Luxury retailers learn to relax in order to attract millennial consumers

Fuelled by an understanding that conspicuous markers of luxury have become outdated, retailers are altering their strategies in an effort to appeal to a more inclusive audience. Historically, quality brands based their identities on exclusivity, prestige and impeccable service, while maintaining a dignified distance between themselves and their customers.

Today, as a millennial state of mind that transcends age and borders comes to the fore, such brands are facing an uphill battle with consumers who don’t necessarily think a high-end heritage brand is desirable because it has a high price tag. A recent Ypulse survey found that younger consumers – some 81 per cent of those between the ages of 13 and 34 – agree that showing off expensive purchases to viewers on social media is not cool. The next generation of well-heeled consumers will not hold old codes of luxury close to their hearts and will be put off by retail environments that lack any real substance. Gone are the traditional trimmings of posh boutiques – the contrived placement of security staff, a pretentious presentation of merchandise and a stuffy atmosphere.

To capture the attention of the more laid-back consumer, retailers are exploring new ways to communicate their values in relaxed, youthful surroundings. Signifying the future direction of luxury retail, Tiffany & Co. opened its Tiffany Style Studio in London’s Covent Garden last summer, allowing shoppers to get to know the brand and its products in a playfully casual environment. A far cry from the banal atmosphere of a conventional jewellery store, the interior includes Instagrammable walls and a perfume vending machine, a decided shift from formality to ingenuity.

Rejecting the traditional trimmings of luxury shopping, the Tiffany Style Studio in Covent Garden, features Instagrammable walls and a perfume vending machine. Photos courtesy of Tiffany & Co.

‘We’ve integrated uniquely playful displays that reflect the wit and humour of Tiffany design to create a one-of-a-kind, experiential destination,’ said Richard Moore, vice president at Tiffany & Co. as well as creative director of store design and creative visual merchandising. The company’s Covent Garden location has not only a distinctive design but also an ongoing programme of events – style sessions, performances, installations and animations – that bring the store to life.

Gone are the traditional trimmings of posh boutiques – the contrived placement of security staff, a pretentious presentation of merchandise and a stuffy atmosphere

The current anti-luxury approach is evident in Miami, too, a city known for its Art-Deco colours and to-the-max design culture. Alchemist – a chain of shops that carry labels such as Balenciaga, Vetements and Fear of God – has dressed down its fourth boutique. Rene Gonzalez Architect installed a cash desk covered in orange and blue mirrored glass, courtesy of industrial designer Germans Ermičs. It acts as a centrepiece in a space with clean concrete flooring, gallery-like white walls, and customized steel clothing racks and shelves.

Storytelling is becoming a key pillar for the success of a brand, as digital-first consumers seek to mimic their online experiences. Global consultant Accenture claims that over 40 per cent of Generation Z are and predicts that a quarter of US shopping malls will close by 2022. Warning to quality brands: it’s time to up your retail game.

A house-music documentary on one big screen is audible through custom-made, cat-eared headphones

Attempting to compete with online stores, Gucci’s new SoHo store in New York City employs retail associates who are hired for their ability to tell Gucci’s story. Instead of a parade of intimidating black-suited security guards on the street, shoppers entering the 930-sq-m space find sneakers, handbags and garments; exposed brick walls and comfy sofas for a moment of repose. To encourage visitors to spend time in the store and to transform it into a place of recreation, Gucci incorporated video installations, augmented reality and tablets for designing DIY bags. A house-music documentary on one big screen is audible through custom-made, cat-eared headphones.

Designed to host rotating exhibitions and seasonal initiatives, the Gucci store in SoHo includes an intimate screening room equipped with a 3D video display, Muzik headphones and armchairs in plush turmeric velvet. Photos by Pablo Enriquez, courtesy of Gucci.

Joining the ongoing movement to lure a younger demographic, Virgil Abloh invited 700 students to view his menswear collection for Louis Vuitton in Paris. Removing the exclusivity normally linked to fashion shows, Abloh told WWD he’s ‘all about democracy. , flew in from New Jersey just to be around, let’s get him a seat.’

While attracting a younger audience is key, not to mention a willingness to engage in conversation and to develop exciting collaborations, brands should also consider their price points. Although the millennial’s main psychological driver when making expensive purchases is a desire to treat themselves, what should we think of brands whose prices are prohibitive for financially naive consumers? Research by Wells Fargo Asset Management reveals that over 69 per cent of millennials , so reaching out to them with premium products seems irresponsible.

It’s clear that eliminating barriers and opening a brand’s offerings to a wider audience are vital to its success, yet the store of the future requires even more. In addition to storytelling and a good interior design, it will have an air of inclusivity that catalyses its relationship with the consumer and transcends the physical space.

This piece originally appeared in St-W 125. You can of the magazine in our web store.

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St-W 125

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