Almost twelve months ago, department store chain Lord & Taylor closed its flagship on Fifth Avenue after more than 100 years in business. Then in August rival Barneys filed for bankruptcy and was sold for parts at beginning of November. In the UK, storied names such as House of Fraser and Debenhams continue to lurch from profit warning to profit warning. In short, many legacy department store brands are calling time. Many, but by no means all. For every high-profile closure there comes news of a competitor attempting to innovate its way out of retail’s much trailered apocalypse. Indeed, department store operators are increasingly turning their spaces into incubators for some of the most revolutionary ideas in physical shopping. Here are the four most promising stories that we covered in 2019.


NORDSTROM invests in rack-side dining

If ever there was a statement of faith in the continued value of the department store concept, this was it. Nordstrom have recently cut the ribbon on a nearly 30,000-sq-m venue covering the first seven floors of one of New York’s premier pieces of real-estate, Central Park Tower.

What makes this iteration different? Chiefly that Nordstrom’s shoppers will be able to turn to sales staff and order food and drink directly to the sales floor. This will arrive, not via the cardboard and plastic of takeaway containers, but in china and glassware. Eight dishes will be available for delivery, such as their signature chicken taco. If you’re surprised that Nordstrom has a signature anything, just note that one in every four transactions across the Nordstrom portfolio is food or beverage related. They’ve learnt from experience how keeping their visitors nourished helps increase both dwell time and demeanour. On that point, several levels will be fully licensed, offering the chance of a far more engaging shopping experience for groups…and perhaps a spike in impulse purchases.

Read more in our forthcoming Jan — Feb 2020 issue, Frame 132.


HARRODS premiumizes technology retail

In one of the biggest transformations Harrods has seen in its 185-year history, a Gensler-designed, state-of-the-art technology department has been unveiled, complete with areas for experiential masterclasses. The 11-room, 2,787-sq-m space now entitles Harrods to the distinction of having one of the largest electronics departments in the UK.

The expansion grows Harrods’ pre-existing tech department – relocated from the third to the fifth floor – by nearly 80 per cent. Gensler was briefed to create a space that simultaneously references the retailer’s heritage in addition to its traditional focus on fashion. A 3-m-wide catwalk, decked with Harrods’ signature floor pattern and a continuous illuminated ceiling feature, was designed to connect the five dedicated zones for vision, computing, audio, imaging and connectivity. The catwalk also serves as a brand showcase, hinting to customers what will be on offer once they make their way into the immersive rooms.

‘Our vision was to create a world-class destination for some of the biggest technology brands in the world,’ explains head of technology Stewart Mancey. ‘Harrods now has a product offer to rival not only our direct competitors, but also niche specialist technology retailers.’

Read more here.


SELFRIDGES looks to the future of digital garments

Fashion has gone digital in a big way over the last 18 months. The Fabricant managed to auction the first item of virtual 'haute-couture’ for $9500, while Nike released two pairs of limited edition Jordans for your Fortnite avatar to wear. Is there any way for ailing brick-and-mortar retailers to take advantage of this enthusiasm for the intangible? Selfridges thinks so.

The department store’s AW19 campaign – The New Order – is a thinly veiled response to its customers increasing pixel fixation. 'The digital realm has shifted the limits of fashion – we’re no longer constrained by what is humanly or materially possible,’ says Selfridges Head of Creative Emma Kidd. 'Our new digital tools are causing a revolution in what fashion looks like, and what it can do for us.’

A range of digital artists such as Jon Emmony, Digi Gals, Filip Custic and Ines Alpha have created work for the campaign, which will, crucially, feel as present at the department store’s Oxford Street property as on its social channels. Window displays will come alive via QR codes that allow passersby to explore and shop renderings of products, with mannequins dressed in 3D scans of apparel and accessories. This ethos extends to internal visual merchandising as well, with visitors able to use their phones to view an installation by Emmony that mixes products installs with his trademark surreal, shifting backdrops.

Read more here.


DE BIJENKORF future proofs through flexibility

Recognizing that the only constant in retail now is its propensity to change, the Dutch department store has the used the creation of its new men’s department as an experiment in responsive design. To create such a system – evergreen and easily adaptable for ultimate brand expression – native architecture studio i29 built a spatial grid that transparently connects the floor, columns, ceiling and furniture with each other. Individually branded spaces follow the general structure, but each are distinguished by unique colouring and materialization; temporary reorganization for seasonal or sale presentations is made possible by the organic subdivision of products. Overall, the design strategy is one that makes way for a unified experience while ‘ensuring diversity, variation and flexibility,’ according to a spokesperson for the studio.

Read more here.

We've compiled a collection of trend roundups that reflect on this year in retail. Find them all here.