Fashion January 16, 2019

Reinventing Retail for the 21st Century

Whenever I want to listen in on a larger world conversation about global/human trends and get inspired, I take part in a Trend Union seminar and hear what trend guru Li Edelkoort has to show and tell. Her studies of sociocultural trends are fascinating, but the illustrations that accompany her subjects are out of this world — innovative, artistic and altogether unforgettable (which I guess is the point). I can’t help but devour every image and word. 

She has become one of the world’s most renowned trend forecasters in today’s retail environment. “A global beachcomber,” she calls herself, “traveling, shopping and searching the world over, constantly gathering information and emotions, studying the fabric of society, picking up materials, words, figures, and flowers …”

It’s important to market our products in a way that becomes a unique and emotionally rewarding experience for our customers.

At a seminar, a year and a half ago, I attended one very compelling discussion, which revolved around the world of retail today.

“Retail has changed,” said Edelkoort.“Most brand and shop concepts today date back a long time and are sometimes as old as a century or more. Many department stores will soon have major anniversaries celebrating between 100 and 150 years of business. Several couture and luxury brands were established in the early years of the 20th century, and many ready-to-wear brands go back to the ’60s and ’70s. Designer brands with vertically integrated production and retailing emerged fully in the ’80s and are still thriving today. The revisiting of couture and luxury houses, as invented by Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel in the ’80s, has seen a general facelift of the category over recent decades. The swinging ’60s brought us the boutique; the ’70s, the high street stores; the ’80s, the globalization of branding emporiums; the ’90s, the invention of the concept store; and now at the turn of the century, the even cooler online shopping.

“So far, this century doesn’t have its own shopping innovation and environment. The fashion industries keep delivering drops until we shop, and against all odds, the status quo of retail seems to project business as usual into our future. … The outer shell of shops has changed, with landmark architecture branding the luxury houses, and recently certain volume chain stores bringing high and low even closer than ever, like Target. However, the inner mood and mentality of shops has not yet been reinvented and is in need of creative and conceptual thinking.”

Marketers have to be artists and create places where the imagery and environment create a unique visceral experience.

So, how we talk to, service, and feel about the customer — and primarily respect the customer — is at risk for some degree of failure. Edelkoort mentioned that recently she had seen a store clerk who was pulling clothing right out of the box and putting it onto a shelf, not taking time to even iron or steam the clothes before displaying them. No wonder consumers today say they really don’t like to shop as they used to. If it’s not a good experience, and if we aren’t respectful of the consumer, they will quit coming. They will save themselves the trouble and go online and customize their wardrobe. Edelkoort also mentioned that there are some websites where people are even sharing clothing. So is this another new form of retail?

Retailers are worried about it but aren’t sure yet what to do.

Imagination, improvisation, intelligence, and humor are needed to redefine the shopping experiences of tomorrow.

Li Edelkoort

“Mood marketing,” Edelkoort stated, “will replace all other research disciplines, as we try to rekindle and improve the relationship with consumers, and will therefore require very different store environments and shopping mentalities. Shopping will need to become a trip within our inner selves to satisfy our complex needs and wishes, and therefore needs to be addressed in a truly innovative manner, to reach the consumer on another, more private level.

“Imagination, improvisation, intelligence and humor are needed to redefine the shopping experiences of tomorrow. To engage in a new dialogue with our clients, to anticipate their every wish, to service their every whim, to satisfy their hidden desires, and to bring them together in a social space.”

So what Edelkoort is saying is what we all feel happening, perceptively. It’s important to market our products in a way that becomes a unique and emotionally rewarding experience for our customers — the reason they bother to come in. They should feel the authenticity, the passion, and the values behind a brand so that they instinctually feel a connectedness. One of the most effective ways we have seen it done well is with powerful imagery — still and video — in combination with a reimagined store environment. Imagery that hits the audience squarely in their emotional space. They love it, they relate to it, and they can see themselves in it, instantaneously. Movement (video or other) takes it a step further and becomes more alive.

Blaise Pascal said (one of my favorite quotes, as I apply it to why people buy), “The heart has reasons which reason does not know.”

Marketers have to be artists and create places where the imagery and environment create a unique visceral experience. How a product is imaged, how it is merchandised, and how it rewards its audience — emotionally and on every subliminal level — is the work of all good marketers today. Layer those requirements over the multitude of contact points, whether it is on the iPad or a mobile device, in magalogues or lookbooks — find the best fits — and you are well on your way to making an amazing connection with consumers in the most satisfying of ways.

The heart has reasons which reason does not know.

Blaise Pascal

Edelkoort said it is about “lending space to the inner human, making room for their intimate well-being, building up a greener society and traveling to a future mentality as if streaming in a physical way.”

She continued,“This means that the role of designer and product developer becomes more complex and also more fun at the same time. Textile, fragrance, flowers, candles, books, food and design all get together to communicate. One needs to give form and content to a collection, to edit and script the proposal, to design the interior, to direct the movie, to research the music, to invent services, to customize products, to co-create merchandise, to host special events and to psychoanalyze the public.

“This imagery is designed to let us dream of different, more courageous versions of ourselves. … Think of more engaging concepts and of another era in-store design and packaging, of a consumer-driven environment full of life and wonder … and the sky’s the limit. Of a period to enjoy.”

For more information about Edelkoort’s seminars, which I highly recommend, please visit


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