Showrooms: The next era of retail?

Today's showrooms provide a glimpse into the future we are heading towards, finds Retail Focus.

The leading argument for bricks-and-mortar has been the ability to see, touch and try out the product in person, said Emily Hamilton, director of brand marketing at FRCH Design Worldwide, in a recent article for Retail Focus. Retailers, therefore, need to shift the role of their store from being a physical space to stock goods, to a physical space to stage goods.

It's a move that would be welcomed by consumers, according to a study by enterprise solutions specialist HSO. The research, which was published towards the end of 2017, suggests that more than three quarters of consumers are ready for the next era of retail, where stores become showrooms, designed around the customer experience rather than just sales outlets.

'The showroom concept has many advantages for retailers, not least that almost all stock can be held at a less expensive location and staff no longer need to take their eye off the customer to unload boxes and stack shelves,' comments Hector Hickmott, sales director at HSO. 'However, the word "experience" is the all-important one here. Not only will customers expect more personalised service in store, they will also expect their subsequent online purchasing to be linked to the visit and run smoothly, regardless of whether they are ordering via their mobile from the store, by laptop or tablet once they are back home.'

British furniture brand Loaf opened its fourth showroom in March, at Tunsgate Quarter in Guildford, Surrey.

British furniture brand Loaf has built on its online success with the opening of four showrooms - or 'slowrooms' as they are also known - in and around London, including the newly renovated Tunsgate Quarter in Guildford. 'I always had this vision that I wanted these big, quirky spaces where our customers can come and experience the brand,' says Charlie Marshall, founder of Loaf. 'We want them to explore our laid-back world and flop around on our beds and sofas; chill out; smell, feel and even hear the brand, through the music we play.'

Mattress testing station at Loaf in Tunsgate Quarter

The so-called Loaf Shacks include mattress testing stations, arcade games, a cinema room playing 80s movies and even old-school-style ice cream parlours. Complementary drinks are also available in fridges dotted around the space, and there are even colouring stations for children (big and small). 'I want visitors to step into one of our shacks and while away an afternoon,' adds Marshall.

As might be expected today, the slowrooms are designed to sync seamlessly with the brand's website, brochure and marketing content. 'Consistency is crucial to successfully operating as a full multichannel retailer,' says Marshall. 'Our move to bricks-and-clicks is all about reaffirming what we do and giving customers a fantastic experience, where they can kick their shoes off and relax.'

RB12 is a new design space and concept store in Shoreditch, London, which aims to reinvigorate the London design scene with inspirational design, excellent quality, personal service and stimulating sensory experiences.

In Shoreditch, East London, RB12 is a new design space and concept store offering personal service and stimulating sensory experiences. Arranged over two floors, the space showcases design pieces for every area of the home and even has a working kitchen that serves coffee and light bites throughout the day. It is the first business to take up residence in the new Shoreditch Village development and is committed to providing personal, customised service.

'Going back a few years, you'd usually find a traditional showroom in a more out-of-town location or at a brand's HQ,' notes Ollie Patterson, marketing director at Mynt Design. 'These days, though, we're finding more showroom spaces in shopping malls and central locations, and I think this is in response to how brands want customers to explore their stores and their products, but also the habits of today's consumer.'

Bed manufacturer Silentnight is set to open its second showroom with shopping centre owner intu this May.

Bed manufacturer Silentnight, for example, is set to open its second showroom with shopping centre owner intu this May. The 445 sq m space at intu Lakeside in Essex will enable visitors to explore and experience the brand's full range of beds, mattresses and sleep accessories.

For David Wright, marketing and new business director at Dalziel & Pow, what we are seeing is a structural shift in retail. 'The growth of online, new disruptive models, the failure of established brands, and major demographic and customer behaviour changes [are] leading to the reassessment of the established retailer model, and with this the role, purpose and, dare I say it, need for "stores". However, we do see a role for the store and one way in which it has a future is through the showroom model,' believes Wright. 'Today's showrooms are a glimpse into the future we are heading towards. [They] chime with modern consumers' need for experience and love of brand storytelling.'

Sonos opened its first store in 2016 with seven state-of-the-art rooms, each acoustically designed to replicate a home listening environment.

The Sonos stores in New York and London are designed to fulfil these exact needs. 'The whole store experience is based on the idea of being in a really comfortable and inspiring environment, listening to music you love, but hearing it in a way you never have before,' said Dmitri Siegel, Sonos VP, global brand at the opening of the Manhattan site in 2016. 'The intention is to allow the music to do the talking, making it easy for everyone to experience Sonos exactly as they would at home, even though they are in a retail environment,' explained Giles Martin, Sonos sound experience leader.

But, while it may seem like more retailers are transitioning to showrooms, in most cases they are simply using it as a testing mechanism, argues Hamilton. 'Showrooms are not the universal answer for retail of the future, but just like pop-ups, they should be utilised as part of a brand's arsenal. Leveraged as a temporary solution - to introduce an online brand to brick-and-mortar, to gain more insights and data on shopper habits, or simply change a consumer's perception of an ageing retailer - showrooms can be a successful retail tactic.'

The future of showroom design, claims Sammi Burden, creative director at Resolution Interiors, is about doing unexpected things at unexpected times. 'It's about increased awareness and adding extras to the usual shopping experience, keeping customers returning time and time again,' she says. And let's face it, loyalty is the name of the game.

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