Shopping is fun again as department stores now rush to catch up with the likes of e-commerce websites like Net-a-Porter — by offering perks, such as complimentary wine and scotch while you shop, as a way to get you off your laptops and into their stores. Even the smaller retail boutiques are getting involved. We loved that New York’s Strand bookstore popped up in Club Monaco’s Flatiron store last month – one in a recent string of retail collaborations we expect to continue in 2016.
The issue isn’t that department stores are outmoded, it is the customer herself who has changed: she or he is more discerning, more educated, and more demanding than ever, and retail is just trying to keep up. And so traditional luxury department stores are busy trying to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. From Barneys to Neiman Marcus, high-end chains are using a variety of strategies to inject a little excitement and entice new customers to step inside their brick and mortar locations and stay to shop.
Last month, Barneys, the luxury department store chain — always the edgiest of New York’s department stores — returned to its roots with a grand re-imagining of a new location. The store opened where the original once stood in 1923 on 17th Street in the swanky Chelsea section of Manhattan.
A massive spiral staircase, built as a modern homage to the original dominates the selling space and connects the floors adding drama and distinction. The new marble steps and white, Guggenheim-esque banisters give it a modernist spin.
Within the walls, a curated edit of Barneys XO “Exclusively Ours” brands and capsule collections (not found at any other retailer) are now being sold by knowledgeable staff.
Mobile technology links customer’s in-store shopping with e-commerce to make the whole experience more personalized. And forget about waiting in line: the new Barneys has basically done away with registers, arming its employees with iPads that customers can use to check out on the spot.
Need a shave? Blind Barber, the barbershop/speakeasy with outposts in the East Village and Williamsburg, has opened a spot on the store’s lower level. The three-chair shop offers customers complimentary beer or whiskey, which will accompany even a basic beard trim which will set you back $25.
And then there’s the return of Freds, Barneys’ Italian power-lunch spot, serving old-time favorites as well as new small-bite items like Montauk-fish tacos, octopus and avocado toast. The restaurant also has a retro onyx-marble bar and a colorful, 36-foot mural by Los Angeles-based painter Conor Thompson.
Meanwhile, famed photographer Bruce Weber has taken charge of Barneys’ windows, filling them with shots depicting real New Yorkers and black-and-white videos that play 24/7.
The effort luxury department stores in the United States are putting into the retail experience to attract customers speaks to how slow they were to adapt in the rapidly changing retail environment spurred by the advent of e-commerce.
But the good news is for the next few years shopping will become so much more fun!