What we are reading this month - The new names disrupting beauty

Courtesy of WGSN Insider

The way we shop beauty has evolved. We use our Instagram vote to champion new lipstick colours, jump on Into The Gloss to discuss the benefits of retinol with other beauty fans, and celebrate brands for making vegan based products. And if the beauty consumer is changing the way he or she interacts with brands, then it makes sense that the beauty industry needs to change too: enter the new wave of beauty disruptors.

Get to know three new beauty brands that are changing the brand/consumer experience.

My Favourite: Beauty Pie

Beauty Pie UK



Tech innovation shaping retail for the better

Continuing the theme of technology this month, there are a number of new tech innovations that continue to drive retail, retailing and retail experiences for the better. Here are some of my favourite from the past few months.

1. Princess Polly

My avatar (well sort of except I am a different shape and different coloured hair but I didn't like that version of me)

My avatar (well sort of except I am a different shape and different coloured hair but I didn't like that version of me)

Princess Polly has quietly launched a new ‘Try On’ feature, becoming the first Australian retailer to offer customers virtual fitting room technology. So I have given this one a go but as I wasn’t impressed by my online avatar (I was simply a much different shape than I remember myself), the avatar you will see is my version of me instead!

The feature allows shoppers to create a custom online avatar (MeModel) by entering my height, weight and bra size, and adjusting my waist and hip measurements, skin tone and hair type.

Customers can then dress their avatar in different garments from the Princess Polly range to see how they fit. The MeModels are reportedly between 92-96% accurate.

Princess Polly MeModel Try On

Since launch, customer behaviour has already started to change. Within 2 weeks revenue per visit was up 31% and customers that engage with the technology spent 3.5 times longer on the site according to the company.

Returns are the bain of online clothing retailer’s existence. This technology gives customers a more accurate picture of what they’re buying and confidence that they’re choosing the right size. Hopefully reducing returns and increasing stickiness with the retailer.

What I loved was the ability to style me. I could try styles I would never pick up in a store (mutton dressed as lamb) or try different jackets, shoes, etc with tops, pants and dresses.

It’s simple to use, seamless and fun. #winner

2. Peloton

I have been yakking on about Peloton since I saw it in New York. Utter genius and we need it here in Auckland, as our roads are simply unsafe to ride on. Perhaps go to the gym for a spin class. But why go to the gym for a ride, when you can bring the ride to you?

Peloton, is revolutionizing the fitness industry via connectivity and technology through the company’s ability to produce a gym-level workout within the comforts of one’s own home.

Effectively, the company makes stationary bikes equipped with tablets for in-home streaming of group cycling classes. Peloton is the only way to bring the motivation and power of a group fitness class into your home. The approach is engaging, seamless, cost-effective and forms a tribe of like-minded spinners who can compete or join in your ride.

Peloton has created an entirely new category of fitness, merging the best of studio fitness classes and the convenience and comfort of working out at home.

3. Lowe’s AR and VR applications

As we see here in NZ, the same DIY behaviour applies in the US. With rising home prices it encourages homeowners to engage in ongoing maintenance and repair and home renovation projects.

For those not familiar with Lowe’s they are effectively the best version of Mitre 10 Mega you can imagine but with more. Their latest innovation is incredibly impressive and has the potential to disrupt the DIY market as we know it.

Holoroom VR DIY Clinics – People learn by doing

Most DIYer’s get their info from Youtube, but imagine if you could walk step-by-step through a virtual reality DIY project?  This allows customers to attempt full DIY projects through virtual reality.  You simply put the headset on and learn step-by-step any project. This has huge potential either in consumer’s homes or in-store.

Lowe’s Vision App

Another incredible innovation is Lowe's Vision app, a 3D tool powered by Tango. Lowe’s has been working with both AR and VR in its innovation lab and says it blends “area learning, depth sensing and motion tracking to give devices the ability to see their environment in 3D.” Simply wander your home and let the magic begin.

Lowe’s In-Store Navigation

Finally, Lowe’s Innovation Labs are using AR to transform the in-store shopping experience. In-Store Navigation is an app that makes it more efficient and fun to find products in-store. With any Tango-enabled device, which uses computer vision to detect position in the real-world, a customer can follow turn-by-turn digital directions that appear before them to pick up every Lowe’s product they need in the most efficient route.

4. Dominoes DRU

DRU Assist is one of my favourite apps and a bit of a giveaway as to how I feed my kids on weekends! Just by talking to the chat bot I can organise dinner in a jiffy. DRU is an artificial intelligence virtual assistant. You can talk, text and interact with DRU to place an order.

Dominoes DRU Assist

By using machine learning and voice recognition DRU helps you order your favourites, last order, customisation and also receive great offers. I find he can be cheeky at times and sometimes I want him to stop blinking at me but how easy.

5. Alexa – Echo Look

I don’t care what everyone says. As a shopper, I am hanging out for Amazon to come and make a power play in this part of the world. Real retailers can stand-up or shut-up and show me what they are made of. The real reason I want Amazon here however is for Alexa, so I can ask “Alexa, does my bum looks fat in this?”

Echo Look

Alexa effectively is a virtual personal assistant device owned, powered and integrated into Amazon. Alexa keeps getting smarter and smarter, well beyond the original skills of controlling products throughout the home, listening to music or telling fun or important information. In May, Amazon introduced its newest Alexa-powered device, Echo Look, which includes a built-in camera to photograph, organise and get outfit recommendations. As a user, I can put my snaps into an accompanying app called Lookbook to track the outfits I’ve worn on different days. Photos and videos can be shared on social networks, which will attract Instagram power users no doubt.

Echo Look has built-in LED lighting and a depth-sensing camera, letting users blur the background to make their outfits pop, providing clean, shareable photos. Users can also get a live view.

Photographs can also be uploaded onto the new Echo Look feature, which will tell users which outfit looks best using via Style Check. Through a mix of employee and computer recommendations based on current trends and what flatters you, Amazon is judging your looks.




Vomit reality in the shopping cart

VR is vomit reality

VR in retail stores

Ikea Australia has launched a virtual reality store, the first among large format retailers in Australia. It’s incredible technology that is designed to enhance customers’ online shopping experience and allows customers to walk through an Ikea store and browse products.

I think this is genius. Especially in a country that is so large however uneconomical for IKEA to support more bricks and mortar stores.

Check out the IKEA VR store here

The Ikea virtual reality store was about bringing online shopping to life in a new, interactive way. An IKEA spokesperson said, “We know that it’s important for customers to see and experience our home furnishings range. Ikea has recently made a move towards online retailing, but we want to offer the full Ikea store experience to our online shoppers.” It is just another way for customers to look online for inspiration before making a purchase, using a different and more immersive tool.

I had a go and it allowed me to stand in a room-set and visualise it as if I were there in person. I could see the full range of sofas or beds at a glance and I could walk around the store. Problem was, it made me want to throw up!

This isn’t the first time I’ve wanted to vomit into my shopping cart. I had a similar experience at Samsung Flagship in Toronto. It took me most of the afternoon to recover from the headache and constant feeling of nausea. And only recently doing another VR experience did I figure out the cause. A key experiential component for retailers to explore

The best of VR and digital rolled into one. Navigate the store seamlessly - sort of

The best of VR and digital rolled into one. Navigate the store seamlessly - sort of

Vomit reality for me right

Vomit reality for me right

A key experiential component for retailers to explore

Topshop Splash
Topshop Splash in store

Topshop marked the start of Summer in their flagship Oxford Street store with a VR waterslide called “Splash”. Shoppers started their journey on a giant inflatable before being plunged into a journey sliding above the red buses and black cabs throughout the city.  It was accompanied by a branded Snapchat lens to support the campaign and the summer-themed aquatic world continued via the social platform. 

In addition, Topshop pumped the scent of sunscreen throughout the store and hosted a number of summer-themed pop-ups, such as a soft-serve ice cream vendor Milk Train.

AR, VR, MR what is it and do I need it?

Many retailers are exploring both Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality to enhance their shopping environment. But what’s the difference? I found my definitions and information at the

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality is the blending of virtual reality and real life, as developers can create images within applications that blend in with contents in the real world. With AR, users can interact with virtual contents in the real world, and are able to distinguish between the two.

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality is all about the creation of a virtual world that users can interact with. This virtual world should be designed in such a way that users would find it difficult to tell the difference from what is real and what is not. Furthermore, VR is usually achieved by the wearing of a VR helmet or goggles similar to the Oculus Rift.

Difference and similarities

Both virtual reality and augmented reality are similar in the goal of immersing the user, though both systems do this in different ways. With AR, users continue to be in touch with the real world while interacting with virtual objects around them. With VR, the user is isolated from the real world while immersed in a world that is completely fabricated.

But there is also the emergence of Mixed Reality (MR): Mixed reality is an overlay of synthetic content on the real world that is anchored to and interacts with the real world—picture surgeons overlaying virtual ultrasound images on their patient while performing an operation, for example. The key characteristic of MR is that the synthetic content and the real-world content are able to react to each other in real time.

25% of the population experience motion sickness when using VR

There are all kinds of symptoms of travel sickness, from nausea and vomiting through to sweating, increased salivation, warmth, dizziness, drowsiness, headache and loss of appetite (which I don’t get) to name a few.

A leading expert explains that when we're talking about visual mismatches, as we experience in virtual reality, the oculomotor symptoms are sometimes the worst. That's eye strain, difficulty focusing and headaches. There is effectively a sensory conflict or mismatch. Essentially one sense is telling us one thing—your eyes say you're walking around a virtual world—and another sense tells you another—your body tells you you're sat down.

Of course, it's much more complicated than that and there is lots of science explaining your balancing system and inner ear.

AR and VR in retail

Did you know

Approx. 25% of people experience motion sickness when using VR

As women are around four times more likely to experience motion sickness symptoms than men in a VR environment, it means not only might they be unable to use VR for experiential purposes, but for other things too in a retail context. Like training.

Before you jump headfirst into the use of VR as an experiential tool within your retail environment, you need to do a bit of work around developing content that is less likely to make shoppers and staff barf. It’s a nightmare scenario. A would be shopper comes into your store, has a go on your VR and then pukes or worse, feels like crap the entire day with a headache. Imagine how they will remember your shopping experience.



New world order. Is it mobile first or mobile only?

mobile first

I have spent the last week hanging in my favourite part of the world (after New York), Waiheke Island. I have a gorgeous friend who occasionally house swaps with me or in this case, let’s me hang out while she is overseas. It’s an incredible location and the perfect place to read, walk on the beach, linger over coffee (it’s Dry July for me) and generally mooch. However, we arrived on the rainiest, coldest day of the year so far.

Her instructions were very clear “if the alarm looking thing next to the double doors goes off then something is not right with the septic tank. Call Green Acres Waiheke who look after septic tanks.” “Power outage? Let's hope there isn't one.  Remember you won't have water - no pump - there's a big 10L water in the washing machine cupboard. If the power comes on and there's still no water pressure, you need to go to the back of house, open the little hatch under the deck and flick a switch on the pump using a long pole left in there. Yeah, let's just hope it doesn't happen.“

All instructions were emailed. I needed my phone to see my email. On the trip over the kids had pretty much depleted the battery on my phone (after they had forgotten to recharge their iPad and iPhone). We arrived in the rain. I had to find the instructions for the key. The phone was dead. My lifeline was gone.

Let’s be clear. I am a Gen X and my guide was gone. My kids who are Generation Z (aka iGeneration or Gen Y-Fi) were completely panicked - their lifeline to the world was gone. We might as well have been on a deserted island ready to lay down and die.

What this week has taught me is just how completely reliant I am on my phone. I am now a classic mobile first. But I remembered I had my laptop and could retrieve the instructions. My kids on the other hand didn’t even think alternative device. There is only one in their world. Mobile only.

Sitting on this island with time to catch-up, I am astounded still at how ill-equipped many businesses; especially retailers, are to deal with a mobile-only world. From lack of content on mobile optimised sites to the basic information required to help me get from A-B.

Gen Z has grown up in a connected world where access to information is readily available online. These kids rely heavily on mobile devices for everything from social media and communication to news sources and online banking. My kids only know how much money they have in their bank account by going on their phone app. Likewise to see how much data they have left on their phone company app.

I could easily pick-over the Seed Heritage sale while I was sitting on the couch. They reminded me by dinner-time that I could still buy the product in my basket that I’d forgotten. I purchased a chocolate melting pot and spiralizer from Amazon that should be home when I get back to the big-Smoke. I’ve got my groceries arriving when I get back but still other areas of retail inspiration were difficult. I accept Cookies – heck this is my trade. But the level of remarketing was non-existent to poor (top marks to both Freedom Furniture and Country Road).

If as a Gen X’er my behaviour has shifted significantly; I haven’t watched commercial free-to-air TV in 2 weeks, as a now converted Chromecaster. I haven’t bought a newspaper nor listened to a radio station (Spotify all the way), retailers need to move, significantly to these shifting behaviours as the lifeblood to sales.

It’s fair to assume the key behavioral change of Gen Z related to retail is a preference for speed, familiarity and discovery. The shopping experience of a Gen Z member can be boiled down to a few clicks on a mobile device. My kids are influenced from the likes of PewDiePie (very rude), Stampee, Sqaishey Quack or the buckets of other micro-influencers showing kids what to do, buy and what’s in or out.

Recognising the importance of the all-powerful device in the Gen Z consumer’s pocket, retail outlets will be forced to focus on how to make their products as appealing as possible in short bursts of attention. A single tweet can be no longer than 140 characters, while a successful snap tells its story in 10 seconds or less.

Messages need to be refined to the most compelling, concise version, mirroring Gen Z’s preference for efficiency. The demand for efficiency is already proving itself in retail and entrepreneurship. For example the grocery store. An institution that has remained unchanged for yonks (if you don’t count self-service checkouts), are now being challenged by the likes of My Food Bag and WOOP as efficient, user-friendly experiences. Internationally, Amazon’s foray into this arena with their AmazonGo concept has now been registered in the UK and Europe.

Even the way we order food on a fortnightly basis from Dominoes via DRU Assist the chatbot (who doesn’t like my pan Aussie/Kiwi accent) or more future forwardly in San Fran via Eatsa. Eatsa has revolutionised fast food with a new store concept offering the latest technological automation and sustainable, affordable and healthy meals for people who otherwise may not have time to eat nutritiously (or don’t want to pay a large amount for the privilege).

Dominoes DRU Assist

Dominoes DRU Assist

This restaurant functions like a vending machine, reinvented for the digital age: customers order via an iPad kiosk or by using the customised app.  Their food appears when ready in a glass cubby on the adjoining wall.

Eastsa, San Francisco

Eastsa, San Francisco

Engagement and communications that used to work for retail marketing, the 30-second commercial, direct mail and weekly newspaper inserts, must be reinvented into digital content in the quest for creating new brand-loyal consumers. The media choices that drive retail sales will need to be as short as possible and as targeted as possible. Retail businesses need to fully understand what the changing behaviors of GenZ or any mobile-only audience for that matter and what it means for their business models. The sooner they can adjust and respond to what will likely be their most important customers for the next few decades the better.

Now have I told you about my other life-changing app? ATPark. Not required over here on the island.




What do you get if you put together a Fluevog and Six Four Hundred?

A few of my favourite things.....

A few of my favourite things.....

I have been so excited the last few days. Life is just fabulous. I have started meditating 10 mins a day (day 4 - tick), back in a routine at the gym (after snapping my ACL- tick), signed-up to Dry July (my liver will love me – tick), haven’t scraped my car-wheels today (no husband moaning – tick) and business is going brilliantly (tick, tick, tick). To top it off I found 10 mins to go through a stack of “stuff” I bought back from Canada and found two incredible reminders of what would rate as some of the best retail experiences I have had this year.

One of my business partners (Gina Brugh) and I were wandering around Gastown, Vancouver in March and literally stumbled upon this incredible retailer; Six Four Hundred.

Six Four Hundred

Six Four Hundred entry

Like a shining star, we wandered down a set of stairs to see what was all the fuss and where were all these people coming and going from. We did assume it was a bar and we were perhaps looking for a bar, but this was a million times better.

At Six Hundred Four, live by one simple principle: shoes can be shoes; or they can be a storytelling piece of art. Like an awe-inspiring art piece, they want their story to be told because of the emotion it evokes. When these stories are shared everybody wins, with no bigger winner than the charities they donate to.

A gallery experience which is approachable and engaging

A gallery experience which is approachable and engaging

So how does it work?

Six Hundred Four partner with talented local artists to create meaningful original art pieces, that they digitally print onto their shoes. The artists are compensated through an up-front payment and commissions on shoe sales.

Six Four Hundred Entry
The art influences the shoes and the packaging

The art influences the shoes and the packaging

With each pair strictly limited edition, each artist is featured on 604 pairs, with a unique pair number laser-engraved on the sole. Each pair of shoes goes through an extensive development process, sourcing the best materials from around the world and handcrafting with precision. 6.04% of each sale goes to the charity of the artist’s choice. Accounting to roughly $10,000 donated to each artist partnered with.

These shoes are available for purchase exclusively from the webstore and flagship store (aka "Sneaker Gallery") located next to the steam clock in Gastown at 151 Cambie St.

This is transactional storytelling at its best. The design of the store was very gallery, however in an approachable and flexible way. Considerable thought had gone into how customers could flow through the store or how it could be versatile by putting the middle display walls that could rotate at different angles or spin completely around.

Each pair of shoes are authentically unique

Each pair of shoes are authentically unique

The art and artists were contemporary and the work lent itself beautifully to sneakers. I loved how the artwork was then applied to the selling touch-points from display throughout the store to the actual shoe boxes making them as collectible as the shoes. The piece de resistance, every sale did good.

Six Four Hundred

Unique soles for unique souls

Flagship John Fluevog Shoes, Gastown, Vancouver

Flagship John Fluevog Shoes, Gastown, Vancouver

Now further down the road (after we did find a bar and regained our sustenance) was one of the true design artisans from Canada, John Fluevog Shoes. Renowned for his art deco inspired, progressive shoes, this store and design centre in Gastown is a masterpiece.  Whilst designed in Canada they are made all over the world, including Portugal, Mexico, Peru, China and Vietnam. Everyone from Madonna, Beyonce, Lady Gaga have a pair of these in their wardrobe.

John Fluevog store Gastown

The shoes themselves are way too inspired for my wardrobe but I do appreciate the detail, design and authentic storytelling that has gone into the masterful tale that has made John Fluevog famous. This is a store I want to just hang in because it felt so warm and inviting. A minimal yet somehow rich design, there is storytelling from the way the display tables are cut through to the massive story on the wall. Up the stairway you literally head to heaven – the actual design studio. We unfortunately couldn’t sweet talk our way up for a tour as much as I tried (maybe they could smell the gin?) The use of glass, brick, wood, steel and bring nature to life through the exterior and interior greenery made it a truly unique experience.

The Fluevog Post Spring/Summer 2017

The Fluevog Post Spring/Summer 2017

The storytelling of John Fluevog and to be fair his retail mastery is peppered through carefully crafted touchpoints. I have my own copy of The Fluevog Post for Summer/Spring 2017 which not only sells the dream of this seasons shoes but the Anatomy of a vog, the craftsmanship tales from Chennai and the winner from Open Source (more on that later). This is the storytelling for a community for Fluvogers. A bunch of creative, quirky, incredible people who are most likely quirky, clever and stand-out in a crowd.

Flumarket - having a hand in the way your product is resold and re-loved

Flumarket - having a hand in the way your product is resold and re-loved

Reviewing the website and the tentacles of this community there are many other gems. The Flumarket where you can sell your pre-loved shoes and connect your eBay or Craigslist post on their site. A wonderful way of connecting a Fluvoger and their passions (and having control over the authentic listing of your products).


FluevogCreative where you can demonstrate your artistic and creative flair by submitting your creative idea for a product based on a live brief. This opportunity gives you the chance to play artist and ad man/lady and create a Fluevog ad that will grace the pages of magazines around the globe. If that’s not enough, you’ll get some pretty sweet perks too and saving the world from bad ads.

These shoes are certainly for the "individuals" among us  

These shoes are certainly for the "individuals" among us



Fleuvog Open Source Footwear

Finally, taking a page from Open Source Software, Open Source Footwear gives everyone a chance to have a say in the shoes they want to see. All you need is an idea. Click the Submit Your Design button, sign in and send away! If John’s inspired by your design, he’ll turn it into a real shoe, add it to the collection, name it after you, and send you a pair!

You can even request that past collections be brought back to life

You can even request that past collections be brought back to life

This is a retailer, designer, artisan who knows how to connect with the heart, soul, mind and wallet of their shoppers. Building a group who seek more and seek to participate, this is retailing at its best.


The critical nature of the merchandise strategy

“In short, curation looks to provide customers with the best possible products instead of the most products possible.”

“In short, curation looks to provide customers with the best possible products instead of the most products possible.”

I met recently with a supplier CEO who looked at me as though I was an absolute dim-wit when I mentioned that one of their retailers had no clear merchandise strategy. “What do you mean? We give the customer exactly what they want and need.” That statement alone summed up the primary root causes of this retailers issue. They were not in control of identifying, curating or presenting the right arrangement and assortment of product for their customer audiences.

If we strip away the layers of the onion and get right to the core (I know some people will disagree with me here and actually I can do a counter argument around some specific “Brands”), but as a generalisation, people cross the lease-line and are attracted to a retailer because of their product. Branding and communication adds a layer of lust-worthiness desire, however at the end of the day if the assortment isn’t clearly delivered from a core strategy then it won’t be consistently desirable or commercially successful.

Think about a department store for a minute and I will use Farmers for ease. Over the past 20 years I have seen it evolve as it refines, redevelops and invigorates its merchandise strategy. There were times it had lawnmowers and sporting gear. They have introduced new branded product and continued to create their own private label. They have narrow category assortments and in others a good/better/best approach. Is it perfect? No, but what they do constantly win on is trying to curate and present an assortment of product ranges and categories that meet the needs to their chosen customer profile x location x category.

But why is this so critically important?

In an age where we can assess products and brands anywhere, any place and often any time; and when often you can buy that identical product from someone else, the role of the merchandise strategy is to bring to life the unique role and problem you are solving in your customer’s lives. Whether it be from inspiration, having the best , having the most reliable, the best quality, the best technology, the specialist, the cheapest; the list goes on, the role of the retailer is to identify, lead, provide a unique point of difference and connect with the customers heart, mind and wallet.

Back to the case of Farmers, a role of a department store is to provide curated convenience. Having everything you need for the home and family under one roof; having brands you can trust and rely on; having a great selection of what you need and then layering it with display, service, rewards, reliability, promotional activity etc. makes a retailer offering credible reliable and desirable.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful examples of working collaboratively with their supply partners to get win/win outcomes. Often a supply partner will demonstrate such depth and breadth of knowledge, capability and leadership that a retailer can assign them a category captain role to lead the growth development of a category. There are times you will go with a single supply partner for a category because of the benefits and uniqueness it lends to your merchandise strategy. Yet at the end of the day, the retailer must remain responsible for the vision, store and audience segmentation, brand direction and core communication of the “reason” this product selection exists in your store.

If a merchandise strategy is important, then what are the critical ingredients for success?

Own. It’s your merchandise strategy and someone from the retailer must be responsible and accountable for articulating, leading, managing, monitoring, assessing, refining and improving the product assortment. You cannot leave this to your supply partner as they have other KPIs that ultimately drive their success and to be frank, without your stewardship and insights, they could be inadvertently driving you away from your customer.

Data. The old retail adage “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” has remained never more true. If there aren’t adequate systems and processes in place, sort it as a priority. But in the meantime, find a metric that can be a stake in the ground (even if you are 100% of its reliability). If it’s a consistent wrong measure at least you know there are rocks ahead, vs. sailing into the ocean expecting to just see dolphins and rainbows.

Listen. Make sure you have a process of feedback to find out what is selling in regions or like stores. Especially stock on hand. It helps you guide, move and not replicate less than optimal decisions but also identify emerging trends.

Invest. Your merchandise capability is a critical asset and having real people who can interpret data, develop strong supply partnership relations that survives good and tough times, celebrates the wins with the wide business, articulates the vision, works closely with Operations and Marketing, maintains the integrity of the offer, the list goes on, is a true talent and is a manifestation of art as much as science. There have been years of incredibly poor merchandise talent merely because they were treated as administrators and not developed. A good merchant holds some of the most critical relationships that build the success of a retailer. They know the fine art of negotiation. How to trade horses. Get win/wins. There is as much EQ as IQ and common sense in a merchandise relationship that goes further than the cut and dry of “procurement.” They must be rewarded and recognised for their expertise and talent.

Blend. A final point worth noting, especially for those retailers that keep wanting to replicate Briscoes or Kathmandu’s success. They masterfully manage their merchandise and categories margins. The 30-60% off is a science of margin management that allows them to remain profitable. The attraction of the offer to the customer is a magnet for them to cross the lease line, but what goes into the basket is largely a mix of blended margins. That enables sustainable profitability. Likewise to remain relevant in some categories you need to have lower margins and in other categories higher margins. It depends on the mission and the role of that piece of merchandise in your strategy. Does anyone really care if the price of the lightbulb they put in their supermarket trolley (convenience) is a bit more expensive than Mitre 10? Not really, their mission on this occasion was likely to be convenience.

Lululemon is an example of a lifestyle brand that demonstrates that even in a time of incredible brand equity, having a product selection that misses the mark, or poor product quality can deliver such a dramatic downturn in performance that it can take seasons to recover.

People go shopping to buy stuff. And the role of a retailer is to develop a unique positioning that makes them more desirable than the dude next door. They convert shoppers into buyers. You can have the best people working for you, wonderful marketing communications and an environment that blows your socks off BUT if you don’t have the right merchandise you won’t be in business for long.

Heritage retail - New award-winning life for a museum shop

This story originally was published in Retail NZ Magazine April/May 12107 and has been republished with permission. Written by Courtney Devereux

The Auckland War Memorial Museum’s new in-house retail store has opened to enthusiastic customers and impressive numbers after a bold facelift that’s boosted transactions by 79 percent.

The museum has stood proudly since 1929. Its 160 square metre store has been redesigned and refurbished to fit with its classic feel while maintaining a retail presence that can’t be passed up by the 900,000 visitors who passed through the museum’s doors last year.

The new-look museum store boasts a modern yet culturally-inspired design executed in meticulous detail by Ellery Muir Associates. 

The museum originally had two stores: one in the grand foyer, which has now been refurbished; and a smaller one, down by the café on the other side of the building. Neither was performing well pre-makeover.

The renovation project was masterminded by Lisa Donaldson, a retail experience strategist from The Retail Collective who was tasked with repositioning of the two stores to better target the intended audience. 

“In addition to that, we were briefed on refreshing the merchandising, fixtures and layout to support a wider range of products in each sub-category and developing branded signage and ticketing templates to showcase feature products and artist information,” says Donaldson.

As the museum's goal was to increase foot traffic to one store rather than two, Ellery Muir Associates also realigned the entrance to increase profile and visibility from the entrance and exits, and improve the overall first impression of the store.

According to Donaldson, the two old stores had a range of problems which fell into three key areas.

“Visibility: both sites had poor exposure and limited external branding or window areas. Poor customer experience: the fit outs were dated and there was no storytelling or opportunities for customers to engage on a more emotional level and split range; and focus: neither site was doing justice to the complete customer offer.”

Laura Huang, Auckland War Memorial Museum’s senior sales lead, says that the original plan for two museum stores came from the idea that double stores would equal double revenue. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

“Getting rid of the old store was revenue driven… [the original] thinking was that double spaces would be earning double, but obviously, that didn’t happen.”

The now-singular museum store’s new look is an example of hard work and dedication as the style of the area reflects both a retail sector and a tribute to the heritage of the space.

Its black ceiling creates a feeling of space and height within the retail store, while white walls sporting a Māori-inspired frieze stream from the entrance to the far back, the same pattern which is carved into the side of the foyer walls. Statement blocks of back-lit bright blue stand out against neutral colors to create a modern yet sophisticated feel. 

The new store has been renovated to create space and symmetry. An old office on the left-hand side has been pushed back to accommodate the new Māori cultural wing, while the glass alleyway at the back of the store has also been pushed back to provide more room for the striking illuminated white wall.

Storage has been moved front and centre to the store, but you won’t see it, as all the new shelving units, each styled to fit in with the collection it holds, have been raised and designed to hold stock underneath them without being seen by customers.

Huang appreciates this design, saying when visitors are shopping “no one wants to bend down.”

The back-lit display shelving that covers the whole back section of the store is filled with New Zealand-made glass vases and treasures. The color from the glass is juxtaposed against the white walls to create a strong visual impact for those entering the store.

The Māori cultural wing includes traditional artwork held on matte black shelving with another illuminated white wall behind drawing attention to the finer details. A large wooden table stands proudly in the middle of the wing stocked with more cultural goods it creates a flow through the area. 

Foyer shop sales for the museum have risen 88 percent since the year ending 2014, and visitation in the store is also up 32 percent.

Megan McSweeney, Auckland War Memorial Museum’s director of business, external affairs, and tourism, says that prior to its renovation, the store was reflecting the museum a little too closely.

The last time the foyer store got refurbished was 11 years ago in 2006. But with consideration to budget and the factoring in of heritage building requirements the new store was quickly underway.

“[Both stores] were very outdated [with regards to] fit-out. We undertook some customer research and it came back to us saying [customers] didn’t feel very welcome. There was too many ‘don’t touch’ signs and the store felt like a museum itself. Mothers with prams and small children said they didn’t feel welcome.”

McSweeney says although the new-look store now supports the local community, both the older stores and their products “weren’t true to a museum store.” They were often supplied by international manufacturers and artists and often felt “souveniry.”

“With the research we did, we pulled apart the numbers and we found that Aucklanders were about 60 percent of our entire customer base, but were only 20 percent of the customer base within our retail sector. We knew from our analysis how much Aucklanders were willing to spend, and we knew international tourists would spend more.”

McSweeney says international tourism is a key market within their operations. The team had a “dual dichotomy of price points” that reflected the new targets within the market for both domestic and international shoppers.

“Our international tourists are 36 percent [of visitors], but they were creating 80 percent of the revenue. So, there was a need for a whole product revitalisation and there was a need for the shops to be refurbished. We looked at the labor model and found that we were employing two lots of staff,” says McSweeney.


Through a simple business analysis, McSweeney created a more effective labor model for the new store that cut staff costs in half while employing more people who would work fewer collective hours.

The museum has often prided itself on its ability to exhibit New Zealand culture and local artisans, using culture as inspiration. Since the opening of the store, the number of transactions is up an impressive 79 percent.

The use of stock reflecting the collections in the museum has created an experience which allows customers to feel as if they can be part of the museum's inspirations. The store offers a wide range of traditional Māori art and carvings while also featuring classic war memorial items such as poppy lapel pins and poppy glass ornaments.

The new store has a large range of interactive items which are irresistible to want to grab or sample -only this time you can. With pure New Zealand wool and fine art prints almost everywhere you look it’s expected for customers to treat the store as you would any retail environment.

The new retail model also includes pop-up stores located within the latest exhibitions or collections. The first of these is a stall at the Volume exhibition which covers the history of New Zealand music.

Post publication note: The Auckland Museum was recognised with two awards at the annual 2017 ServiceIQ New Zealand Museum Awards, held at a gala function after the MA17 Museums Aotearoa conference, He Waka Eke Noa – Museums of Inclusion. The judges commended the range for its use of local suppliers, environmental consciousness, clear and cohesive design, and its variety of price points and product types catering to a broad range of customers.  

Magical mystical retail wonderland - by Lisa Donaldson

Myer Sydney City Wonderland

Myer Sydney City Wonderland

On a recent retail research trip to Sydney we reviewed the much talked about Myer’s Wonderland - a creative project lead by Designworks, which see’s the entire 6th floor of the Sydney City store transformed into a themed magical experience called Wonderland. 

In time where traditional Department stores globally are looking for new strategies to present a relevant offer, Myer is leading the way in the fight to engage with shopper's hearts and minds. 

Wonderland is unique in global retail. The Wonderland cityscape features over 2,500 unique hand drawn illustrations bought to life over 250 art boards that theme the space; it's a ‘signage overlay on steroids’ - transforming walls, columns, pillars and existing fixtures.

Your imagination is ignited early on the shopping journey - through the transformation of the lift area, where a rocket lift has been created to transport customers directly to the sixth floor. Screens and sound create an unforgettable journey through the clouds of Sydney and into Wonderland. Watch the Wonderland - behind the scenes video here.

The floor is segregated into multiple sections including kids apparel, toys, along with seasonal pop ups (at time of visit, Easter Shop – for launch, Christmas) in the ‘The Market Place’, which houses the Giftorium, where there is a marked focus on personalisation, with high-end brands. New additions exclusive to the Giftorium include ‘world firsts’ personalised M&M buckets and ‘Barbie By You’ customisation, where customers design their own Barbie on an iPad instore.

Wonderland is a true retail ‘experience overlay’ – using more cost considerate elements like signage and projection instead of hardwired design layouts, elements and finishes to create a distinctive environment. The flexibility of the layout and these elements allows the space to constantly update and refresh to reinvigorate.

The physical experience is bought to life through ongoing events that invite shoppers to re-engage with the space with new activities. The latest event see’s Wonderland transformed into an ice skating rink, where you experience the wonder of this incredible destination along with sweet treats from Doughnut Time and Mister Fitz. (a brand collaboration). In-store from 26 May to 16 July.

Wonderland gives the shopper more reasons to visit more often, through uniquely curated seasonal events - the home of family and gifting.

Next time you’re in Sydney – take a look. You’ll be inspired by how a customer centric idea, combined with fabulous design, digital integration and a first class signage application can transport you to another land.


Have your cake and eat it too

Have your cake and eat it too

This is my third year of reviewing the joy and distress that marks another year of my existence on this planet #makingretailhappen #findingmyhum.

It is a significant year for me and you can find out about that at #project45 later in the month. Apparently 60 is the new 40 so I am effectively a spring chicken and should be having a millennial identity crisis (hence #findingmyhum).

Like many shoppers, I do understand the quid pro quo exchange of my data for reward and recognition. My loyalty programme involvement has fluctuated a little over the last 12 month as I have unsubscribed from those who have simply spammed me with irrelevant offers or meaningless content.

But in an age of personalisation, useable data, marketing automation and community/tribe membership, is it not too much to expect that “It’s your birthday” gets celebrated and recognised? it isn’t that hard at this wonderful time to reconnect with relevance in your shopper’s life.

So what popped-up in my life this year to mark the auspicious occasion?

  • Adidas | 20% off | Valid 14 days with a code
  • Auckland Seafood School | $20 gift voucher | No hooks or minimum spend
  • Fly Buys | Wish machine | Make a wish
Fly Buys Wish Machine - something different. Very cool.

Fly Buys Wish Machine - something different. Very cool.

  • True Food & Yoga | Emailing to say Happy Birthday | See you again soon - and not very pretty!
  • Lorna Jane | 20% off full priced merchandise | Valid for 1 month
Lorna Jane Birthday email - just lovely

Lorna Jane Birthday email - just lovely

  • New Balance | $10 off voucher | Valid for 12 months but something when wrong with the coding!
New Balance birthday email
  • North Beach | $20 off next online order
  • Country Road | $20 voucher | Valid 1 month
Country Road Birthday email
  • Bendon | $25 off next purchase over $100
  • Cobb & Co. | Free main meal | When dining with a party of four. Valid 7 days side of birthday
  • Mighty Ape | $10 off next order | Valid for 2 weeks and min. spend $20 order
  • Witchery | $20 voucher | Valid 1 month
Witchery VIP Birthday offer
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer | Triple Qantas points on all Qantas flights | 1 week to make booking
  • OPSM | $100 off when you spend $300 or more | Valid 1 month
  • AA Smart Fuel | 10c off when you spend $40 or more at Caltex | Valid 1 month
AA Smartfuel birthday offer

What did I think?

I’ll be honest. One or two impressed me. I always like the no strings attached $20 from Country Road and Witchery. Did I buy anything? No. But I did look but nothing tickled my fancy.

I also really enjoyed the Fly Buys Wish Machine because it was different and involved participation and was about "me and my wishes." Only I do wish I had won something.

The rest were all a bit ho hum – but marks for trying.

Who was missing?

  • Z fuel – I use to get something from them but I gather that has been put on the back burner since the whole movement of loyalty programme kerfuffle of the last 12 months.
  • Air NZ – why oh why don’t you recognise me with anything? I would have thought that would have been an easy one for you to glue my engagement with the airline. Perhaps a sweet grabaseat deal that no-one else has access to?
  • Supermarkets – really. You even know what toilet paper brand I buy. Where is my love?
  • Gyms – isn’t now a wonderful time to re-engage and inspire me to achieving my health and wellness goals?

Do loyalty schemes work?

Loyalty programmes can work because they provide tangible reward and recognition to customers for their participation with the retailer. Essentially shoppers are shopping, shopping more often and/or spending more with the retailer thereby consolidating their behaviour to get a benefit. Quid pro quo.

This also should mean for the shopper that they are treated better for being an exclusive member of the retailer’s tribe. VIP events, special launches, exclusive benefits – opportunities that represent value to the shopper…like recognising their birthday (hum, hum).

How can the retailer use data to improve the shopper experience?

There is a load of obvious transactional benefits for the retailer which we all know; recency, frequency, value; but loyalty programmes should provide retailers with valuable insights and data about the people who “technically” should be most engaged with them.

Knowing what characteristics of cluster shoppers look like helps define your audience in a way that has behaviour and attitudinal characteristics (plus geo-socio). As a result, the marketing strategy should become a lot easier to delivery

Furthermore, the data can influence your merchandise strategy. What is important to your high value customers? What strike rate within different categories? Price-elasticity? You are only limited by the quality of your data, the ability to use it and clear objectives from the insights. Your clear drivers still should always come back to the unique positioning of your brand and “what problem am I solving for my shopper that no one else can the way I do.”

An added benefit is having a tribe where you can gain better insights about their behaviours.

Developing listening groups with customers are a terrific way of getting a handle not only on your performance but new opportunities to strengthen your offer.

What are the pitfalls of loyalty schemes. Are we getting fatigue?

Yes and no.

I love Air New Zealand Airpoints and I get an incredible return on my investment with the brands I choose to shop with that earn me rewards (despite their lack of recognition performance on my birthday). However there needs to be a genuine effort in reward and the offer. As you can see from the lack of inspiration from the birthday message I got, NZ retailers have some way to go.

Of course behaviour will still be driven by a number of choice attributes including access, experience, price, product and service. Shoppers are valuing different things now and we have seen the bar been raised by those doing a great job. The next phase of reward and recognition programmes need to step it up and be compelling, seamless and personalised in a way they have not to date, including rewards based on my personal tastes and preferences.

Better luck next year I hope.


Have cake and eat it too



A dollar each way

Believe it or not, but the other day I had to clip a retailer behind the ears because he believed that their business was still suffering the impact of the GFC. I had to remind them that the GFC was officially regarded as the period 2007-2011 and it is now 2017.

I also had to remind them that the world had moved on, there was significant increased competition in their category, customers were better informed and more promiscuous and the internet meant that the shoppers have an eye to the world of options. Possibly more importantly, this retailer had not evolved or invested in the business, rather pouring all their dollars into the heroine of marketing communications without investing in the brand, the experience, their people or the infrastructure that supports their business.

Like a broken record…. To shop is to visit. To buy is to purchase. Our clear goal as a retailer is to turn shoppers into buyers. Unless you make a remarkable impression then all traces of any interaction you have with your potential shoppers whether it be marketing communications, your store, whatever, will have no lasting impact.

To shop is to visit. To buy is to purchase.
— Some smart bugger.

Now back to my GFC-blaming retailer; there is some influence the GFC has had on the retail sector in NZ that is still having an impact for some. That is the tightening of the purse-strings and continued underinvestment in the critical requirements for retail.

I do understand how this came about as I think of decisions I had to make as a retailer in the GFC. “We need to tighten our belt this year and only have $2 to invest. Do I put it in my retail asset, my systems and processes, my people or understanding and engaging with my customers better?” $2 ain’t much so often it was $1 each way on whatever would have the best short-term impact (often lipstick on a pig and some more “advertising” to drive sales).

The trouble that is now sitting within the NZ retail landscape for many is that the change and improvements required to evolve their systems and processes (business information systems, data warehouses, enterprise solutions, merchandising platforms), or capital investment necessary to ensure the physical assets are not only acceptable and not outdated, let alone evolved to enable strong conversion with shoppers feels out of reach. Let alone the requirements to provide a seamless customer experience or investment in our people to ensure they have the skills, capabilities and knowledge to make a difference (and feel engaged).

Is there a way out? How do you make the step forward and stop the dollar each way?

There is no hard and fast rules because every retailer’s situation is different but here are some considerations and observations to guide decision-making and prioritisation.

Systems and processes

Today there are many business information and technology solutions that are either a SaaS (software as a service) solution or at a significantly lower cost of entry than in the past. When reviewing the alternatives there is often “we do things differently in here. That won’t fit with the way we do things. We will need to make changes for it to work” without actually considering should we be reviewing the way we do things so that we can link into these systems/process easily? Are we still doing things the same way we did 10/15 years ago and the world has changed?

Retailers must review their interconnected internal systems and process “the way we do things” considering how change and improvements can be made to optimise these solutions simply, easily and efficiently and commit to change. The opportunity costs of having to invest in change management vs. the expensive costs of bespoke systems or even worse, shadow processes (aka work arounds) impacts the long term effectiveness, efficiency and profitability of your business.

Customer insights

Gone are the days of being all things to all people. If you take approach you will be stuck in the middle. Also trying to get the 35-54 Household shopper with kids is not a customer.

Attitudes, behaviours, socio-economic markers are what clusters customer tribes. If you want to connect with those shoppers, or even understand what customers you don’t have - you need to understand what they think, feel, say and do. If you don’t it’s like hoping in a car driving toward a destination with no idea of where you are going or when you will get there. Customer insights are critical to know what you are doing well, could do better or identify opportunities to convert shoppers into buyers and make more money. It will enable focus.

The brand

A strong retail brand is about differentiation. What is the difference you make in the lives of your shopper and how do you articulate that? It might be great if I can sit with you and you explain what your brand stands for but that doesn’t matter. It’s what customers have to say. If they can’t articulate it you have failed.

It’s not a logo or advertising, it’s the culmination of key touchpoints on the path to purchase that forms the perception of the brand. Are you investing in these and know what they are?

Your team – the people at the coalface who fundamentally impact satisfaction. Training, development, communication, engagement.

The store fit-out and experience -  is it engaging, respectful, innovative or even just clean, tidy and consistent?

Consistency – do you deliver the brand experience consistently. Is there a thread that means you walk the talk and say what you do? Years ago, Postie+ advertised their new look brand, fabulous advertising with great new look merchandise only to be lured to the store to find a new coloured sign on the exterior, a new logo and catalogue and a crappy unchanged store experience with none of the alluring new stock easily found (or available).

I’d suggest that the dollar each way approach is not one to continue, much the same as my retirement investment is a lotto ticket each week.

Not the best approach to investment

Not the best approach to investment



Bridging the Gap Between Marketing and the Board Table through IT


I started my career in Marketing and with my natural curiosity, type-A personality, retailer-blood stream and desire to climb the corporate ladder, my progression saw my development overlap into areas and projects very operationally and/ or merchandising linked.

I got my hands dirty in property trying to ensure that the investment in the location strategy was going to get us the strongest ROI. By developing strong supplier relationships through our merchandise teams, I was able to ensure the positioning we needed to gain market-share was deliverable through category leadership and strong profitable returns. Leading projects that ultimately relied on operational excellence, meant our labour spend was managed and simultaneously we developed the skills, experience and knowledge to convert shoppers into buyers.

Perhaps I was different but rarely was the Marketing department referred to as the Colouring-In department. We did the time, got to know the people and empathised with their challenges. We tried hard to get everyone on the same road path to success.

Recently I have met some pretty mediocre Marketers which has shaken me. If I asked them a question on the product strategy they glazed over and said “Product looks after that you should ask Bill.” When I asked how the new deployment of an integral backbone IT project was going, they looked bewildered as to why on earth would or should they care? And when I asked about how the progress of a new system instore was going, they said “I’m not sure but hey look at this cool new TV ad we just made.”

If Marketers wish to be included in more C-suite conversations and have a credible seat at the Board table they need to lead business transformation not just their part of the project. They need to cultivate a focus on organisational transformation that is strategic, cross-functions and bottom-lined oriented – only this will enable marketing to move beyond being perceived as “the colouring-in department” or the “at the agency” tactically focused mob.

marketing brain.jpg

CMO’s often come cap in hand asking for more money to spend or moaning about how much money they don’t have to spend. With large percentages of this spend being difficult to measure as an “investment” rather than merely perceived as a cost centre (let’s be frank – it’s how the majority of retailers and Board think) it’s understandable why CMO’s are overlooked to seriously lead businesses.

Step into the shoes of the COO for a minute. Marketers are the advocate for the customers. They are constantly striving to position the business in a way that ensures the customer is served better; is delivered more services and products, and that price positioning remains competitive. It feels like a “suck the money out of the business” role rather than “generating profit to bank” player.

Now don’t for a minute think I believe this point of view; quite the contrary, but I can see why Marketers are perceived in that light - unfortunately scores of marketers before you have not helped the cause.

Perhaps digital provides the opportunity for this change?

The digital ecosystem and the “anywhere, anytime, on my terms” shopper has created the need for every retailer to be a technology business in some way. I know I use to dread having to work with the guard dogs who always simply created barriers to success. AKA the IT department. But IT has had to evolve to collaborate and drive enterprise solutions across the business. And deliver.

The first really joyous relationship I recall working cohesively with IT was 12 years ago to develop the oncecard programme. They were an incredibly savvy team determined to get win/win outcomes. They got to play with new tech solutions that would deliver results to the bottom line at the same time. How convenient. We just needed to find a way to talk the same language and my IT equivalent (a guy by the name of Alan Hesketh) worked very hard with me on the front.

Technology is powering aspects of marketing more than it ever has in the past and it will continue to. Therefore Marketing teams are tasked to improve the customer path to purchase , enhance the customer experience and drive core KPIs in a way that was never as visible and directly attributable to results previously. Business intelligence derived through customer data is more relevant than ever.

In order for you to make the most out of this serendipitous opportunity, Marketers need to be the glue and the bridge in getting on the same page and speaking a language IT and Marketing understands. There are three key components to making this happen:

  1. Align you vision and roadmap from the beginning – don’t wait until it is too late to bring IT into the tent. This is about win/win so you need to do this together.
  2. Over communicate – you know what is like when two people talk different languages. The common interpretation can leave massive gaps in the middle. Be clear, touch base often, monitor progress, make decisions and battle roadblocks together.
  3. Try hard to “understand” each other – empathy and recognition of your differences is critical to success. What does marketing need to deliver and how is IT expertise going to enable this mission.

I found this list of questions to consider which was developed by Harvard Business for each side to think about before embarking on working together. Something that should kick start the process much easier.

From the IT side:

  • Is the technology actually available to help marketing achieve their vision?
  • How will it fit into our existing architecture? Does it break anything? Does it impact our information security?
  • Do we have the skill set and resource capacity to deliver and sustain it?
  • How much will it cost?

From the Marketing side:

  • How are client experiences in general driving expectations of our company’s digital experience?
  • Why is IT saying no and is there a different route to yes?
  • How can IT help us get this up and running quickly?
  • Can IT help us integrate different tools to deliver a more seamless experience?
  • How can we not only keep pace but innovate and lead?


  • What is the cost benefit to the organisation, and how quickly can we show ROI?
  • Where does it pay to take a calculated risk?
  • And…where is that not possible?

Marketers have spent their lives trying to find ways to have their voice better heard at the Board table and to get old-school retailers to understand the opportunities (and threats) on the horizon. The have battled to get to the top position and have not won the war. Who would have ever thought that business unit you avoided most often (well actually it’s finance) would be the likely heroes in the path to the top table?

BE THE HUB – insights into becoming the Community Cornerstone

Strava, 500 3rd Street #110, San Francisco

Strava, 500 3rd Street #110, San Francisco

One of the typical challenges in the development of a retailer’s network is how you can bring to life your brand proposition in a consistent way that serves as a beacon to shoppers, that is not only effective and cost efficient, but engaging to the local catchment?

In my time as a retailer and especially in a marketing/property capacity there is a huge tension in getting the economies of scale possible from a brand experience (aka cookie-cutter approach) vs. injecting new, local, personality and community-connections into the bricks and mortar environments.

What we do know is that smaller, individual retail businesses can build incredibly powerful (and profitable) propositions from highly personalised service, being recognised “as a local” and having their finger on the pulse to build localised product ranges. What lessons could we take from that is their ability to adapt, tailor and keep their ear to the ground to connect with the heart and soul of the community?

The retail store is the single, most important manifestation of the brand and retail proposition. It brings to life the idea, purpose, reason for being and the environment to build relationships. It is the concept that shoppers are buying into when they choose a store. Often it’s that brand relationship that they take beyond (ie. Lululemon and Augustine mummy uniforms all over Auckland).

A key recognised trend in retail is called Community Cornerstone. An idea whereby retailers are bringing their core set of values to life in a way that connects with their community. While travelling overseas recently, we saw some wonderful examples of this which are allowing brands to push beyond their core offering and providing space and services to build relationships.

The Local by Lululemon, Toronto

The Local by Lululemon, Toronto

Lululemon have opened their newest concept store in Toronto, The Local; the brands first Canadian store focusing strictly on men’s apparel. The space is 2,200 sq ft and is a community focused space where guys can simply come and hang-out. There is an in-house coffee bar (where we tried the most amazing cold-pressed coffee), foosball table, chilling couches with a top shelf sound system, and a space where people can come and work (on the free Wi-Fi). On top of that simply pick-up some men’s Lululemon performance wear on your way out. The vision for this concept is to create an environment and communal experience where the retailer can create engaging and memorable moments that the shopper will return for again and again.

The Local has a local barber and a great community space where you can hang

The Local has a local barber and a great community space where you can hang

Lululemon’s newest Local in Bondi Beach, Sydney, acts as a community hub to facilitate connection and conversation with innovators, creators and water-obsessed sweaty enthusiasts. This smaller, hyper-local store celebrates the iconic beauty and active lifestyle of the area. Custom work by a local artist is the focal point of the store with two large murals which span the dedicated community space—an environment ideal for meetings, co-working and connection

Peace Collective

Peace Collective is a Toronto success story. The brand’s success has been built on Toronto and Canada-centric sayings on shirts and jackets. But these aren’t cheesy, they are utterly cool. The brand had traditionally sold through colabs; Lululemon and major department store Hudson Bay; however has expanded into a dedicated retail store and community space.

Peace Collective, Ossington, Toronto

Peace Collective, Ossington, Toronto

The concept is philanthropically-based supporting charity and has effectively created a community movement. With the purchase of select garments, two meals are provided to a Canadian child in need through our partnership with the Breakfast Club of Canada. 

The iconic apparel is now showing up on influencers Instagram feed; athletes, models and the uber cool. Minimalist, simple and community-minded the concept is large-scale local.

Peace Treats "treat yo self"

Peace Treats "treat yo self"

At the entrance to the store is Peace Treats, a treat bar with a reminder to “treat yo self.” Wild milkshake creations provide a more frequent reason for shoppers and the community to return to the store again and again.

What makes a store experience local?

Whole Foods Austin

It is never just one thing, but rather a combination of factors and emotions that lead customers to connect with the store. That means that retailers need to offer more than just a place to buy stuff; a space to interact and transact in culture, experiences and relationships. This will require a whole lot of different thinking in order to learn how to ‘Be The Hub.’ Just having a “Hello” on the wall or a picture of a mountain won’t be enough.

Knowing and respecting the environment you’re in and concerns of your customers by giving back to the community, ultimately builds a stronger sense of loyalty and pride for the consumer towards the retailer.

At Loblaw’s (iconic grocery retailer) in Toronto, we saw a lovely strong community of people wanting to become healthier attending the daily nutrition class. A natural extension to the retailers offering.

A class held mulitple times daily at the Loblaws, Maple Leaf Garden

A class held mulitple times daily at the Loblaws, Maple Leaf Garden

As we see more and more shoppers (especially millennials) valuing experiences over simply buying more stuff, wanting to know and participate in the development of a product, it is time more retailers started to consider what role they play within their communities and what would make a real difference to their shoppers. Being a community-cornerstone could ultimately be the difference in defining your store from the competition enabling customers to shop more often, build a brand that has meaning and a business that is profitable

Pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows

2016 seemed to me one of the quickest years in history. Many history making events happened (let’s not get into the wig-wearing Trump fiasco). From a retail perspective, we saw the entry of many international retail players to our market, a flurry of hand waving around “omni-channel” (no sh*t Sherlock) and the demise of some exceptional retailers of the past.

I think retail futurist Howard Saunders put it most eloquently when reflecting on 2016, “I believe 2016 was a year of clarity, of realisation. Retail spaces have been desperately trying to 'compete' with online retail with half-hearted attempts at transitional concepts, such as omni-channel. The fog has lifted. If you want 'stuff' then the internet is where you go. But if you want to experience community, social connection and, yes, FUN, then there's no place better than the real world. So, the retail spaces that have flourished are the food markets, the big brand experiences and the places that encourage a sense of community.”

I believe 2016 was a year of clarity, of realisation. Retail spaces have been desperately trying to ‘compete’ with online retail with half-hearted attempts at transitional concepts, such as omni-channel. The fog has lifted. If you want ‘stuff’ then the internet is where you go. But if you want to experience community, social connection and, yes, FUN, then there’s no place better than the real world. So, the retail spaces that have flourished are the food markets, the big brand experiences and the places that encourage a sense of community.
— Retail futurist - Howard Saunders

I’ve had countless conversations in 2016 with retailers who continue to think it will be all tickety-boo if they simply open some new stores and sell more stuff. Or they think all they need is a good online website or App and “let’s do some digital” and get something viral. These are delusional or in denial retailers wrapping themselves in a “pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows” moment*.

If the campaign from the new President of the USA has taught us anything it is that standing for something, targeting a clear audience by understanding their needs (or concerns) and being memorable can make a difference.

Scanning the NZ landscape, the most common and potentially fatal mistake for retailers are being beige. When your offer and store is beige than shoppers leave without any impression of your brand whatsoever.

Unless you make a remarkable impression then all traces of the interaction and visit to your store will have evaporated before the shopper even reaches their car.

The year of being remarkable

Pumpkin Patch, Dick Smith, Nicholas Jermyn (even Nosh) all can pinpoint rapid expansion as a significant contributor to their failure and financial woe. There was little fundamentally unique to any of these retailers that couldn’t be copied. In an environment with such significant competition and more choices available to the shopper than ever, means scale and location will simply not be enough to drive sustainable, profitable growth.

Retail fundamentals – attributes of relevancy

To shop is to visit. To buy is to purchase. Our clear goal as a retailer is to turn shoppers into buyers. In doing so there are effectively five core attributes that influences whether a shopper seeks you out. These are the attributes of relevancy to be developed or finessed within your business model to ensure you drive performance and differentiation in the market.

Access: this is the extent to which the shopper obtains your good/service at the time it is needed. The degree of ease from physical location through to contact with sales teams or even the organisation. Examples of differentiated access includes Countdown which ranges from metro-style stores in the CBD, localised offers in regional locations, full-service offers in selected locations, prestige offer in Ponsonby and endless aisles delivered straight to your home at

Experience: this could range from a localised individual experience through to a signature customer experience vs simply opening the doors. If you visit Aesop in Auckland they will develop a custom-made, personalised skincare prescription for your specific needs. If you go to a Mecca Cosmetics they will talk to about your skincare requirements and find the right solution for you from all the brands on stock, but if you go to a supermarket you get to DIY yourself from whatever is on display on the shelf. Alternatively, a visit to Lush at Sylvia Park will see you play yourself with various skincare solutions from their ice-bar with an array of different product to try. All very different levels of experience and outcomes.

Lush Sylvia Park

Price: do you have honest pricing, EDLP, consistent at market pricing, market-leading pricing or are you a price authority? What sits best with your profitability objectives and cost of doing business? Pricing goes beyond how you simply price your goods but includes free shipping, free gift wrapping, and free events.

Product: what is the purpose of your range? To generate credibility, be known for reliability or to generate inspiration? I know I can go and buy a pair of running shoes from Shoe Clinic where they have curated the best array of shoes for people who want the best fit for purpose running shoe for their needs. If I go to Rebel Sport I will get the best-selling, popular products and credible brands. If I go to an Adidas or Nike store I will get inspiration and a depth and breadth of range.

Adidas Originals store Britomart curating a specific streetwear and fashion range

Adidas Originals store Britomart curating a specific streetwear and fashion range

Service: the training you provide your employees on how to engage a shopper, hold their attention, relate with them, and display gratitude for their business. And while it’s great to have employees who have been trained on your products, shoppers relish salespeople who use the products and can share the wisdom they’ve gained from trial and error.

What is the driver of your service philosophy and how you inspire your team to deliver? Simply to accommodate customer needs, to have convenient solutions or have customization of solutions so you might the “on my terms shopper” anywhere/anytime/any place/ choose?

Times have changed forever

I have shamelessly stolen this analogy which I read over the holidays (but can’t recall from who exactly).

In the old days, customers would come into a store looking for the cheapest cow. The retailer would say it’s over there and the customer would buy it. Nowadays the retailer must have the cow, butcher it, put the steak on the BBQ until it is charred on the outside and pink in the middle, cut, put it on a fork, and put in the customer’s mouth. Then they’ll think about purchasing it.

The more steps you can excel at in selling that figurative cow these days, the more you’ll stand out.

4 ways retail brands can increase staff engagement

I am delighted to have Andréa van der Meel, founder of SeekStock, an engagement tool that delivers real-time product insights from the shop floor to head office, to share her valuable insights on closing the gap between the shop floor and head office through the most important assets to any retail business, your people.

Now over to Andréa...

Having worked in the fashion retail sector for 11 years, I have never really understood why frontline retail staff aren't typically held in high regard. I can tell you first hand that the work isn't ‘easy’, especially for an introvert such as myself.

Being on your feet all day, coupled with the mental exhaustion from dealing with a constant flow of people makes the retail floor extremely challenging. Not to mention the heavy administrative workload that store managers are required to balance, all by close of trade.  And if that weren’t enough, throw in a few negative comments here and there from customers that replay over and over in your head.. at 2a.m… Not always #funtimes.

But despite all of that, retail work can be incredibly rewarding. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of guiding a male customer into a slightly slimmer-legged pant, all in the name of fashion. We may not be saving the world, but we are giving everyday people more confidence through their outfit choices. Who knows, perhaps we are giving these customers the confidence they need to save the world? I, at least, like to think so.

Although there is a side to retail that customers don’t get to see; the relationship between retail stores and their head office.

Retail staff strive to feel part of a bigger picture and share in the vision of their chosen brand. They want their contributions to be noticed, and to progress and grow as the company grows. For smaller brands with only a handful of stores, staff get the benefit of one-on-one interaction with designers and decision makers, allowing them to feel like a valued team member. But for most larger chains, staff often feel like just another number. I can speak from experience when I say I have personally felt a lack of engagement and purpose within some retail organisations.

The negative effects of poor staff engagement include poor work performance, sub-par customer service, high staff turnover, theft, increased training costs and attendance issues. It’s no surprise that these effects negatively impact retailer’s bottom lines. For brands to maximise their in store profits, they need to put in what they want to get out of their teams. Here’s a not-so-scientific graphic to help paint a picture:

Copyright: Andréa van der Meel

Copyright: Andréa van der Meel

So what can retailers do to ensure they maintain an ongoing, meaningful connection with their frontline employees?

1. Communicate Clearly.
It’s incredibly common for retail staff to have no idea what is going on at head office. What direction is the company heading in? What new product lines are being introduced and when? Who is new to the team? Who has left the team?

More often than not, these questions don’t tend to get answered unless someone asks. There is a serious lack of preemptive, company-wide communication about important updates. To add insult to injury, when customers query something brand specific that staff haven’t been informed about, they have to embarrassingly say they don’t know the answer. A monthly, internal newsletter distributed to all stores is a quick and easy way to keep everyone up to date.

2. Have product-centric discussions, often.
Shop staff should be the first port of call for brands that are serious about understanding their stock demands. As customer bases vary slightly from store-to-store, frontline staff are best positioned to help brands identify nuances between each outlet.

Staff are generally very passionate about having the right products in their store, as it makes their jobs easier. However, current feedback methods limit their ability to communicate their store’s needs effectively. Typically,  the only feedback welcomed by head office is from managers. This frustrates me greatly, as there are plenty of non-managerial retail staff with great input that simply never sees the light of day.

Product discussions should not only be all inclusive, but they should happen more frequently. For staff to feel like an integral part of their organisation, head offices need to learn to talk with staff, not at them. There is a huge opportunity for technology to streamline such discussions and provide actionable insights for retailers to optimise their stock. These are the types of issues products like SeekStock are striving to solve.

3. Incentivise staff.
There is nothing like a bit of healthy competition between stores to really drive results. A monthly prize for the staff member with the highest units per transaction, or the tried and true “Employee of the Month” are great ways to acknowledge the efforts of your staff. Although the way to really get to your employees hearts is through cold, hard (albeit taxed) cash.

I’m personally not a fan of paying staff in store credit. It may be a cheaper alternative than giving a cash bonus, but it will likely leave a sour taste for some. Staff are aware that store credit not only goes straight back into the business, but more often than not, the amount given is conveniently never enough to cover the cost of anything. This forces staff to spend their own money just to use the credit, and this can sometimes feel more like apenalty than a reward.

The most memorable monthly prize I’ve experienced in my retail career was the chance to win a trip to Fiji. Needless to say, that month was the hardest I have ever worked, probably in my life. Unfortunately I didn’t come away with the win, but the brand certainly won with the increased productivity from staff and the boost in sales. This prize was also conveniently timed in one of the slower retail months of the year - very clever!

4. Work in store.
Nothing says “I value the work you do” like doing it too. Showing staff that you are willing to get your hands dirty and work on the shop floor from time-to-time can have enormous positive effects. Staff will welcome the chance to get insight into the minds of designers or buyers, and your head office team will get first hand feedback about what products are working or not. Some brands (usually those smaller in size) make this a priority, with higher levels of staff engagement and morale as a result.

Those on the frontline of our retail stores have so much valuable insight to offer. It’s my sincere hope that brands will make more of an effort to listen. At the end of the day, engaged staff equal happy staff, and happy staff equal happy customers. What more could a retail brand ask for?


Andréa van der Meel Founder of SeekStock, an engagement tool that delivers real-time product insights from the shop floor, to head office. To find out more about a groundbreaking tool for retailers seeking to understand the unique demands of their physical outlets, all the while engaging and empowering retail staff

Andréa van der Meel

Founder of SeekStock, an engagement tool that delivers real-time product insights from the shop floor, to head office. To find out more about a groundbreaking tool for retailers seeking to understand the unique demands of their physical outlets, all the while engaging and empowering retail staff

Retail never stops and neither should you. Find out more about "Selling to seduction - 5 key retail trends."

Retail is cut-throat and the landscape is shifting. Rapidly. There’s no such thing as a traditional retailer any more.

At The Retail Collective, we monitor trends locally and overseas to see where the sands are shifting. From online booksellers to QSR, airlines to DIY stores, big box to doorstep cosmetic sales, we cover every aspect of retail.

While you have your head down in the nitty gritty of running your retail business, why not inject some new energy, vision and insights into your thinking?

In order to tackle new challenges, have The Retail Collective provide fresh insight through a "Selling to seduction – 5 key trends in retail" presentation for your team.

This presentation explores some master retail craftsmen who have cultivated engagement with shoppers beyond reason. These businesses, have at a very personal level, continued to reinvent the customer relationship throughout their lifecycle.

In this presentation Juanita brings to life insights, examples and experiences that are both powerful and refreshing. The presentation can be tailored around specific areas of interest and you can blend this into your own strategic exploration. 

Taking this a step further, through a follow-up workshop, your team can uncover how they can evolve and innovate engagement strategies with your customers and develop clear actions to incorporate into your retail business.

Contact Juanita to find out more about how a “Selling to seduction – 5 key trends in retail” presentation might work for your business.

+64 274768 073


Colour me pretty

I think many of us can relate, both as consumers and customers, that there has been significant upheaval in the world of retail over the past decade. In fact, it has been the period of the biggest and most profound transformation in the history of retailing.  

It has been largely consumer driven as they continue to seek value, convenience and unique experiences. Businesses who have not stepped up towards a more customer-centric approach are simply not surviving.

Retail is cut-throat. Customers are discerning. That creates a wonderful landscape for retail craftsmen to carve new space and cultivate engagement with shoppers beyond reason, at a very personal level throughout the customer lifecycle.

One such retail business that has impressed me in the New Zealand landscape, with not only their insight into the psyche of their customer audience but with their delivery of a unique and engaging experience is Hue.

Hue, is a specialist colour salon who “don’t do ‘dos’”. This is a retail business wrapped in their passion and their philosophy…pure, gorgeous, fabulous colour. And that’s it.

With 90% of women colouring their hair in some shape or form, this is a category with a lot of demand and also a lot of competition. Of course you can take the risk of a DIY kit at home which might save you some dollars but the results can be average. Alternatively, you can invest in the indulgence of a full salon experience, but this can break the bank and it can also chew loads of precious time.

The solution. Expert colourists. Fast, professional and expert service on your terms.

Having heard about Hue I thought I should put the experience to the test to see if it actually delivers on the promise.

Beautiful tresses. No stresses

Well, this is what the Hue website claims which I used to make my booking. The website booking process is run by the very reliable Kitomba salon and spa software solution. Very intuitive and easy as a customer however there was one hitch. Who did I book my colour experience with?

If you are anything like me, getting you hair done may make or break your mood. It’s a highly emotive experience and while the saying goes there is only 3 days between a good and a bad do, a bad hair day (or 3) can feel like a lifetime. On calling the salon I was taken through the different colourists available and found someone that seemed right for me.

The average appointment at Hue takes under an hour.  From a hairline retouch to a creative colour application of the most current trends like ombre or balayage, there is something for everyone.

The value of time

The current fast paced nature of consumers’ lifestyles has made time saving an important factor in deciding where to shop and who to shop with. Providing time value is becoming just as important as providing quality value in the products.

Time is one of the most valued resources for women in particular, often impacting our decisions and behaviours daily.

Hue has tapped into the ‘Go Economy’ by providing an exceptional service by removing the length of time and hassle it takes to plan and complete a visit.

Delivering on an unmet need

Hue had built a business around overcoming an unmet need for many women that stopped regular hair colouring appointments:

  • Keeping to budget – hair salon treatments often break the bank so can’t be done monthly
  • Time is precious - Hair salon visits can take forever (my average appointment for a cut and colour takes 2.5 hours so I have to keep it at an 8-10 week cycle)
  • All the extras – You pay extra for styling such as a blow dry and straighten and if you are anything like me, having this done to simply go home and cook dinner for the family is a waste of time and money
  • Chemical defence – some customers experience negative reactions to harsh commercial chemicals
  • All about me – the time you spend in a salon is precious so you want to soak it up and maximise it as much as possible.

Like lots of traditional categories needing to be disrupted Hue responded to these challenges. By reducing the complexity and avoiding adding unnecessary layers they simply took a step back and asked one simple question: what does my customer actually want?

Yes, this may sound obvious, but you just can’t be all things to all people.

It’s all about the experience

I believe that what today’s consumers are looking for can be condensed down to just three key points: value, convenience and a unique experience. Hue are delivering on all of these.

Being a small, entrepreneurial business has enabled Hue to be nimble with their thinking. By listening astutely to the customer they are continuing to test and innovate to build the perfect experience. And it appears to be working.

With an attractive and calming modern interior you can sit, sip on a latte or a tea, browse the latest mags and chill while getting your tresses restored to a beautiful hue. Recognising that trends change means Hue have evolved their offer by adding other treatments related to enhancing your colour adds to repeat visitation and prolonged colour. Using organic colour product means even pregnant women and those with allergies can enjoy a colour experience. Having some of the best colourists in the market, means a fast and professional service every time.

Photo: Studio Gascoigne

Photo: Studio Gascoigne

Completing your look yourself at the DIY styling bar means you have hairdryers, straighteners and product to ensure you can step out the door looking great in no time – and within a budget that makes you feel savvy. Not paying for extras you don’t need.

Customer-centric experiences

You need only look at the Hue model to see how vital it is that businesses learn to put the customer at the centre of the retail experience.

Whilst there’s no standard template for success, Hue have demonstrated that by simplifying the customer journey and breaking down the components for customers can be a compelling proposition. If, broadly speaking, customers are demanding value, convenience or a unique experience (ideally all three) – then that’s what Hue is measuring themselves against. As such Hue is a great poster child for the new face of retail.


New shop frontiers

The Net-A-Porter experience

The Net-A-Porter experience

There was a hilarious experience I distinctly remember within my time at a large big box national retailer. I was GM of Marketing at the time and it was in the era where ecommerce was incubated as a separate division of the company to give it focus and time to develop.

In one of the monthly senior executive meetings I wanted to crawl under the table for my colleague as he had to relive the experience where the CEO had ordered some product online to have it delivered, wrapped and packed in a bovine colostrum cardboard box. Obviously as part of a lean, mean retail operation, the online team were simply repacking into any spare boxes they had salvaged around the place. Can you imagine what some of our other customer orders had gone out in? If some of the feminine hygiene product had been packed onto shelves that morning, you might have had a Carefree experience. I unfortunately can’t recall the comical story of where the colostrum box came from.

Oh how times have changed. If you have ever bought from Net-A-Porter, the divine experience from the unfurling of the ribbon to the careful removal of the tissue paper is part of the thrill of the purchase. No post-purchase dissonance here!

Once upon a time, the cardboard box was a simple brown vessel in which to mail packages. Times have changed and as we purchase more products online, brands are using attractive packaging to create a delightful unwrapping experience that allows them to stand out from the crowd. It’s like receiving a little present (to yourself!)

Birchbox stunning ecommerce packaging

Birchbox stunning ecommerce packaging

As company mailrooms are expanding to accommodate the deluge of boxes, envelopes and courier bags piling up, packaging has become the modern-day equivalent of an eye-catching storefront. Everyone in the office knows when you have bought from Strawberrynet or if you ever receive a package of J’aime Les Macrons hope to heck that someone doesn’t eat the wonderful morsels before they get to you.

J’aime Les Macrons delivered directly to your door in beautiful packaging

J’aime Les Macrons delivered directly to your door in beautiful packaging

The following article by Fast Company is about Lumi.

Lumi is a company demonstrating innovative thinking. Essentially they have developed solutions which allows any sized retailers to transforming their ecommerce packaging into the equivalent of an eye-catching storefront. An inexpensive and sensory way to create an engaging brand experience.

READ ARTICLE by Fast Company


Bring yourself

Have you ever had that experience when you are staying in a hotel and you say “I love this bed (pillows/sheets/whatever) so much. I wish we had this at home.” Then nine times out of ten you forget to rip the sheets off to check the brand. I have rung a hotel to try and find their brand source of pillow for home but to no avail but I could purchase the bed for $10,000! I did think about it.

Photo: West Elm

Photo: West Elm

Hotel have been in the business of selling their proprietary bedding for some time but two of my favourite home furnishing and lifestyle retailers are turning this concept on its head. Both West Elm and Restoration Hardware have undertaken to open boutique hotels as part of their expansion strategy. The retailer will design, furnish and market the hotels allowing guests the opportunity to purchase items found in their room.

On every trip to the US I undertake a pilgrimage to the shrine of West Elm. This is now made a lot easier by the opening of their stores in Australia and shipping to NZ (no more holding a dozen plates on my lap on the 3 hour flight from Melbourne).

 A retailer of contemporary furniture and homewares, they are a wholly-owned subsidiary of Williams-Sonoma. Exceptional visual merchandising, inspirational room displays and design led product development; West Elm is a leading retailer inspiring and helping customers achieve the end goal of creating a complete home aesthetic. Collaborating with up and coming designers has build a community of trust, respect and style.

Rather than diving in head first away from their core knitting, last year West Elm dipped their toe in by opening a commercial division Workshop and making furniture for Marriott’s Spring Suites. Now they have partnered with leading hospitality management team DDK to open their boutique hotel chain.

DDK has over 60 years of combined hospitality and investment experience and has spearheaded the development, launch, and day-to-day management of some of the world’s strongest new hospitality brands. The vision according to their PR” a truly modern hotel bringing together design, technology and community to create spaces that make everyone feel like they belong. Our top priority is consistent, high-quality service and a locally-driven guest experience.”

DDK will bring the hospitality expertise and talent to the table

DDK will bring the hospitality expertise and talent to the table

The West Elm approach is deliberate, scouting locations in mid-tier U.S. cities whose hotel markets seemed underdeveloped for example, Charlotte, North Carolina. “We’re doing this in areas where there is already some sign of a groundswell of people who want to revitalize that area,” Jim Brett President of West Elm states. “If we came out and said our first hotels will be in New York, L.A., and Miami, it immediately sets a tone that isn’t community-centric and that has more of a vanity slant to it.” Commissioning local artists to produce work for the hotel lobbies and guest rooms, and partnering with local chefs and artisans on the food and drink will give it a distinctly West Elm “tribe” flavour.