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Talk to a fashion executive about ecommerce, and he will inevitably cite the challenges of creating an online shopping environment on par with his flagship stores. Online shopping may be convenient, he will say, but customers will be denied the ability to try on a garment for fit, to feel the texture of a python bag, to be surrounded by the products, architecture, music and personnel that make up the store experience.
It's no surprise, then, that many apparel retailers, particularly those that fall in the luxury category, have invested heavily in bringing elements of the in-store shopping experience to their websites. While shopping on OscardelaRenta.com, you'll be encouraged to connect to a personal shopper through live chat to address your questions. At Saks.com, you're invited to zoom in on photographs of products and watch videos of clothing worn by models to get a better sense of fit and movement. J.Crew recently collected its shoes and handbags under one category to replicate the in-store experience of browsing, while Valentino.com has its own store soundtrack.
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Given the above, I was somewhat surprised when Christopher Bailey, chief creative officer of Burberry, said in interviews earlier this month that the company was investing not in replicating more of its store experiences online, but bringing the Burberry.com experience to its stores -- specifically, the 27,000-square-foot flagship Burberry recently opened on Regent Street in London.
The flagship, by Burberry's description, has seamlessly integrated technology throughout. Full-length screens wrap the store, transitioning between audio-visual content displays, live-streaming hubs and and mirrors. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips have been attached to certain clothes and accessories so that when a customer approaches one of the screens in a fitting room, specific content -- say, information about a bag's stitching and craftsmanship, or a video showing how a skirt was worn on the catwalk -- will appear.
I followed up by phone with Bailey earlier this week. In addition to the new store, we discussed why Burberry didn't serve up any new digital tricks for its Spring/Summer 2013 collection show, and how customization and other emerging trends are shaping Burberry's business. Check out an edited transcript of our talk, below.
Q&A With Christopher Bailey, Chief Creative Officer, Burberry
You spoke in several earlier interviews about your desire to carry the Burberry.com experience to the Regent Street store. That surprised me. Nearly every other retailer is trying to do the opposite.
We put so much energy and design, and created all these unique experiences on Burberry.com, but we didn't have any physical version of them -- Burberry Acoustic, for example, or our heritage archive, or Burberry Bespoke, or even our beauty and fragrance division. So what we did was the exact opposite of the way people build physical spaces. We started looking at Burberry.com and making the experience you have there very rich, one that shows the whole world what Burberry is about. We wanted, when you walked into the Regent Street store, to feel exactly the same atmosphere, [for you to be] able to engage with it in the same way that you might be able to engage online. That meant silly as well as tangible things. We installed several hundred speakers and built a stage, as well as an in-and-out satellite link so we could stream live shows in, and stream out live gigs, all of which emulates the Burberry Acoustic site.
We also did a lot of residential seating around the space, so you can sit down and relax as might you at home with your laptop or iPad.
What kind of impression do you want people to have about Burberry's brand when they leave the store for the first time?
That they were able to experience lots of different things, also [that they found it] entertaining. For example, throughout the store we have a couple of hundred of screens, some of them are huge, and then there are a couple hundred little screens around the store that has content specifically designed for the environment it's in. And every hour or so -- we're figuring out timing about it still -- we'll basically change the whole store to one thing, have this kind of rainstorm we've done with people clicking their fingers, and all of a sudden we'll dim the lights throughout the whole space and every video screen will suddenly turn to this video we've created. Everybody just stops and stares at the screen; we turn the sound up a bit, it becomes entertainment, makes people smile and stop, and then they go back to what they were doing. I think it's about more than just shopping, exploring.
Is the experience you created in Regent Street something you plan to bring to other stores?
Regent Street is really a one-off even just because of scale of store, but there are definitely elements of what we've done in Regent Street that we'll take to different stores around world.
Customization and personalization seem to be two key themes emerging from Burberry as of late, particularly with Burberry Bespoke and the RFID/custom content experience you're using in the store. Is that fair to say? What's driving that?
When you start interacting and engaging in a very authentic way with social media, you also have to look at the way you do things. Things need to be quicker, more personalized; there needs to be a dialogue, rather than the industry standard of working always in this way and on this calendar. You need to question everything that you can. We did this show yesterday; you can literally buy all the outerwear off the runway immediately, deliver in six to eight weeks, that sort of thing.
As for RFID: People are interested in what goes behind products now. You can show so much more on the web through video and text and moving imagery. So what we wanted to do, for example, is if I try on a trench coat and approach one of the mirrors that we've enabled with RFID, content comes up on the screen that shows how we've made that trench coat, what it looked like on the runway. We're putting stories behind clothes and fashion.
Let's talk about show. We've gotten used now to Burberry unveiling something totally new digitally every season -- 3D live streams, post-show shopping, tweetwalk, animated tweetwalk -- that gets a lot of press. So far as I'm aware, you didn't do anything of that sort for this show. How come?
This time we did do a lot of personalization with the show. For example, we invited people personally with their names to watch the show, and when people came in to show space, they immediately got an email from me saying, 'Welcome, I hope you enjoy the show.' We tried to make it a little more intimate, a little more personal.
I've never thought that we have to check a box every season to do something new, something that was newsworthy. It's more for me that we're doing things authentically. The tweetwalk was something I wanted to do because it was something I felt. On the runway everything is perfect, glossy and finished, audience looks pretty amazing, but then backstage as with everything, there's usually a bit of chaos. It was fun to show that real life as well. That's what social media or Twitter is about; I like those contradictions.
We've talked about integrating digital in-store, customization, live streaming -- what digital trends do you see impacting Burberry's business going forward?
I think connecting everything. There are so many different platforms, so many different forms of communication; how do we make sure they're all coming together in some way, that they're not all sitting alone?
This story originally published on Mashable here.