The head of retail at innovation research and trends company Stylus Katie Baron, shares her thoughts on the latest retail responses to increased public demand for transparency and inclusivity.

Off-stage brand hubs and innovation boutiques

Physical retail venues remain an integral part of any successful brandscape, but staying relevant to today’s dynamic consumer requires fresh thinking and a generous dose of artistry.

In response to consumer appetites for transparency, inclusivity and insider insights, many brands are exploring fan-ready store designs established within the very venues from which their brand culture is derived.

USA-based fashion e-tailer Everlane is one of a growing number of brands exploring corporate-commercial ‘HQ stores’ and open-door retail studios and showrooms – spaces that blur the boundaries between consumer culture and industry knowledge.

The premium basics brand has created an inviting space within its San Francisco headquarters to embody its mantra of ‘Radical Transparency’, sharing production details of its garments openly with customers.

Adhering to non-hierarchical, fair-minded brand values, the converted warehouse space opts for an open-plan environment, inviting teams to work in community areas filled with natural light. The minimalistic interior is kept to a subtly monochromatic palette with smatterings of greenery to further an ambience of trust and sanctuary. And, beyond providing retail transactions, Everlane fans are invited to the space to experience the latest collections and speak to personal stylists.

Giving customers access to previously private parts of your brand space can deliver the memorable, high-impact moments needed for long-term loyalty. Cadillac has created a haven that combines automotive opulence with creative exploration at its Manhattan HQ ‘Cadillac House’, soon to be followed by a Shanghai outfit.

Exceeding 1,000 sq-m, the consumer-facing hub evolves regularly; featuring co-working areas, a Retail Lab in collaboration with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, café, and gallery, where exhibitions are hosted in partnership with luxury art and fashion publication Visionaire.

The minimalist palette of black and white with mellow golden-brown tones emulates the luxury and modernity of the cars on display.

Also surfacing are store designs that actively embrace a sense of full disclosure, and make off-stage affairs central to the brand spectacle and allure.

British shoemaker Joseph Cheaney uses its new Covent Garden store space as a platform to demonstrate the craftsmanship that underpins the brand. Neat rows of pendant lamps made of leather are suspended from the soaring ceilings, while customers are invited to touch and feel the leather samples in the main shopping area.

A more intimate ink-blue lounge at the back is reserved for trying on shoes. The space also features a finishing station next to the glass storefront, a centre-stage position for craftsmen to polish footwear in full view of people inside and outside the store.

Public participation in a brand’s internal machinations is considered the mark of a positive, democratic business. Brands can appeal to this appetite for personalization and self-expression with retail spaces informed by research and development to allow for a direct brand-consumer dialogue, and even collaboration.

In Japan, beauty brand Shiseido is working on a Global Innovation Centre in Yokohama, due to be complete by the end of 2018, which will house its R&D hub and a space devoted to staff-consumer interaction. Consumers will be able to test the cosmetics and give their feedback to Shiseido researchers, ultimately becoming co-creators of products for the brand.

Participatory retail experiences are booming for brands. ‘Inclusive’ store designs that trade on allowing consumers into the heart of a brand’s machinations – to the extent of impacting on the brand’s output – have major mileage.

As this trend evolves, dual consumer experiences will sit side by side, catering to the overarching emerging split between the desires of the public to explore and to be served.