Exhibitions and retail – footfall driver or style over substance?

Gentle Monster

This summer the competition to create the most epic ‘bricks’ experience got hotter with the arrival of South Korean sunglass brand Gentle Monsters in Argyll Street, London. Gentle Monster takes the idea of immersive shopping to a whole other level, with each of the brand’s stores around the world taking on its own story concept. And in London, that concept is… Kung Fu aliens (we kid you not) – the story being that a robot alien landed on Earth, became captivated by the beauty of Kung Fu and took it back to its own planet. So far, so nuts.

Walking into the store is like walking into an elaborate film set or exhibition, and a pretty bonkers one at that. Customers are greeted by a tribe of larger than life, kinetic aliens who, as a colleague explained, are ‘training in Kung Fu’. They’re doing this to a backdrop of a digital waterfall and a giant ceremonial gong, which goes off every 7 minutes as their cue to start training.

The eccentric idea continues on the lower ground floor at the ‘battleground’, where two giant kinetic aliens fight in a bamboo forest surrounded by an audience of smaller robots, cheerleading with glittering pom poms in their hands.

It’s totally amazing, impressive… and also rather bemusing. Because what on earth (sorry) does it have to do with sunglasses?! Well, seemingly nothing. Many retailers incorporate exhibition-style experiences into their store but usually it’s to aid sales, or at least related to the product in some way.

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Nike is a great case in point, with an almost permanent exhibition area in Nike Town in which it borrows display techniques from gallery spaces to showcase its product and behind-the-scenes work (if you haven’t done so already, check out the current exhibition at London’s Oxford Circus which shows off the work of the motion graphics designers behind its latest projects).

Other brands align themselves to those in the arena of culture and art, seeing a symmetry between the two which will interest their customer demographic – like COS. Having established a legacy of artist collaborations which celebrate the brand’s influences from design and architecture, it’s soon to open a brand new hybrid concept store in London’s glossiest new shopping district, Coal Drop Yard in Kings Cross. Here, customers will not only be able to browse and buy from its latest clothing collections, but also immerse themselves in the work of established and emerging artists.

Both Nike and COS incorporate exhibitions into their stores in a way that feels seamless, credible and intrinsic to their brand essence. Also, they’re integrated in a way that keeps the customer in the store, whiling away hours, potentially leading to more sales. Gentle Monster on the other hand, doesn’t appear to use its concept as a sales tool at all. In fact the product – sunglasses – feels quite removed from the idea – aliens. And interestingly, it feels removed physically too, with the sunglasses themselves displayed around the perimeter of the store… presumably so that the theatrics are left to shine in all their eccentric glory. The thing is, when we were there, we didn’t actually see anyone trying the product on. Any customers that were in the store seemed to be there to get that perfect shareable shot … and, pic filtered and posted, they left. Gentle Monster may have turned its store into the perfect Instagram set, and in that way is bound to drive footfall, but will it actually sell enough product to sustain the cost of a bricks and mortar store in one of the country’s prime shopping districts? Time will tell… but one thing’s for sure, it’s awesome, original and creating a LOT of attention, and that is surely great for the reputation of any brand. 

Author

Sean Dwyer

Turning Japanese at Westfield White City

In the freshly built expansion of Westfield White City new stores are still opening, and if there’s one thing that gets us excited here at Whippet, it’s a new store. Especially when we learn that one of them is a Japanese Marketplace.

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From the team behind the Japan Centre on Panton St and restaurant chain Shoryu Ramen, Ichiba is Europe’s largest Japanese food hall bringing artisanal food, drink, homewares and gifts from Japan to London.

The moment you arrive, there are instant references to Japanese culture. Bright lights and light wood textures give a traditional feel, reminiscent of a modern Japanese restaurant.Throughout the store are what Ichiba refers to as ‘theatrical zones’ – areas where chefs create authentic Japanese dishes, live, that you can eat in or take away. They also host cooking demonstrations and workshops, which is a great way to show customers who are new to the cuisine how to cook with their products.

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The overall layout of the store is simple, with brightly lit fresh counter areas and well-placed overhead navigation and a brand style that’s fresh and modern. We particularly like the organic style of illustration which sits well with the friendly handwritten style of the logo and bold colour palette. Little brand touches such as the packing stickers and colourful staff uniforms help to add to the modern feel of the store too. However, we did notice a lack of in-aisle communication, particularly around education and inspiration, so unless you know your Japanese products (we don’t!), it’s difficult to understand what you’re buying until you see the small ticketing. A more evident tone of voice would help give the store more of a personality too.

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Overall though, it’s an exciting store, offering something new and different to what can be a tough, been-there-seen-it-done-that London crowd. But with more than 3000 products and immersive experience top of its agenda, Ichiba looks set to appeal to both the Japanese community and Japanese-curious alike.

Author

Sean Dwyer

John Lewis gives shoppers more at Westfield

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The new, much anticipated, John Lewis store opened recently in Westfield’s White City £600m extension so we couldn’t resist checking it out.

While not as large as the Oxford Street store, this new flagship still boasts an impressive 230,000 sq ft of retail space over 4 floors (that’s almost 4 Wembley stadium pitches!). And at £33m, it’s not a cheap way to open the brand’s 50th store. So has the investment been worth it?

Westfield has dramatically extended the centre so it’s now officially the largest shopping centre in Europe with the John Lewis store a very definite anchor. We entered through the centre where the approach is pretty impressive. Located at one end of the new aisle under a magnificent glass roof, the store sits proudly, more reminiscent of a religious pilgrimage destination than a retail unit.

The entrance on the first floor is flanked by 4 window displays, each displaying a simple, bright and strong display in the iconic John Lewis style with the rallying cries of their summer campaign, ‘Time to pump up the lilo’ and ‘Time to burn the sausages in the garden’… where do we sign up?!Whippet_JL_4

On entering, the usual mix of curated fashion, beauty and home brands are available but what’s really striking is the obvious attempt to make the store feel like a true experience as opposed to a mere functional space. One of the ways John Lewis have done this is with the emphasis on service and experience as a key differentiator. And the addition of 23 bespoke services including lingerie fitting, technical support, personal styling, home design, opticians and beauty spa treatments definitely make for a dazzling mix of options designed to encourage behaviour beyond the traditional ‘in and out shop’ to a planned ‘afternoon out’ destination.Whippet_JL_2

Managing Director, Paula Nickolds says they wanted to create “a place to shop, do and learn under one roof… a new level of personalised, curated shopping which until how has been the preserve of boutique shops.” And we think John Lewis has certainly delivered on that promise.

There are daily fashion talks in the Style Studio, cookery classes in The Demo Kitchen, craft classes and interior design talks in The Discovery Room, to name but a few. And this is before you venture into the supremely chilled Sleep Studio to test mattresses, explore the Smart Home area or design your own rug and sofa to go with your unique flooring choice.Whippet_JL_3

What John Lewis has successfully achieved is a great experience – we forgot we were in a busy West London shopping centre and happily bought into the personalised, service-driven experience. That’s when we headed to new bar, Smith and Sinclair for an edible cocktail.

John Lewis, we salute you. You have certainly not knowingly oversold this one!

Author

Sean Dwyer

Selfridges corners it with
Rolling Stones shop

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Selfridges has long been an iconic trailblazer of the British high street stocking the best in food, fashion and homewares. It’s a powerful, aspirational brand not only surviving but flourishing in what is a difficult climate. A mainstream TV drama series, a consistent identity and an engaging brand personality all help to paint a positive picture, but possibly one of the most powerful is the store itself.

Walking through each floor of their flagship London store it’s apparent what sets it apart – the idea of shopping is seen not just as a transactional process but a rich, uplifting experience. And its newest addition to The Corner Shop is no exception.

The Corner Shop is a concept space within Selfridges where collaborators and affinity brands are invited to set out their stall. It’s an immersive space where shoppers can not only buy, but fully engage with the guest brand or products in a way that seems unique to Selfridges. The outcome is mutually beneficial: Selfridges get to exhibit some of the more experimental, unusual brands or products around, while the brands or products get to sit proudly under the Selfridges banner.

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Selfridges’ latest exhibitor comes in the form of another equally iconic British brand: The Rolling Stones. This brand tie-up is striking, clever and a perfect match – both brands exude heritage, exclusivity and style. Timed to run alongside the latest run of Stones gigs across the UK and Ireland, the shop could be seen simply (or cynically) as a high-end merch stall to shift t-shirts and logo-emblazoned hats. On the contrary. It’s been curated in such a way that you feel like you’re visiting an exhibition, where guest brands like Commes des Garçons and Schott have created unique pieces for the event. There are screens looping the Stones’ latest gig in Cuba and headphones to fully immerse yourself, a gigantic sculpture of the iconic lips subverted with a Selfridges yellow tongue, and glass cabinets showing off Jagger’s stage outfits from the seventies to today.

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In a world where retailers are having to work harder and harder to engage and retain customers, the tie-up of these two brands and the rich content in this pop-up is definitely a fresh addition to the retail landscape. ‘Retailtainment’. The Stones and Selfridges have both played such a key role in shaping culture, it’s hard to think of two brands who could pull off such a pairing with just this much aplomb.

Author

Sean Dwyer

What can the UK learn from New Zealand’s Farro Fresh?

Farro Fresh

This month, our Jo reports from New Zealand, where Farro Fresh is changing the way Kiwis shop for groceries…

As a Kiwi living in London for the past ten years and working in the creative industry for retailers the past four, it’s become increasingly interesting to look at the comparisons between the UK and New Zealand grocery shopping experience. While New Zealand does have the equivalent of Sainsbury’s and Tesco, there’s been a significant demand for cleaner, fresher and more sustainable produce, made evident by a marked increase in organic farms.

Back in 2006, a small family business was established in Auckland, with a team of just 12 people fuelled by a desire to create a retail space that showcases the very best of New Zealand food. 12 years later, Farro Fresh has over 400 staff and five stores, each one paying homage to the best local producers of the country.

There’s a high quality organic ‘farm feel’ to every store as soon as you walk in: busy but controlled (which is essentially what a farm is, organised chaos) with exposed beams and high ceilings instantly transporting you to barns in the countryside where everything serves a purpose. From the cheese stalls offering fresh samples, to the coffee bars where you can get a caffeine hit before starting your shop, and the butcher serving fresh organic cuts straight from the farm… the flow of the store gives the impression you are taking a journey through a farm yard and as a result it really feels like you’re buying a higher quality of food.

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Breaking away from the generic own brands found in standard supermarkets, Farro’s vision concentrates on start-up, Kiwi-run food businesses which need a helping hand to get their products onto shelves. The products are sourced from throughout the country and have a real artisan look and feel… however this does mean that there is a price tag to match. They’re merchandised beautifully, with strong premium connotations such as chalk boards and inspirational displays on wooden crates, and these are nicely balanced with personality coming through from cute illustrations and tone of voice. The entire store feels genuine and is backed up by the passionate staff who work there. Nothing’s too much trouble, they’re eager to share their knowledge… and to give free tasters!

Farro has gone from strength to strength based on the quality of ingredients, brands, customer service, shopping experience and – it must be said – support of locals. Regardless of whether you’re doing your weekly shop, it’s become a destination for any Kiwi foodie seeking fresh inspiration. So if you find yourself in the City of Sails, drop in, you won’t be disappointed!

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Things we love:

The Farro Food kits. Pre-packed food bags with ingredients for three meals feeding either 2 or 4 people along with a recipe designed by Farro’s in-house chefs. Hand-picked and delivered on the same day ready to be cooked that night.

The Farro Hampers. In each store they provide a wooden box where you can build your own bespoke hampers. Great for a foodie’s birthday or all those Christmas treats!

Cook-along with a Farro chef. On the website, you can choose from an array of different recipes and cook along with one of the Farro chefs. Great for fresh meal inspiration!

Keeping New Zealand green. Compostable bags, made from 100% plant-based materials are currently being tested as clean green replacements to the plastic carrier bag.

Author

Sean Dwyer

Sainsbury’s: On the Go in Pimlico

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We have to be honest, we’ve not noticed anything radical or exciting from Sainsbury’s in terms of formats for a while. So it was with interest that we popped into the newly revamped store in Pimlico being dubbed as a ‘market store’.

From the offset this store impresses and marks a different approach for the retailer. The large glass windows provide a first look at the ‘On the Go’ offering which is cleverly located front and right of the store entrance, allowing customers who want to grab and go the space and option to do so quickly and efficiently without battling trolleys and baskets in the main store.

Once in the ‘On the Go’ section there’s a number of options including fresh sushi, hot food and pizza, the usual sandwiches and also a Crussh concession. The space is open, airy and easy to navigate, offering simple seating and self checkouts to help speed up payment. We visited at 3.30pm on a Thursday and the area was busy, most noticeably with younger customers and after-school kids, which must be a new demographic for the retailer.

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If you don’t want a pizza made from scratch, there’s a hot unit selling slices of ready made pizza, pasties and ready to go microwave meals. Admittedly, we didn’t see anyone buying made to order pizzas but it adds theatre – the neon signage helping to attract customers in from the street.

The main store (located behind ‘On the Go’) has also been given a revamp with a couple of stand out elements. The alcohol section is pretty impressive with ceiling-high, crate-style graphics, simple wooden fixtures and navigation reminiscent of wine and beer labels. There is also one end dedicated to ‘no and low’ alcohol proving that Sainsbury’s is listening to the trend developing amongst younger generations.

Sainsbury’s is also doing a great job (and always has done in our opinion) of promoting its ‘Free From’ range with a dedicated aisle that taps into customers’ increasing desire for a restricted diet of one kind or another.

The bakery section is also impressive adding a layer of personality with graphics positioned above the counter offering ‘gluten free loaves’ and ‘celebration cakes’ in a handwritten chalkboard style.

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The rest of the store feels slick and shiny, but it’s the ‘On the Go’ offering that stands out the most. It’ll be interesting to see if it gets replicated or evolved in other stores. But for now, top marks Sainsbury’s – we like!

Author

Sean Dwyer

A burger with a side order of charity please

Grilld Restaurant

Our Head of Copy Clare has been out and about in Melbourne this week sniffing out new and interesting trends in retail and restaurants, and has spotted a very cool charity initiative… the familiar supermarket charity token has crossed over into casual dining.

Grill’d is one of Melbourne’s best-loved burger brands, its ethos being ‘healthy burgers that are good for you and good for your community’. Their do-gooding initiative ‘Local Matters’ sees every customer who places an order being given a token to drop into one of three jars that supports a local charity. Grill’d then splits $500 between the three; the community group with the most tokens gets $300 and the other two, $100 each. Fair and square all round… everybody wins!

In just five years they’ve given back over $2.5 million and supported over 15,000 community groups. It’s the first time we’ve seen this approach in a restaurant, and we think it’s a damn clever one. With the average Australian eating out an average of 2-3 times a week, spending a total of $45 billion a year *, that’s a whole lotta potential cash for a fantastic cause. And of course, the more cash that’s raised, the stronger the brand affinity, the more feet through the door and so the circle continues. Hats off to you Grill’d. You certainly know how to do G’ood.

*The Intermedia Group Pty Ltd, Eating out in Australia 2017 Report

Author

Sean Dwyer

Amazon pops up in Soho Square

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How do you squeeze the world’s biggest online store into two floors? That’s exactly what Amazon did on the run-up to Black Friday, with their ingenious pop-up store in Soho Square – decked out like a house, and further blurring the lines between the physical and online.

Black Friday has fast become a much-anticipated fixture on the UK retail calendar, and every year more brands are getting involved to drive sales in the build-up to Christmas.

As one of the worlds largest online retailers, Amazon is leading the charge on innovative and competitive online e-tailing – and was one of the very first brands to bring Black Friday to our shores for the first time back in 2010.

Every year they’ve aimed to outdo themselves, and stand head-and-shoulders above the competition. Last year they held a two-week online sales event – but this year they decided to go the full ‘bricks-and-mortar’, with a pop-up in Soho Square.

Called the ‘Home of Black Friday’, it was designed to look and feel like a home. Set within a traditional semi-detached house, the pop-up spanned two floors; downstairs you could wander round the kitchen and creative space, and upstairs a bedroom, lounge, playroom and games room. In each room, you could browse the latest deals across a wide range of products including electronics, beauty products, books, games and toys.

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Merging online and off-line shopping

So how did it all work? Well, you could wander round and play with the products, with staff on-hand to help. And using the Amazon app, you could scan the product code – and go straight to Amazon.co.uk to buy it.

Which means it’s not entirely like a regular shop, in that you couldn’t just buy something off the shelf and take it home. But if you were super-keen to get it on the day, the reception area doubled as a dedicated Prime Now delivery area – letting you choose to have your product ordered online delivered to the pop-up within two hours.

The deals promoted in the store were available online for a limited time only – with an online countdown adding a sense of urgency. And every day, the pop-up’s products would change, to match the ‘Deals of the Day’ online. A genius strategy in our opinion, encouraging impulse purchases and driving sales before Black Friday.

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An experience you just don’t get online

Where the brand really delivered was the chance to experience the products in ways that online shopping can’t deliver for the consumer – from mini Toni & Guy beauty treatments, a lounge complete with sofa, games console and full selection of games and DVDs… to a playroom filled with toys, books and iPads to browse. There really was something for everyone. And the whole experience was finished off with a touch of Christmas cheer: a tree covered in tinsel, presents on display and of course, plenty of mince pies.

The whole experience was fully staffed (if not a little over-staffed), offering visitors live demonstrations of Amazon-branded products (we now know more than we ever thought possible about the Amazon Show Echo). It also promoted services like Amazon Fresh with a £25 voucher for Whole Foods Market, redeemable on the day (again, to drive that sense of urgency).

There were giveaways too, and chances to win loads of prizes – with a simple ‘spin to win’ iPad game which we won twice (yes, twice!), picking up a free Lego set, a good book, and twin gel nail polish (a good day to have also bought a Lottery ticket, perhaps?!)

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A true brand immersion

But the focus wasn’t purely on driving sales; this is also about brand immersion and positioning Amazon as brand leaders in this space. A timeline showing Black Friday Best Sellers since 2010 reminded visitors that Amazon truly own Black Friday in the UK, and are at the forefront of retail firsts and innovation.

Overall, it was an assault on the senses, with quite a lot going on in a relatively small space. But it was also a successful example of how best to extend the reach of the brand beyond the online platform we know and love. Amazon has demonstrated and embraced the need for both a physical retail space and an online platform, showing an insightful understanding that customers can move seamlessly between the two.

So bravo, Amazon – we can’t wait to see what’s in store for Christmas…

Author

Sean Dwyer

The times, they are a-changing

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It’s eight years since Waitrose introduced their Essential range, which has since become the mainstay of many a shopping trolley in middle England and has done well to shift the high price tag perception of the brand.

But 2017 is not the same as 2009, and in a world where halloumi, artichokes and ironing water are now (apparently) considered ‘essential’ by many consumers, and the German discounters continue to spring up in every town, Waitrose has refreshed the range with a two-pronged strategy.

Firstly, they’ve introduced around 300 new products to take account of our changing tastes, and secondly, they’ve dropped the price on hundreds of existing Essential products. They’re campaigning the refreshed range heavily (more on that shortly)… but it got us wondering, who exactly is this move aimed at?

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Is it to reassure the hardcore Waitrose shopper (who is no doubt flirting heavily with Lidl and Aldi, probably somewhere in the Luxury aisles) that there’s no need to go elsewhere? Certainly it seems that way when you you dig a little deeper into the new campaign messaging: ‘at the heart of our essential range is the belief you shouldn’t have to compromise your standards’. Ouch.

The ‘new lower prices’ part of Waitrose’s strategy certainly back this up… because when you’re buying halloumi every week, you’d surely welcome a permanent 30p price drop…

Or is the campaign trying to attract the steadfast Lidl and Aldi customers who have so far never shopped at Waitrose? And if so, how likely are these customers – loyal to the discounters for price over quality – to give Waitrose a try? Particularly when the halo perception of the brand remains undoubtedly ‘posh’?

The answer is probably, both. And as such, it’s a canny move from Waitrose. Plus we do commend their brilliantly simple campaign creative. A clean white background with single hero products, and a simple rectangular device for messaging and price all cleverly matches the pared back nature of the products in the range. Nice work Waitrose.

Author

Sean Dwyer

Peckish?

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Like we needed an excuse for fried chicken, but when we heard about Chik’n, a new fast food joint serving it up guilt-free, we had to check it out. The colourful, happy modern branding is great way to differentiate from the more traditional (and still beloved) fried chicken shops of London. It also helps draw attention to their ethical mission statement, “Changing fried chicken for the good”. DIY/punk inspired graphics adorn the walls, with clever brand slogans, a disruptive tone of voice and bold typography alongside. Everything in the restaurant, from the open kitchen, to the takeaway bags, to the bins (compost and recycling only) helps explain the ethos of the restaurant and gives an overall feeling of good vibes.

…and yeah, maybe it did make us feel a bit less guilty about stuffing our faces with fried chicken sandwiches…

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Author

Sean Dwyer

Did someone say designer ice cream? We’re there…

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With the sweltering temperatures in London, we really need to cool down. And what better way than to visit the Magnum Pleasure Store in Convent Garden (as if we needed an excuse, really!).

Back for another year, this time in a collaboration with Moschino Creative Director Jeremy Scott, this colourful, vibrant and uber indulgent pop-up shop gives those seeking a bit more than your average ’99’ the chance to design a luxury, personalised Magnum, with double dipping allowed!

Entering the store, you’re greeted by a ‘Pleasure Maker’, who’s on hand to design your Magnum exactly the way you want it at the special ‘dipping bar’.

Starting off with a plain vanilla un-dipped ice cream you choose a single dip of Magnum’s milk, white or dark chocolate followed by layer of ingredients. Choose your weapon – cookie crumble, freeze dried raspberries, nuts, black lava sea salt, hibiscus petals… you name it, they’ve got it! Then you can opt to have another cheeky dip after that… don’t mind if we do.

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Drizzle with your choice of chocolate, top with a Moschino pink chocolate button and it’s off to the Instagram booth to share your creation with the world at #MAGNUMLDN.

Not just an ice cream shop, the whole brand experience is one of pure indulgence designed to reflect the brand’s luxury values – and wow your senses. Gorgeous ice cream diamante sculptures inspired by famous fashionistas adorn the space, along with inspirational neon quotes on the walls. And if you want to wear your experience long after you’ve eaten your creation, there’s even a range of Moschino X Magnum tote bags designed by Jeremy Scott available to buy.

With prices starting from £5.50 for the ice creams and around £200 for the bags, this isn’t a cheap treat, but it’s a brilliant brand extension for Magnum, made even more desirable by the tie-in with Moschino, and clearly cements them as the leader in premium ice cream.

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Author

Sean Dwyer

Happy Easter! We’ve been out and about to see how the supermarkets are campaigning the celebrations this year.

We saw some nice photographic treatments (step up Waitrose), great window theatre (come in M&S) and even some pretty good puns (Lidl, we’re talking to you), but easter bonnets off to the Co-op with their ‘Be a good egg this Easter’ campaign. Celebrating those people who put others first, the emphasis is much more on giving rather than getting; a charitable touch that really sets them apart. Nice tie in with Absolute Radio too, with a competition to win £1,000 by nominating a good egg. We think it’s just eggsellent (sorry).
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Author

Sean Dwyer

Inside Apple’s new flagship Regent Street store

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The wrapping has finally come off Apple’s Regent Street store after a four month closure for a revamp. It’s bigger, brighter, more spacious and has the inevitable ‘just hang out’ atmosphere that comes with being (arguably) the coolest tech brand in the world.

If footfall is anything to go by, the new store is already wowing shoppers. We visited on a Thursday afternoon and it was packed to the rafters. No small thing for such a huge space.

There are several obvious changes – a larger, open and more airy ground floor, flooded in natural light and – presumably to offset any carbon footprint – lined with real (yes, real) trees.

Towards the back, a vast video wall provides an animated backdrop and focal point to the store, in front of which is a cubed seating area for daily expert talks and workshops, while the mezzanine floor is where you’ll find the Geniuses. When it comes to the products, they’re untethered, an open invitation to pick them up and try them for real.

But it’s the lack of product information that’s the interesting thing here. Want to read up on the features of the Apple Watch Series 2? You can’t. Need to know the screen size of the iPad Pro? Sorry, that neither. Instead, the extremely high staff-to-customer ratio ensures you get human to human contact at every turn (we loved playing ‘spot the Apple associate’, a kind of ‘Where’s Wally’ in reverse). It’s a positive far cry from many retailers it has to be said.

Overall, while product displays are imaginative, and third party brands like Bose and Beats seem somewhat unusually comfortable alongside Apple’s own products, the store could be said to lack a little warmth. But when you’re Apple, your store could be an igloo and it’d still attract thousands of customers a day. It’s the brand experience they come for, whether that’s a store in China, America, or the UK. And when it comes to consistency, Apple’s crown shows no sign of being toppled… yet.

Author

Sean Dwyer

Will the new Mercato Metropolitano give Borough Market a run for its money?

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Here at Whippet we’re pretty obsessed with food. From new restaurant openings to the latest flavour of M&Ms we want to know about it, experience it and taste it. So a new market opening in London just a mile away from much-loved Borough Market, was an opportunity not to be missed.

Located in Borough Triangle, just up from Elephant and Castle, Mercato Metropolitano opened in an old paper factory earlier this year. Andrea Rasca is the man behind the project, who has previously played a key role in developing the brilliant chain of Eataly stores which started in Turin in 2007.

On arrival, first impressions are good. Bold graphics and clear branding set a simple and straightforward tone. This continues with the ‘no-frills’ feel in the main area. Almost reminiscent of a Scandinavian Christmas market, the recycled wooden structures and blackboard style comms help to further suggest values of craftsmanship, artisan food and urban renewal. The market is based in an area undergoing a £3 billion regeneration so the chosen materials feel very appropriate and reflective of an underlying social purpose.mm2

We were excited by therange of food available. Billed as including ‘the best pizza maker’ from Naples, the producers definitely have an Italian bias but also contain award-winning British food retailers. Fortunately we arrived just before lunch so it seemed timely to try some of the goodies available. We were spoilt for choice and did a full circuit before settling on some fresh gnocchi, a glass of Italian champagne and a fab beer called Brettxit!

Then came Prezzemolo e vitale – the independent family-run supermarket from Palermo. This is 4,000 square feet of true foodie heaven. The daily deliveries of fresh food cover everything you’d expect from a small Italian grocer including cheese, wine, beer, meats, veggies and fish. It feels brilliantly authentic with fixtures and fittings that look individually sourced and assembled combined with handwritten pricing on deli-style tickets. Whilst it’s hard to believe you would do your weekly shop here you can buy pretty much anything from arancini to zucchini, and we were very tempted!mm3

So in summary, Mercato Metropolitano definitely gets the Whippet thumbs up. And with it’s cookery school, in-house cinema, vegetable garden and gym, it’s much more than just a food market. It’s definitely also a great offering for locals as opposed to it’s more tourist-focussed cousin, Borough Market, a mile up the road.

It has to be said that it’ll be interesting to see how it fares in the British Winter. We visited on the hottest day of the year when everyone was making great use of both the inside and outside space, but we suspect we wouldn’t be so keen crouching on one of the wooden benches while the wind blows through the big openings in the main hall in January. However, we applaud Signor Rasca and the team and wish them luck. We’ll be watching this space with mouth-watering curiosity.

Author

Sean Dwyer

Will Ikea’s new small format, shopping centre store have urbanites flocking?

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When we heard that Ikea was opening a new format store at Westfield Stratford City we couldn’t wait to head over and take a look. We were intrigued. It felt like the obvious direction for Ikea when opening a shopping centre format would be a Marketplace version of the current warehouse offering – cue mind’s eye visual of endless aisles of spoons, lamps and Swedish chocolate. So the knowledge that the new store only offers about 40 small products to buy that day got us scratching our heads.

It’s not a familiar approach – no vast blue and yellow big box city here, rather, a sleek, modern entrance with huge windows and a clear sightline into store. This enables a glimpse of the impressive vertically stacked roomsets which add theatre and entice you through the door.

Billed as an ‘Order and Collection Point’, the 900m2 store clearly offers exactly this. But it’s so much more than the functional title suggests. Whilst the order and collection points are clearly marked, it’s also a space to gain inspiration, seek advice and help planning – somewhere to create your perfect, bespoke, dream home.

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The store cleverly uses the full ceiling height for merchandising. This serves several purposes, creating visual theatre, suggesting breadth of range and also inspiring customers that the sky really is the limit.

Staff were on hand and appeared very helpful and supportive. It’s also possible to access the full range via the ‘discover more’ screens, and the ubiquitous catalogues are available to take home as usual.

All in all it feels like a great space to browse, design and dream. We have to admit that we rethought our initial doubts around the proposition and quite liked the focus on planning and ordering. It’s definitely a different approach to the familiar Ikea showroom procession where you feel desperate to get through the roomsets to the Marketplace and grab the bits and bobs you didn’t know you needed before having a hotdog.

We will be watching this (much, much smaller) space.

Author

Sean Dwyer

Aldi, but not as we know it

Always keen to know what’s going on in the grocery sector elsewhere in the world, we asked our colleagues at Whippet Australia to pay a visit to Aldi, and we were blown away by their new in-store look and feel. They may be openly value-focussed but they’re upping their game. Simple illustrations and a tone of voice with bags of personality, they’re striking the balance between value and quality brilliantly. Definitely one to watch.

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Author

Sean Dwyer

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