Predictions are a funny thing.
Ever since I started in retail 30 years ago, people have been telling me that physical stores are dying.
As the metaverse is about to merge with the world of ecommerce, this prediction is louder than ever.
But back then, as today, I’m not biting.
Just like it has for a few thousand years, retail isn’t dying. It’s evolving. The physical spaces we call stores are adapting to a new reality which is more digital, experiential, community driven and attuned to the needs of the next consumer. The only ‘deaths’ will be of those stores and brands unable to transition (brutal, but nothing new).
So I started writing the case for retail in the coming decade.
But then I had a different idea. Instead of making an academic case, I’m just going to show you seven retail concepts which really intrigue me. Like any innovation, we’ll need to see how they’ll play out in the coming years, but they are definitely worth watching.
After all, as William Gibson once said: “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed”.
Let’s do this! ?
#1 CapitalOne Cafe
Other banks have experimented in this space, but I really like what US bank CapitalOne has done with their CapitalOne Café. It’s a place where you can hang out, work, study, attend workshops, have a cup of coffee and also take care of your banking business. This way, it leverages the opportunities offered by Fintech, but without turning into one of those cold, robotic self-banks we all love to hate. I wonder when European banks get the memo.
#2 The Self Space (London)
Who says stores should only sell products if they can also sell mental health? At least that’s what The Self Space thought when they opened a walk-in-from-the-street mental health shop. With locations in London and Manchester, you get: “the opportunity for a good conversation with a qualified person which increases the probability that you leave feeling better than when you came in”. What more can you ask for?
#3 Midnight Trains (Paris - 2024)
Yes, it still needs to be built, and perhaps it’s not retail. But there is something to the way the team from Midnight Trains is reimagining European train travel as a hotel on rails. Especially as skyrocketing fuel prices and environmental concerns make flying less attractive, it’s a pleasant reminder that travel is as much about the journey as about the destination. So I can’t help but wonder whether the future of international journeys resembles that of the old days.
#4 Duolingo’s: Duo’s Taqueria (Pittsburg - opening soon)
If you’ve used Duolingo, you know the app likes to combine fun and learning into a mix that teaches you the language of your choice. Which makes it remarkable that the company is now opening a taco restaurant in Pittsburgh (?!). When ordering, you have the option to take the “Español challenge”. Answer this correctly, and you get a discount.
I admit I don’t completely understand the logic behind the move, but it’s sure intriguing!
#5 Audi charging lounge (Nürnberg)
While Tesla and Starbucks are making some efforts, most EV charging stations look remarkably like the traditional petrol stations we know. Which is why I’m intrigued by Audi’s efforts to flip the script with their Audi Charging Lounge. At the same prices as you would charge your car at home, you can work or relax with a just-in-time delivery service for food, a nice cup of coffee and a carwash.
#6 Lego’s Laundrette of Dreams (London pop-up)
Lego’s Laundrette of Dreams is one of the best illustrations that stores don’t need to sell anything to be successful. The opportunity to visit is gone, as it only popped-up for a few weeks in late 2021. But while working with the community, the brand complemented its ecommerce strength with a physical space to play together and connect.
#7 L’Oréal House of Worth (Shanghai)
It’s already been open for more than a year, but when Covid fully recedes (if ever), this one is definitely on my ‘next time in Shanghai’ list. Because at the l’Oréal House of Worth, they pulled out every online/offline integration stop you can think of. From integrating Wechat in virtual bicycle rides to getting personalised physical keys that unlock digital experiences. How well it all works together, I don’t know. But I’m definitely curious.
That’s all I can offer today. In a few weeks, I’ll take the opposite direction and offer my take on the metaverse.
Meanwhile, if you visit these places before I do, drop me a line. I’d love to hear about your experience!
Are you wondering about the next level in your retail or brand experience?
Then let’s have virtual coffee. With my teams, I’ve done it for Lexus, Toyota, Vodafone, Reebok, Bordeaux wines and more. Perhaps I can also do it for you.
Even if the conversation goes nowhere, I’m sure it will be interesting for both of us. Which feels like a good idea, anyway.
Alain Thys is an experience architect who helps organisations drive profit and transformation through experience.