On Monday at NRF 2015, The Ebeltoft Group released a comprehensive study on the retail industry, and a part of the study focused on key retail innovations that are expected to change the industry in the near future. Being a leader, getting your foot out in front of your competitors has never been a bad idea, but in today’s fast-moving environment, it’s perhaps even more crucial. After the group presented its study, representatives from Bilder and De Clercq as well as Birchbox, two mold-breaking retailers, spoke about the chances their companies have taken in the name of innovation.
Rogier Leopold and Diederik van Gelder come from a media background; perhaps it was as much a surprise to them than anyone else that they found themselves speaking at a retail convention. But the duo are now successful retail entrepreneurs. They co-created Bilder and De Clercq, an Amsterdam-based food retailer that is geared towards the busy urban dweller who’s often asking him or herself, “What am I going to do for dinner tonight?” The store leans heavily on many of the key innovations outlined in the Ebeltoft study: the food available in the stores is hyper-local, giving customers a sense of community. Additionally, Bilder and De Clercq is a perfect blend of online/offline; customers can find the recipes on the store’s website, and head into the store to pick up the perfectly-measured ingredients. Additionally, technology in-store allows customers to choose their shipping method via an interactive wall. It’s natural for many to look at a success like Bilder and De Clercq and predict some grand decline of storefront retail, but that’s not the sentiment from the store’s founders; in contrast, they strongly believe in the power of retail storefronts.
Another data and technology-based retailer that has found the power of storefronts is Birchbox. But the first physical Birchbox store comes late in the story of the originally online-only beauty retailer, whose subscription model was ahead of the game when it comes to retailers offering customization, curation, and personalized experiences—other facets that Ebeltoft hailed as the future of retail. Birchbox gives its customers a highly-personalized experience, where people fill out profiles upon subscribing so that the beauty and grooming products they receive monthly are tailored for them. And the company is looking to go even more personal by hoping to unveil a fully individualized homepage that’s tailored to each customer, sometime in 2015. The company also recently opened its first storefront in SoHo in New York City. Katia Beauchamp, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of the company, noted that the early returns on the storefront are looking up. People enjoy coming in and building their own Birchboxes, and it’s the only place where one can do that as of now. But Beauchamp still believes that at heart, Birchbox is a data and tech company, leaning heavily on data to personalize customer experiences.
Bilder and De Clercq and Birchbox are just two examples of innovative retailers. But examining their business models gives insight into the future of successful retail. Both lean heavily on technology; for them it’s more than just an aid, it’s in the fabric of the entire business. Yet, they both aren’t looking to ditch traditional, in-person experiences either. The key is creating a seamless online-to-offline (or vice versa) experience and creating a welcoming environment both in store and on screen.