train ticket to get there (or drive), then retailers need to make it worth the extra effort and cost, otherwise we will just buy online.

That said, 24/7 shopping makes the customer hard to please; with so much choice, brands have to stand out both online and offline. The success of Westfield in Shepherds Bush and Stratford and locations such as Marylebone high street as ‘fashion shopping destinations’, creates the interest and makes it worth the trip, this should mean individuality in the shopping environment as well as the product mix of the general merchandise.

Author: Virginia Grose, Rise Committee Member & Course Leader & Principal Lecturer, School of Media Arts Design, University of Westminster