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How To Buy a Sweater in NYC: What 4 new shopping experiences tell us about the retail evolution

Store closures. Bankruptcy filings. A mall turned ghost town. For nearly a decade, we have been told that brick-and-mortar retail is dying, and have seen the effects with our own eyes. 

Yet at the same time, digitally native brands are venturing offline. New store concepts are popping up with fresh takes on the in-store experience. Physical retail is in fact making many valiant and creative attempts to adapt rather than succumb to inevitable death. 

And while industry coverage highlights how businesses hope to profit from their ingenious new take on retail, as I read article after article I was left wondering: what about the customer? 

So, I set out on an ambitious shopping experiment to test the most innovative ways you can buy a sweater in New York City. What does this innovation feel like for me, in a world where so much of my shopping behavior has moved online? Turns out, my exposure to brands on social media made it almost impossible to aimlessly browse without carrying preconceived notions. With browsing and discovery happening online, brick-and-mortar stores are no longer about “shopping” in the traditional sense – they're about a focused hunt for a specific product or a memorable experience.

Naadam: The Fast Transaction Store

Naadam has two stores in NYC: “The $75 Sweater Store,” which only sells the brand’s iconic $75 cashmere sweater (or, as Glossy calls it, a “hero product”), and another store ten blocks away which offers the larger collection of apparel. I visited both stores, and purchased from the former. 

At “The $75 Sweater Store,” my shopping experience was efficient: the store was the size of a hallway, there were three clothing racks with the $75 sweaters hanging, one dressing room, and one largely-silent sales associate. While I wouldn’t call it “shopping”  – there was no thrill of combing through racks – the transaction was refreshing in its own way. As I had already been exposed to the sweater online, I knew what I wanted and my time in-store simply felt like I was running an errand to pick it up – confirming through touch and a quick try-on that what I had seen online was indeed what I wanted to purchase. For this reason, it makes sense why the store experiences are separated – one drives the quick and easy sale, while the other promotes discovery and a deeper relationship with the brand.

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Top: “These are seventy five dollar cashmere sweaters” - the neon sign at Naadam’s “The $75 Sweater Store” ensures their store concept is crystal clear; Bottom: My ($75) sweater purchase, wrapped in paper printed with the care instructions.  

Modcloth: The Stylist Store 

Modcloth’s physical locations are branded as “FitShops,” where customers work with stylists to pick and try on outfits and then have them shipped home. From an operational perspective, this is ideal – because associates don’t need to house and manage inventory, the brand can rent much smaller retail locations, and associates can exercise their talents in styling customers rather than sorting product. 

While I was there, I witnessed a stylist speaking with a woman who wasn’t sure if an item she was trying on was flattering. The stylist was holding a tablet open to modcloth.com, and was showing the shopper other similar styles to consider. This level of one-on-one attention is working – Modcloth customers using stylists are currently converting at 90%, compared to around 25% for those who don’t. While I myself didn’t end purchasing anything, my willingness to visit again definitely increased – Modcloth’s ability to seamlessly weave in-person interaction with the benefits of ecommerce felt like a value-add that could never be achieved by simply shopping from my couch.

Sweater3Sweater4Prompts throughout the dressing room encourage shoppers to book appointments with stylists, from providing the booking URL as a sticker on the mirror (Top) to coupon cards offering 15% off all purchases when you book (Bottom). 

Lingua Franca: The Courageous Customizer

The hand-stitched cashmere sweater company Lingua Franca has found their niche in stitching custom phrases, especially liberal political statements (e.g. “Bad hombre” and “Blessed be the refugees”). I was visiting the store to make a statement of my own, planning on designing a sweater with one of the brand’s more popular phrases, “I miss Barack,” in the colors of my choosing. Before arrival, I was unsure whether the store was built with customization in mind, but I was pleasantly surprised to experience intense collaboration and interactivity. It was a true team process as the associate pulled sizes for me to try and brought photos up online to help me envision various sweater color / thread color combinations. 

Lingua Franca is so clear about who they are and what they believe in as a brand. And due to a made-to-order business model with sweaters as the hero, the store, like Naadam’s “The $75 Sweater Store” or Modcloth, is fairly easy to operate. They can instead turn the space into a little jewel box for declaring their brand identity and building relationships. As a customer, I felt like I was joining a tribe of like-minded individuals while also enjoying the satisfaction of a personalized piece.

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Top: A corner of the Lingua Franca store; Middle: thread is laid out and customers are provided with a card of popular phrases to help with customization; Bottom: My sweater arrives at home. 

Showfields: An Experience to Instagram 

I had to conclude my sweater excursion with a trip to Showfields, after reading an article declaring it “the department store of the future.” Showfields describes themselves as “the most interesting store in the world” and “an immersive theater experience that bridges art and retail.” To be honest, the mystical vagueness of it all made me a little nervous.

While there, I walked through various conjoining spaces, each temporarily owned by a brand and beautifully decorated with the help of Showfields to tell that brand’s story – Boodles Gin and Book of the Month created a library lounge area, and DTC toilet paper brand No. 2 took over the public restrooms (naturally.) It all felt a bit awkward and confusing. My mind raced with questions such as, Am I allowed to touch everything? (Yes.) Where do I try stuff on? (The one fitting room, disguised to look like a shipping container.) How do you pay? (Approach one of the associates/docents who check you out on the spot using a mobile device.) It looks like I’m the only one actually shopping – how in the world does Showfields make money? (Brands pay $4000+/month for the exposure, without much expectation of actually selling anything.)  

I eye-rolled a lot, stopped in a few corners to take photos, and seemed to be the only person around who bought anything – in a space that was seemingly built for Instagramming, I ultimately felt uncomfortable making my purchase.

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Top: One of the brand’s spaces, produced to look like a bodega; Middle: One of the many corners seemingly designed for Instagramming; Bottom: My purchase, a sweater with a print of two romantic robots

In the words of President Lincoln, four stores and several sweaters ago… 

If online shopping has evolved in-person shopping into a focused hunt for a specific product or memorable experience, three things need to happen: 

  1. The brick and mortar concept must be unique and play a clear role or provide specific value to shoppers that they couldn’t get at home.
  2. Brands must then use their digital marketing channels to set clear expectations of what the store experience will be like, build excitement for that experience, and drive foot traffic. 
  3. Ecommerce, digital marketing, and physical retail must continue working together to learn and optimize towards the most positive customer experience possible.

Ultimately, retailers need to ensure that their brand personality shines through their store concept. By thinking of the space as a magnet that will attract and build relationships with “on brand” consumers, it expands the definition of a “store” from a place that encourages a sale, into a marketing platform that ultimately helps visitors align themselves with a brand and its values as they search for, Snapchat, and shop the space.

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Google Search Trends Insights May 2020

In our continuing series of examining Google Search Trends to gain insights into the top keywords queried in the USA, we present our findings for May 2020. Every day, we capture the top three keyword phrases in terms of search volume as reported by Google Trends (US Only). Each term has an estimated query volume attached to it, which we also record. The number scale tops out at 10,000,000+ with a lower limit of 200,000+. After the conclusion of the month, we look at the phrases we collected along with their volumes to get an understanding of what drove queries for the month. Before We Begin This month’s article is difficult to write. When we started this project, we were trying to mine the top searched terms for marketing insights to share on our blog. April 2020 had some light moments, and the holidays that occurred in May 2020 did drive many search terms that we will outline below. But before we discuss Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day, we’d like to acknowledge that this month is different. Important topics related to racial injustice and inequality predominantly drove queries in May. So along with those keywords, we’re going to share a resource that Google put together to continue to provide users with information on these topics.  May Holiday Trends The first keyword phrase on our list that fell in the Holiday category is “Teacher Appreciation Week.” Teacher Appreciation Week - 5/3/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries Looking at the 5 year trend for this phrase, you can see that search interest surged in 2020. We think this year’s spike was powered by two main factors:  1) Google changed their logo to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week on May 3rd as a part of their Google Doodle program. 2) The pandemic has taught us all how important our teachers are, especially the parents who have been helping their kids learn from home.  While we may not see as much of a jump next year, marketers can add the week of May 3 - 7, 2021 to their calendars as a prime gift-giving time period.  The second holiday phrase from our list is “Cinco de Mayo.” Cinco de Mayo - May 4th - 2,000,000+ queries Looking at the chart, the query volume is up from last year, but lower than a peak in 2017. The holiday has been criticized in recent years, as the promotion of the date started as an earnest show of patriotism but has transitioned to be a chiefly corporate celebration. Even without a pandemic, we wonder if the popularity of this holiday will continue to dwindle as the public’s attitude on the true nature of the celebration changes. The next holiday on our list is “Mother’s Day”, which appeared many times on our list. Mother's Day 2020 - 5/2/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries  Happy Mother's Day - 5/8/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries Happy Mother's Day - 5/9/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Happy Mother's Day Images - 5/9/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Mother's Day - 5/10/2020 - 500,000+ queries This year, Mother’s Day was a multiple-day event with many queries occurring on the days that led up to the holiday. We do appreciate that there was a spike in queries the week before the holiday. We’re pretty sure people were checking to make sure they didn’t miss celebrating with the moms in their lives. Beyond that, the “images” query on the 9th is intriguing, as it appears that people were looking for visuals to wish someone a Happy Mother’s Day in lieu of a traditional printed card.  We thought that this query was driven by our new behavior due to the pandemic. When you may not want to go to a traditional store to browse cards, the solution could be to make your own at home. From the chart above, this phrase has had enough volume to be measured from May 2012 now. With its highest volume this year, this trend could be an indication that pandemic-driven behavior shifts may affect sales in the printed card industry for future holidays. Lastly, “Memorial Day” was a popular holiday phrase on our list. Memorial Day - 5/24/2020 - 10,000,000+ queries 2020 saw the biggest query volume for this holiday not only over the past 5 years, but also... ...the last 16 years. This slight boost over last year and 2016 could be driven by COVID-19, as people were searching for information related to the holiday. Marketers should note that this holiday has been gaining query volume since 2004 and should be a factor they consider in their plans for the year. Protests for Racial Equality and Justice‬‬ In May 2020, there were many queries that were related to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, as well as the protests that followed.   Ahmaud Arbery - 5/5/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Ahmaud Arbery - 5/6/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Ahmaud Arbery - 5/7/2020 - 200,000+ queries George Floyd - 5/26/2020 - 5,000,000+ queries Minneapolis - 5/27/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Minneapolis news - 5/27/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries Minneapolis riots - 5/27/2020 - 1,000,000+ queries Tim Walz - 5/28/2020 - 500,000+ queries Derek Chauvin - 5/29/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries Protests - 5/30/2020 - 2,000,000+ queries From a purely analytical standpoint, the query volumes of these searches indicate that the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, as well as the world’s reactions to them, held great importance among the general public in May 2020. In the past, that’s the only takeaway we would share, as our primary goal of this blog was to merely report phrases, dates and query volumes as a record of how searches progressed over time.  But the queries on this list cannot – and should not – be viewed or discussed solely through an analytic lens. Because not only do these queries represent the murders of two men, but the systemic racism, oppression and racial violence against Black people that remains prevalent in our country today.  We at AMP Agency have been deeply affected by these events and stand in full support of the Black Lives Matter movement. As we continue to listen, to examine ourselves and our actions, and to do the work we need to do, we want to make it clear that any tool that helps us learn more about how we can end racial inequality is one we wholeheartedly support.  That being said, Google itself has understood the importance of this subject and has provided this helpful resource to bring greater focus to the queries related to these society-changing topics. Along with compiling keyword queries related to protests for racial equity and justice‬‬, this resource includes many different insightful visualizations and data segments that provide information as users search for answers on Google.  Thanks for reading. Until next month.

AMP Agency’s Commitments To Anti-Racism, Within Our Walls and Beyond

We want to acknowledge our silence on social media these last few weeks. Like many in the industry, we took time to listen to BIPOC voices and discuss our role in systemic racism as an agency, but also to make concrete, action-oriented commitments to anti-racism at AMP. We’d like to share those commitments today—as a start, not a final solution. To our friends in advertising, we call on you to join us. Let’s continue to listen, but more importantly, to act, continuously and with purpose, to make our industry a better place to work for everyone.  As advertisers, we’re in a unique position to reach wide audiences, to tell stories and uplift voices, to help shape culture. That’s a lot of power. It’s time we used that power to implement policies and practices that are actively anti-racist and work to make advertising an equitable industry. At AMP, our internal conversations have focused around our BIPOC  teammates and how we can better support them, and also our role in the wider advertising ecosystem. We’ve brainstormed around how we can update recruiting to bring more BIPOC into advertising, and how we can be better citizens in the communities where we do business. These are the initial commitments we’ve made as an agency to help put our reflection and conversation into action: Evolve Our Operating Plan Moving forward, we will dedicate 10% of our agency billable time to do work for Black and Latinx owned businesses, at no cost and as an evolution of our existing pro-bono work. By putting tangible resources back into the local communities where we live and work, we can help these businesses grow and thrive—and contribute to long term change.  Change How We Recruit Our internship program will become an apprenticeship program. To help bring more Black talent to the industry at large, we will partner with established nonprofits to develop an apprenticeship program and offer hands-on, paid training to young talent who may not otherwise have access to launch their career in digital advertising. Furthermore, we fully acknowledge that BIPOC are under-represented in director and above positions at AMP. Our HR & Talent team is developing new recruiting practices to bring in more diverse talent across all seniority levels, not just at the entry level, so that diverse perspectives are represented in our leadership, too. Establish an Internal DE&I Team We’re creating a formalized diversity, equity, and inclusion team to establish workflows for diversity- and inclusion-centered projects, develop concrete timelines, lead future initiatives, and keep AMP accountable. We’ve already accepted internal applications for a leader to help build out this committee and will make a formal selection in the coming weeks. Join ANA’s Commitment to Equality, Inclusion, & Systemic Change We co-signed and joined in with ANA’s industry-wide initiative, pledging to achieve stronger diverse representation in our industry, increase spending in multicultural marketing, demand accuracy of multicultural and inclusive data, and work to achieve an equitable creative supply chain.  Invest in Implicit Bias and Anti-Racist Training We’ll be providing extensive bias training to Human Resources leadership and AMP executives/management to understand implicit bias and promote anti-racist values from the top down. Our HR leadership has already compiled and assigned informal anti-bias training for AMP employees at all levels—we invite you to take the Harvard Implicit Association Test along with us. Do the Work for the Long Term There’s so much more that must be done, so there must be more to come. We’ll dedicate more of our social feeds to talking about anti-racism in advertising, and keep everyone posted on our progress on increasing diverse and inclusive representation at AMP. This may be the first time you’re hearing from us on the subject of anti-racism, but we can promise it will not be the last.

COVID-Driven Habit Shifts Provide Marketing Opportunities

  The entire US market is going through a routine-shifting life event due to COVID-19, creating space for smart marketers to meet new consumer needs in unexpected industries. Research has long told us that old habits die hard. This is an evolutionary benefit - when we internalize actions into habit we go on auto-pilot, saving valuable brain space for greater cognitive tasks. Doing the same daily routines, buying the same brands over and over frees us from constant analysis paralysis. It’s also a huge challenge for marketers trying to nudge people towards new behaviors like, say, buying their product.  But there are some circumstances in a person’s life when a confluence of events rock old routines so radically that, for a short window, they’re susceptible to change. These moments are rare, and require major shifts in circumstances or environment usually driven by the upheaval of a major life event. Think: Moving. Marriage. Having a baby. A pandemic with widespread national quarantine.  Over the last 70+ days, Americans have been plunged into this kind of major life event all at once. The majority of us have had to drastically shift our routines as we’ve sheltered in place, no longer commuting, doing school pick-up, going to social gatherings. As the country begins to loosen restrictions, some will revert back into old comfortable routines. But after over 66 days in quarantine - the average time it takes to form a new habit - some of these new routines will have stuck.  This mass habit shift has huge cultural implications as many of our societal norms are morphing at warp speed. And while the economy has been hit hard, it also opens up a unique window for some brands and businesses to thrive. We’ve already seen this with streaming services, online gaming, grocery delivery, telehealth, and personal protective equipment - industries that have seen growth and will be poised for more post-pandemic. But there are some less obvious behavior shifts taking place that brands can act on now.   MORNING ROUTINES The habit: At-Home Coffee and Breakfast Before the pandemic, 41% of consumers bought coffee at least once a week at a coffee shop, with 15% going daily, according to Statista. On-the-go breakfast options reigned supreme as people rushed out of the house in the morning - according to the NPD Group, Consumer spending on QSR breakfast items in 2019 was up 31% from five years previously, driven largely by convenience, with a third of consumers ages 18-34 eating weekday breakfasts en route to another location. But with stay-at-home orders in place across the country, these habits are being completely re-written. Just one look at Instagram or TikTok will show how many are experimenting with new at-home coffee routines - posts featuring #QuarantineCoffee and #CoffeeAtHome have gained traction, along with users trying new recipes and formats (Raise your hand if you tried #WhippedCoffee, the trend driving over 1.9B - yes, billion - views on TikTok.) While elaborate recipes like Dalgona may not become everyone’s long-term routine, as more people settle in to working remotely the daily coffee shop run may be a habit of the past.Brands that can meet the need:  Coffee and breakfast CPG brands that reach consumers now can become part of long term morning routines. QSR brands that lean into at-home product innovation and promotion now will be ahead of the game post-pandemic.    WORK ROUTINES The Habit: Working from a home office According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, before the pandemic about 7% of people worked from home some or all of the time. Now, everyone who can work remotely is - an estimated 56% of the population according to Global Workplace Analytics. Of course, “working from home” is not just one habit - routines ranging from your morning commute, wake-up time, and what you’re eating for lunch are all dictated by where you work. Work location in general is a major routine driver, but let’s think about it through the lens of the small physical place you inhabit while working. At first consumers were experimenting with working from different places around the house, but as time goes on workers are finding their go-to spot and looking to optimize their space - a place they spend 8+ hours sitting while trying to concentrate and collaborate each day. Businesses that can meet the need: Brands that can help people support new work habits and create productive, comfortable work spaces will win. Yes, Staples should be excited right now. But brands with products like noise-cancelling headsets, home office furniture, video conferencing hardware, or even architects and contracting services can find opportunity in this new consumer behavior. By leaning into advertising and targeting those with remote-friendly jobs, these brands can build momentum as people settle into their new home offices.    EXERCISING +  SOCIAL ROUTINES The Habit: Daily Outdoor Recreation  In the market for a bicycle this summer? Good luck! If you thought the toilet paper shortage was bad, just try to buy a bike. In March, nationwide sales of bicycles, equipment and repair services nearly doubled compared with the same period last year, according to the NPD Group, with big spikes in leisure, fitness, and children’s bikes. But this isn’t just about biking -  cities across the country have seen a surge in the number of people out walking and running, too. With gyms closed, some people have turned to online workouts - a new habit shift in itself. But many have rediscovered outdoor activities as both a fitness and social ritual. Each evening at 5:30pm in my own town, the once deserted streets are now packed with families on their nightly loop around the block.  Businesses that can meet the need: The outdoor industry, which was already seeing growth heading into the pandemic, has a huge opportunity to encourage and shape these new outdoor habits. Bike brands have already seen boosts, but smart outdoor travel operators and outdoor gear and apparel brands across the board can reap the benefits too. Positioning products as ideal for social distancing activities and leveraging tactics like influencers can help put products to the test, generate creative without studio shoots, and gain traction during the pandemic and beyond.  Check out the article on Little Black Book Online here: https://www.lbbonline.com/news/the-habit-opportunity-how-brands-can-adapt-to-consumers-shifting-routines