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These 5 Brands Don’t Care About Selling Anything At Their Stores

Products aren’t the priority at newly successful stores, as both established and indie brands rethink brick-and-mortar and stop caring about in-store sales…

As young consumers shift more of their spending online, retail brands are rethinking the purpose of their brick-and-mortar stores. Keeping huge inventories in spaces that span city blocks doesn’t work anymore—just ask Forever 21 or Toys R Us, both of which have gone bankrupt. Rather than being places to buy things, IRL locations are increasingly being used to engage with customers in meaningful ways and build communities of avid brand fans. It’s no longer okay to just sell things, with 72% of 13-37-year-olds telling us in our shopping & fashion survey that shopping should be an experience. Gen Z and Millennials expect much more from the brands they buy from these days. As The Phluid Project’s Head of PR Christina Zervanos explained to us, to cater to young demos they’ve “become much more than a store and a brand.”

It’s a big ask for brands, as they’re increasingly asked to act like people and befriend their customers, rather than just put out products and pedal promotions. Not focusing on sales at retail locations also means that store success is far less quantifiable. And that’s where the rethinking comes in: The retailers that are building loyal followings among young demos think of their stores as a marketing tool, not a sales channel. Because of that, they can shrink their footprints, with some not even stocking inventory, and measure success by how much time people are spending in the store and whether they’re building a long-term relationship with the brand. (Again, brands are people now.)

There are several brands that have forged new ground on this major retail shift, scaling back their square footage and upping their Experiencification. Here are 5 that show what in-person “shopping” might look like in the future:

1. Lululemon

Lululemon’s new Chicago location has a restaurant, exercise classes, and more. Selling stuff is definitely not the main focus. At the athletic apparel brand’s new store, Eater reports that brand stans can try-before-they-buy Lululemon gear by wearing it to any of the 40-50 classes offered each week. After, they can treat themselves to a post-workout meal at Fuel, which is serving up eats for the wellness set, like acai bowls and salad, but also less-expected emotional fuel, like burgers and beer. Over their meal, they can also connect with other Lululemon devotees by dining in the dedicated “connection room.”


2. Nordstrom

We noticed Nordstrom’s first Local location in 2017 and they’ve continued to expand the initiative this year, signaling that these stores could be the “department stores” of the future. Chain Store Age reports that the small-footprint “neighborhood service hubs” offer in-store and curbside pick-up of online orders, alterations, personalized styling, and customized location-based services and experiential events. Two new locations are opening up in NYC to see how this retail experience translates to the East Coast. One of the new locations is even connecting with local families by considering offering shoe-tying classes for kids, based on how many families live in the area.

3. ThirdLove

ThirdLove’s first physical store is raising awareness, not revenue. At the digital-first brand’s first experimental retail store, “you can experience the brand in real life and get an understanding of what it is, and a community feeling as well.” explains their co-founder and CEO. She goes on to tell ModernRetail that “The store is partly a marketing tool, just as you would think about putting an ad on the TV or running an ad on Instagram…We don’t consider it just a customer acquisition tool. It’s a way to help customers find the right fit, and also build the brand.” They’re also gathering actionable data at the store via bra fit quizzes that require shoppers to supply their emails to receive results.


4. The North Face

The North Face’s giant new store focuses on getting customers to engage with their brand’s history, and with each other, blending sustainability and experiencification. They want cause-conscious young consumers to know that they’re a “purpose-and values-led company,” as one exec puts it, so they filled the 8,000 square foot space with iconic products and the stories of the historic explorers that wore them. Glossy reports that the store offers online pick-up, personal styling, community events, recycling services, and an area where shoppers can chill called The Campfire. Plus, it’s just the beginning of North Face’s global overhaul. They have plans for similar store revamps around the world.

5. Casper

Casper’s store sells naps, not products. For $25, The Dreamery will offer 45-minute naps in pods outfitted with Casper products, from mattresses to sheets, along with trendy on-loan options like Sunday Riley facewash and Sleepy Jones pajamas, reports Racked. The experimental retail move shows an ongoing trend of direct-to-consumer brands getting creative to connect with their customers in-person. One exec explains, “We don’t really see this as retail. A big part of this is building a community of people…” (Sounds like the beginning of a Brandom).