Surprise as a retail signature
How Aesop and Anthropologie have developed networks of unique stores.
In order to secure a consistent customer experience throughout their network, brands tend to duplicate their stores: same architectural concept, same product display principles, same selling ceremony, same staff uniforms throughout the world.
But is cloning the one and only solution to offer a successful in-store customer experience? Not so sure. Aesop and Anthropologie successfully differentiate through uniqueness and surprise in their retail network: each of their stores is different, and yet any client can recognize the brand’s identity at a glance.
An analysis of these two brilliant approaches
Aesop: one store = one architectural concept
A distinct architectural design is imagined for each of Aesop stores: whether in Paris, New York, Melbourne or Singapore, no one store looks exactly like another, with a few rare exceptions. And yet, any client can tell they are at Aesop.
Of course, products are hard to avoid, but even disregarding them, store designs are very consistent whatever the location.
What is Aesop’s strategy?
Very precise guidelines, defined by the Australian headquarters, detail each step of the customer experience, which takes place around functional elements (for instance, products staged as heroes with an approach mixing architecture and merchandising) and iconic elements (for instance the sink). Use of local ingredients and choice of materials are also codified
Aesop calls on various local architects’ talents, each of them interpreting and expressing Aesop’s values with their own sensibility in a given place, always complying with headquarters’ guidelines. This approach, which originates from the founder’s sense for architecture, requires a real know-how to detect emerging talents that will become tomorrow’s great retail architects, as well as solid skills at regional level to oversee the development of each store
As a result: distinct and yet very recognizable stores, with Aesop’s signature atmosphere.
Anthropologie: uniqueness through visual merchandising and display windows
At American lifestyle brand Anthropologie, there are no two identical windows. And yet, if you wander between New York, San Francisco or Dallas, even though each window tells a particular story, you will notice that all these stories are consistent between them.
What is Anthropologie’s strategy?
Instead of expecting all stores to reproduce the exact same windows, the headquarters in Philadelphia set a calendar of themes that is common to the whole network, and which are explained
Each store has a team of visual merchandisers, with a highly creative background, in charge of interpreting themes defined by the headquarters. Such approach requires a real ability to select local talents that are able to keep inventing and renewing visual expressions
Stores have a very limited budget for supplies used in their windows, since they spend about as much for one store as a luxury brand would for one single window. On the other hand, there are few constraints in terms of time spent… As a consequence, visual merchandisers use recycled materials or buy raw materials that they will rework for week
As a result
A very arty and handcrafted touch, which is the visual merchandising signature of Anthropologie, and makes their windows so recognizable
A gallery of different but consistent windows that you would almost want to collect!
Catherine Liju is a Manager at MADnetwork, a consulting firm specialized in luxury and premium retail. She supports her clients in creating and implementing unique, innovative and efficient in-store customer experiences.