The store is an integral aspect of luxury retailing and is crucial in representing the brand identity and meeting the expectations of visitors. The store is often the first point of real physical contact between consumers and brands. A brand's identity is mostly projected through the store concept, from where an image is either crafted or harmonized. This image leads on to a mind positioning and internal judgement of the brand by consumers. For example, if a consumer sees the advertisement of a luxury product in the print media and visits the store afterwards, they would expect synchronism between the image that they already have in their minds based on the advertisement and what they see and experience in the store. The advertisement is like the cover of a book and the store is the actual book contents. The story should be in accord with the cover.
The store concept comprises the design, the atmosphere, the size and impersonal selling techniques.
The design function is one of the most visible fundamentals of retail store strategy. It refers to the store layout and elements of its aesthetics such as its colours, decorations and lighting, among others. The effective combination of these features often result in enticing and captivating consumers and, of course, higher purchase probability.
The layout of a store greatly contributes to its image and manipulates traffic flow. In the conventional retailing of consumer goods such as supermarket retailing, the store layout choice follows the most commercially realistic pattern, which is often an outline called the Grid-Flow Layout. This layout features long vertical and horizontal rows of display units of goods with a single entrance and a separate single exit. Another general retailing pattern is the Guided-Flow Layout, with a pre-determined long path from the store entrance to its exit, as found in several furniture stores. In mass fashion retail, the most common and most feasible store layout is called the Free-Flow Layout. This pattern features several entrances and exits to the store and allows free movement of customers. It also provides the store with a better image and enhances the consumer's mood and feeling. An additional advantage of this pattern is that shoppers are likely to stay in the store for a long time if the atmosphere is complementary. However, its disadvantage is that shoppers might fail to spot several products as a result of the lack of a main entrance and a central exit.
In addition to these essential layout considerations, there are other factors that are essential in the selection of the luxury store layout. The first factor is to ensure that the layout best reflects a prestigious image and complements a luxury atmosphere. The second factor is to ensure that the layout optimizes the surface area while providing the customer with adequate comfortable space and distance to appreciate the store and the brand. The third factor is that the retail layout choice ought to provide room for a form of in-store animation and entertainment which enhances the image of the brand. Although each brand has a unique store arrangement that best reflects its brand personality, the luxury attribute is best shown through variations of the Free-Flow Layout and the Boutique Layout represented in Figure 4.2.
In addition to the store layout, the colour scheme that a brand adopts in its store design is essential to its image and positioning. This ensures synchronization of the brand's identity with the store representations, and cannot be over-emphasized. For example, the dark colour tones found in the stores of Alexander McQueen evoke a smouldering sexiness which is associated with
(a) The boutique store layout
(b) The free-flow store layout
(a) The boutique store layout
Figure 4.2 Store layouts
Note: Lines and boxes represent product shelves.
Figure 4.2 Store layouts
Note: Lines and boxes represent product shelves.
the brand. Also the gold and brown colour tones found in Louis Vuitton stores are in harmony with the brand's visual identity and luxurious brand appeal. The Chanel monochrome black and white, which evokes classic chic, is felt both in the stores and in the other aspects of the brand's communications.
Colour can also be used in retail stores to influence shoppers' moods and increase purchase probability. The appropriate management of colours through knowledge of colour functions often complements an effective store design. For example, the colour red is considered to be exciting and escalates the body's metabolism, and yellow is believed to be the colour of intellectual and mental stimulation. Blue is considered as the colour of calm and dignity while green fosters harmony and uplifts spirits. Brown is considered calming and wise; black is sexy and sophisticated; while white evokes purity, innocence and agelessness.
Another crucial aspect of retail store design is lighting. It is highly essential as a tool for the manipulation of space and enhancement of colour and visibility. Effective lighting can influence the size appearance of a store, making it appear large, small or long. Lighting can also affect the way a store's decorations are viewed, affecting the colour tones of both the store and the products displayed within the store. It is important to place strong lighting in the product display sections of the store, irrespective of the overall mood and atmosphere. Other design tools such as mirrors and glass are used to manipulate lighting to create an impression of a larger space. For example, large well-positioned mirrors can reflect lighting from one window, creating the appearance of two windows in a store with only one window.
Decorations within the retail store are also vital in luxury fashion retailing. The luxury store is more than a selling channel, it is also a means of artistic projections that present expertly crafted goods and an appealing brand image. The aesthetic appeal of a luxury fashion store is one of the major differentiating factors between a luxury store and a mass fashion store. Luxury store decorations may be in the form of the now commonly used wall-mounted plasma televisions featuring videos of the brand's fashion shows and product care guidance. Store decorations may also be thematic or seasonal. Luxury fashion stores are expected by consumers to have highly appealing store decorations that add to the brand's cachet. The messages of the store decorations should therefore go beyond the surface beauty and appeal of the products to the inner subconscious and psychological levels of the consumers' minds.
An example of an impressive store design concept is Louis Vuitton's flagship store located at Avenue des Champs Elysées, Paris. The store, which covers 1,800 square metres of retail space, embodies both high artistic and architectural design and has been described as 'Art à tous les étages' or 'Art on all floors'. The concept of art and architecture has been transferred to every aspect of the store design and layout including the elevator. Unlike most retail stores where the elevator is a functional instrument that transports consumers from one floor to another, Louis Vuitton's store uses its elevator as a statement of creative imagination. The elevator, which is essential for the store's seven floors, is completely decorated in black and is empty of any signal, light and sound. As the lift transports visitors from one floor to another (with an escort), the total darkness and stillness that envelops the passengers is a powerful force of art and imagination. Its strategic purpose is to stimulate the loss of the senses of vision and sound. The effect of this sensory loss is the invigoration of the imagination of the person travelling in the lift because they find themselves in a space that is the opposite of the high visibility of the store. The intent is that when they eventually arrive at their desired floor, they will be likely to look at the products differently and appreciate them better. Although physically and sensually empty, the lift space is abundantly rich in the imagination, experience and psychological space of the customer riding the lift. Such is the level of interactivity expected between luxury stores and consumers.
Another example of a notable luxury store design is the Hong Kong boutique of Chanel. The store concept is an emulation of Coco Chanel's Parisian apartment, and its design displays include all the style elements associated with Coco Chanel during her lifetime, which have formed signature elements of the brand. These range from a 32-metre strand of pearls hanging down through three floors; tweed-replicating black and white lacquer panelling; chandeliers; and a diamond-dust portrait of Coco Chanel. The strategic reasoning behind this store design is to create a space where all the attributes associated with the brand's founder, Coco Chanel, are featured.
Mass brands such as Nike are also capitalizing on using the store concept to appeal to the lucrative upper-end market. The sportswear brand's Nike-ID store on New York's Elizabeth Street is designed to resemble an atelier where bespoke goods are manufactured. The store also retails only limited edition goods.
Luxury fashion stores are required to have magic, energy and life in order to inspire consumers and also become embedded in the consumers' memories.
In simple terms, atmosphere is the sum of the feelings that consumers experience within a store interpreted through their senses. It is a blend of sensory communications that exists on the subconscious and psychological levels of consumers, and is associated with terms like ambience, mood, impression, background, character and sensations. Atmosphere is connected with the five human senses: visual, aural, tactile, olfactory, and taste; and an additional sixth sense, 'emotion'. Appealing to consumers' visual and aural senses is essential in creating the appropriate atmosphere, but it is not sufficient in the current luxury marketplace. A complete sensory package comprising all the senses is required in luxury retailing.
Luxury goods are categorized as sensory in nature, which means that they rely heavily on intangible factors to ensure sales and to promote the brand.
Since sensory elements such as the visuals, touch and smell are intangible in nature, they ought to be manipulated to complement the intangible qualities of the brand like the brand personality and image. This will ensure that the atmosphere of the selling space harmonizes with the brand and reduces the risk of the brand losing its cachet.
Consumers mostly remember their experiences in a luxury store based on the feelings they had during and after the store visit. These feelings are shaped by their perceptions, which are influenced by the store's atmosphere through visual and other sensory elements. The visual aspect of a store is affected by its colour, lighting, size, shapes, packaging and so on, and visuals play a key role in defining the mood that a store evokes in consumers and has the highest level of impact on consumers' interpretation of a store's atmosphere.
The aural sensory element connected with sound (or in some cases noise) in a store also contributes significantly to the mood and ambience of the store. Sound considerations include music, volume, pitch, jingles and noise distractions. For example, in conventional fashion retail fast music such as pop is used during peak shopping hours to encourage high expenditure and impulse purchases while at the same time unconsciously promoting quick exits in order to accommodate more shoppers. Slow music on the other hand is used during low shopping hours to encourage shoppers to linger in the store, thereby increasing their purchase probability. Luxury brands could replicate these features through a higher level of application. For example, the choice of sound should not only focus on sales returns, but must complement the brand personality. In addition, luxury stores ought to avoid every possible noise distraction and retail gaffe that could disturb shoppers, including telephone exchanges of sales assistants.
The sense of touch or tactile sense is highly important in the luxury fashion store atmosphere. Luxury consumers have a strong need to touch and feel luxury goods before purchase. As indicated earlier, luxury goods are sensory in nature and consumer responsiveness to retail and product design is particularly connected with the sense of physical touch. The tactile sense is also described by the words 'emotion' and 'feeling'. This indicates that the sense of touch is linked with the emotional response that luxury brands strive to arouse in their consumers.
The olfactory sense or the sense of smell is also an important influential factor in luxury goods retailing. The sense of smell has become more crucial in luxury goods retailing because several luxury brands have extended their product range to include fragrances and cosmetics, which rely heavily on the sense of smell. Often these products are sold in the same stores as apparel, leather goods and other products manufactured by the brand, which emphasizes the importance of the sense of smell in luxury goods retailing.
Also, every brand has an associated scent and this should be perceived in the store. Consumers do not expect to visit a Hermès store and find that it smells of Chanel No. 5; or to visit the cosmetics section of a luxury brand's store to find that it smells of leather. The minimum olfactory requirement for luxury stores should be to smell fresh, clean and distinct.
The sense of taste is also increasingly being featured in the luxury fashion arena. Luxury brands like Giorgio Armani, Roberto Cavalli and Pierre Cardin have extended their offerings to include products that require the use of the sense of taste, such as sweets, chocolates, wine, champagne, vodka and coffee. Although these products highlight the increasing relevance of the sense of taste in luxury retailing, taste remains the least relevant of the senses in the overall retail of luxury fashion goods. Also, products that require taste are often distributed through other more appropriate channels like restaurants and food halls of major luxury departmental stores.
The additional sensory element of 'emotion' is also critical in luxury goods retailing. As indicated earlier, luxury brands present and retail their products through reinforcing the brand's aura and appeal, which produce emotional responses from consumers. This emotion stems from the consumers' overall feelings in the store and encompasses all the elements of the retail space, the products and the services. The feelings are then transformed into longing and are stored in the consumer's 'memory bank'. They are pulled out when decisions regarding the brand are required, which is often.
Store size is an important consideration in the store concept of luxury brands. In choosing the luxury fashion store size, the unspoken rule of thumb among luxury brands seems to be 'the bigger the better'. Luxury brands currently vie to outdo each other in the development of colossal stores mostly within flagship retail centres. For example, Louis Vuitton's flagship store in Paris covers 1,800 square meters over seven stories, while its New York store is set in a 20-storey building. Chanel has a 10-storey size store as its Asian flagship in Tokyo. Armani's planned Tokyo store opening in 2007 will cover 86,000 square feet over multiple floors. Also, Chloe's flagship on Paris' Avenue Montaigne is 2,000 square feet, while Fendi's largest store is located in a seven-story palazzo in Rome. Pucci's flagship store in the brand's hometown of Capri is 324 square feet. And the list goes on. In some cases, the store sizes of luxury brands are even larger than those of department stores, where space is a crucial determinant of retail prowess.
Adequate store space is crucial in luxury goods retailing and the large-sized stores have the additional role of making a bold statement of the brand's strength, austerity and personality. These factors are essential in the image development and preservation that makes luxury brands appealing to customers. Accordingly, although a giant store serves commercial purposes (because more goods can be displayed), large retail spaces also have underlying importance in luxury goods retailing. So, large retail space is a positive selling point and should be implemented wherever possible. However, the strategic question related to luxury store size is whether 'bigger' automatically translates to 'better' and whether the size of luxury stores influences luxury consumers.
This is the art of product display and store layout manipulation that promotes the customer's independence during shopping. Impersonal selling encourages the customer to move freely within the store and to spend as much individual time as possible without relying on the assistance of sales staff. It is a tactic that aims at providing a total brand experience and encourages impulse purchases.
Impersonal selling is the opposite of personal selling. It enables customers to request personal selling services when they actually need them, without feeling that sales assistants are crowding them. In several cases, unsolicited personal selling services come off as hard selling, which is often a put-off for consumers. Impersonal selling on the other hand empowers customers and in most instances is also more convenient for customers.
In addition, impersonal selling can be used to dispel misconceptions and put consumers at ease. Some luxury consumers feel intimidated by luxury stores because of the notion that such stores and staff have a cold and superior disposition. Impersonal selling is a way to counter this perception. Although the luxury store should have adequate sales staff on hand to assist shoppers, personal service is most effective when it is granted on request.
The additional benefits of impersonal selling include lower labour costs for the companies that own the brands and, in some cases, less floor space utilization. Impersonal selling techniques include product grouping, product spread, space liberty and hot-spots for bestsellers or new products, among others.
In designing the store concept, luxury brands are required to maintain the attributes of creating a desire and an aspiration, while ensuring sales feasibility. These will ensure that the consumer benefits from both the functional and socio-psychological gains of using luxury products.
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