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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.

Sweater1Sweater2

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.

Sweater5Sweater6Sweater7

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.

Sweater8Sweater9Sweater10

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 January 2020 - AMP Agency

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 January 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. A Somber Start to the 2020s  Well, I am not going to sugarcoat it. Some of the top queries in January 2020 were about troubling events. In the beginning of the month, Iran was a top-searched topic after the assassination of Qassem Soleimani. The other 10 million+ queries were as follows:  Iran - Jan. 7th - 10 Million+ queries Iran - Jan. 2nd - 5 Million+ queries World War 3 - Jan. 2nd - 2 Million+ queries By the end of the month, the top searched queries centered around a tragic helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna and seven other passengers. Although we don’t focus on this topic here in our blog posts, celebrity deaths do drive people to query Google for details and make the top three phrases every month. That’s why this past month, the shock of Kobe Bryant’s death overwhelmed the search volume on January 26th. Here are the top queried phrases on that day: Kobe Bryant - Jan. 26th - 10 Million+ queries Kobe Bryant children - Jan. 26th - 10 Million+ queries TMZ - Jan. 26th - 10 Million+ queries Typically, we don’t see all three of the top queried terms have over 10 million queries each, but this tragedy was an exception. Holidays Continue in January Even though December is well known as being a holiday month, January 2020 had a few holidays of its own that drove queries: Martin Luther King Jr Day - Jan. 19th - 10 Million+ queries Lunar New Year - Jan. 24th - 10 Million+ queries Chinese New Year - Jan. 24th - 500,000+ queries The holiday keywords that had over 10 million queries had the additional support of Google Doodles to increase their numbers. But even when our attention shifts away from the year-end holidays, there are still major ones in January that consumers are looking to learn more about with Google searches. Boxing Is Still Relevant As Revealed In Search Queries Sport-related queries take up a good portion of the top queried phrases of any month. January 2020 had a few days where the subject of boxing made the top three. In last month’s post, we discussed the popularity of European soccer. This month, it is clear that boxing and mixed martial arts also have a strong interest.   Conor McGregor  - Jan. 17th - 10 Million+ queries McGregor fight  - Jan. 18th - 2 Million+ queries McGregor fight - Jan. 17th - 1 Million+ queries Jake Paul vs Gib - Jan. 30th - 500,000+ queries Conor McGregor commanded top billing for his fight on January 18th. People searching for results or perhaps a free stream of the fight had to type quickly since it only lasted 40 seconds.  The fight on the 30th between Jake Paul and AnEsonGib also drove search queries. These two YouTube stars fought a professional bout in Miami and generated enough interest to become one of the top 3 keywords searched in Google for the day. Disease and Other Natural Disasters I really wish I had happier keywords to share in this post. But looking across the different terms for the month, another big trend included news items related to epidemics and disasters around the world: Coronavirus - Jan. 21st - 2 Million+ queries Earthquake - Jan. 28th - 1 Million+ queries Lyme disease - Jan. 8th - 1 Million+ queries Australia fires - Jan. 2nd - 1 Million+ queries Taal volcano - Jan. 12th - 500,000+ queries Coronavirus symptoms - Jan. 29th - 200,000+ queries Puerto Rico earthquake - Jan. 6th - 200,000+ queries We can thank Justin Bieber for raising awareness of Lyme Disease. The rest of these are driven by people wanting to get the latest news on these stories.  As we say goodbye to the first month of 2020 and welcome February in full-force, we’ll keep track of the top keywords queried in hopes of finding more positive, uplifting search terms.  See you next month!

2020 Media Innovation Day Takeaways - AMP Agency

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Defined by Defiance: How AMP Agency Embodied Naughty this Holiday Season

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