Why Run a Retail Store as a Fashion Magazine

In a fast-changing retail landscape, where major apparel chains are competing with e-commerce websites, new retail brands grow faster than their markets and lean pop-up stores are becoming the norm – every retailer is asking themselves the same question – how to stay on top of their competition?

The key to survive the cut-throat competition…

In 1864 the anthropologist Herbert Spencer coined the expression “survival of the fittest”. Darwin later used it in his own work to imply that it’s not the strongest or the most intelligent species that survive, but the ones that are the most adaptable to change.

What does “survival of the fittest” principle have to do with retail stores? Everything!

Consumers, particularly the younger, digitally-savvy ones, are quickly developing an insatiable appetite for what’s next, new and remarkable. The way they make their purchasing decisions has changed as well.

With thousands of global e-commerce sites and same-day-delivery services, in-store shopping is becoming less about the products and more about experiences.

Brick-and-mortar stores that have failed to see this, no matter how big they were, have paid a hefty price for their ‘inability to change and adopt’ to the emerging consumer expectations.

Six out of the ten largest US retailers, whose net worth equaled over 124 billion dollars, have disappeared from the list of leaders in just 20 years.

They had easy access to the best marketing and analytics resources. They had a large market share. They had the budgets to invest in innovation and new technologies. Yet they didn’t adopt quickly enough, eventually facing the same fate as the dinosaurs.

Welcome to the era of immersive experiences.

We’re on the verge of a new retail era. An era, where brick-and-mortar retail spaces will continuously become less and less crucial for the distribution of products and more important for the distribution of experiences.

Offline retailers cannot compete with online giants on the base of prices, product availability or customer service. But they can offer something e-commerce websites don’t have – experiences. Physical stores can win shoppers’ hearts and wallets by creating more emotional, exciting and powerful ways to engage with their brand, its heritage, culture and its products.

In-store shopping is becoming increasingly similar to a media experience (and it should be treated as such).

The signs of these change are everywhere…

Besides the obvious trends like show rooming, social network and peer review influence on purchasing decisions, there is another trend that has gone under-the-radar. I call it “Editorial Brain Drain”.

Over the past two years several big-name editors have left the publishing world to work for brands. J.Crew has lured Jenny Kang (New York Magazine editor) and Sean Hotchkiss (GQ’s editor) to work for them. Jen Ford, Lucky’s Fashion News & Features Director, has assumed the role of Editorial Director at Kate Spade. And Glamour‘s director Jenny Feldman is now Sr. Marketing Manager at Amazon.

Forward-thinking brands realize that they are no longer just in the retail industry.
Burberry is one of them.

The store that crafts experiences.

The strategy behind the creation of Burberry’s much-talked-about flagship shop on London’s Regent Street was simple, “We’ve tried to choreograph it so that you have content specific to certain areas,” said Christopher Bailey, Creative Director Genius of Burberry.

“It’s not just about shopping. The important thing for me is that when you go in, you feel entertained.”

The Burberry’s flagship store features magazine-like brand exhibits, immersive multi-sensory content and an event space with a stage, designed for hosting monthly music gigs and in-store events.
Burberry was among the first retailers to turn their retail space into a media experience. Many retailers are already following their lead.

Why getting it right is crucial to your survival.

If, designed and executed intelligently, the in-store experience could become one of the most powerful channels of brand communication. It’s also one of the biggest differentiation and “survivor factors” for many traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

Here are the sad statistics: analysts report that 50% of US retail stores risk disappearing within the next 10 years.

It’s a simple ‘survival of the fittest’ principle – given the limited consumer demand, 5 out of 10 retailers that sell variations of the same apparel brands and similar clothing styles are destined to go out of business. The ones that survive will focus on offering unique and consumer-relevant retail experiences.
One way of doing that is applying the same key principles behind running a magazine to traditional retail spaces.

Here are the 3 Success Lessons traditional retailers can learn from magazines:

1. Content is The New King

Great content is one of the main components that many brands consistently fail to deliver. Editorial content is the essence of any successful magazine, and it isn’t limited to sharing information.

Everything from catchy titles to personality tests and the hottest trends are designed to get readers attention, pique their curiosity, inspire, create a sense of wonder and entice them into flipping to the next page…then the next one. Retail stores should use the same design-thinking process, when creating their in-store experiences.

The store windows, just like clever-crafted magazine covers should get people’s attention, entice them to enter the store and explore what’s inside.

Every brand corner, just like a great magazine article, should tell a story, inspire, create an emotional bond between the brand and the shopper, and spark off the desire to try the product.

Every brand message should give value to people it’s directed to, rather than ask them to buy something.

One of the great examples of a store that gets it right is the New York city boutique called The Story.

True to its name, it literally mimics the point of view of a magazine. Products, brands, events and in-store design change every four to six weeks. Each time the retail space is taken apart and rebuilt around a different theme.

2.“Personalization” Beats “Promotion”

Today’s shoppers are pressed for time, get easily distracted and hate being interrupted by irrelevant marketing messages and one-size-fits-all solutions. Online retailers were the first ones to understand this, offering shoppers an opportunity to design their own ‘personalized’ products and using analytics to identify the best consumer-product combinations.

It’s only natural that shoppers prefer brands and retailers that personalize the in-store shopping experience as well.

One way of doing this is by using analytics solutions like beacons and face-detection technology to tailor product offers and even offer individualized prices at the POS.

But there are also other ways retailers can win customers’ loyalty and craft personal in-store experiences.

Nike has taken its popular online Nike Training Club (NTC) full-body workout program and applied it to a physical retail space. Their Chicago flagship store includes a workout studio, which offers free instructor-led training classes to help people reach their individual fitness goals and let them experience how Nike products can fit into their workout routine.

Sephora, has also taken a creative approach to personalization. They’ve developed a personality test for shoppers to find fragrances that suit them best, as well as creating and dispensing their own fragrance.

What do these experiences have in common? They are personal. They are immersive and they keep customers coming back.

3. Experts Form Opinions

In every fashion magazine there is usually a column, where professional experts or relationship psychologists answer reader’s questions, give advice or share quick style or dating tips.

Many retailers believe that their ‘experts’ are their ‘sales associates’. But this is not what the buyers think.

Motorola Solutions found that 61% of customers believe that they are more knowledgeable than sales associates.

This sentiment is mutual, because 54% of store associates report that shoppers are better connected to product information than they are.

For brick-and-mortar stores it means two things:

1) People are less likely to turn to the sales associates for advice, when making a purchase.
2) Traditional retailers need to employ a new group of ‘experts’.

Target has done it by inviting “baby consultants” into their Minneapolis Quarry store to give advice to new parents. Sephora and Ulta introduced “beauty consultants” a long time ago, while Weggman’s supermarket relies on professional nutritionists to help their customers make healthier food choices.

But there is another group of ‘experts’ that has largely remained undiscovered. I’m talking about bloggers. They carry a lot of social influence, yet brick-and-mortar stores don’t take full advantage of this powerful media.

Think ‘branded’ mannequins, where the outfits are put together by well-known fashion bloggers. Or technology aisles featuring gadgets, picked by successful tech bloggers, featuring their quotes and reviews.

Bloggers have earned their reputation online, because their content and opinions have proved to be relevant, interesting and entertaining to their readers. Why not integrate this content into a physical retail space, creating a more authentic dialogue between brand, retail space and customer?


Running a store like a magazine isn’t just a different way of appealing to the crowd of young and experience-hungry shoppers and outlive the competition. It’s also a real opportunity to activate additional and unexpected sources of income. But that’s the topic for a new post…