To mark 4 Days of Fashion in the City, four of downtown Auckland’s fashion personalities are sharing their experiences of the industry. Today, Barkers’ managing director Jamie Whiting, discusses the changes technology has brought to bricks and mortar retail.
The changes for fashion retailers in the last decade, but particularly the last three to five years, have been massive. Ten to 15 years ago the retailer was in control. They dictated to the customer what they could have, when the could have it, and where they could get it.
Now the customer has the world at their fingertips. They can have anything anytime anywhere. As a New Zealand retailer we are no longer competing with the shop across the road, we are competing with a global industry. So now you have to be as good as anyone around the world.
We are at a point where 7-8% of our sales are online. That’s a similar figure to most New Zealand multi-channel retailers. But the ratio for international retailers is significantly higher – in the UK and US they’re at around 15-20%. We see that happening to us, and in the next five years we expect online to make up 10 to 15% of our total sales.
But that means there’s still going to 85 to 90% of our sales being made in-store. So we have to create a seamless environment and experience between online and the physical store. The store is very important, but the development of the technology is just as much so. Our customers are likely to find us first online, and while it’s easy to understand and experience a brand in its physical location, you can’t do that in the same way online. So one of the challenges for the brand experience is translating it to online.
Increasingly, we’re seeing that online is where our customers research our products before they come into the store. They might see a new range of suits, then they want to come in and try them on, feel the fabric, and compare colours. Technology allows for the journey to start somewhere new, but more often than not it is still finishing in the same place – our store. That means when they get into the store we have to do a really great job of creating an experience. It needs to fun and easy; it can’t be inconvenient; you need good engagement from our team who know the product well. It’s no secret guys hate shopping – our job is to make it as seamless and painless as possible.
And that means not just having the stuff they want, but to provide an experience over and above the product. Putting that experience into the retail space is more critical than it’s ever been. For a number of years we’ve been working on our whole store network; each store has its own concept where you’ll find a unique experience with its own paraphernalia and ‘proppin’g.
The High St store was a special one to fitout. It was in a heritage building; its prior tenancy was a bar. We took over this amazing space but weren’t allowed to touch the heritage of the building. So we made it experiential. When you walk in you start with our own little coffee shop. Up the stairs we put in our first Barkers Groom Room, where you can get a full haircut and a beard trim.
It’s about integrating experience into your shopping. Those parts of the High St store are there before you even get to the product. It’s about a Barkers experience. Upstairs we’ve got space to just chill out and play pool. Then downstairs we’ve got a formal space where you can get a suit made to measure. It’s been an intentional part of our store development journey. A place for guys were they can go and hang out, not just shop for clothes. Now we’ve put Groom Rooms into other stores around the country. You go shopping maybe four times a year, but you go and get your haircut every four to six weeks. So it means we bring you into Barkers more.
One of the things we love about High St is that, even though we are a nationwide brand we want to be part of a community. You don’t get that with malls. Our experience there, has to be a bit different. It has to give people a reason to go there. We’ve collaborated with other brands like Levi’s for their commuter cycling product, and with Swanndri. Creating a community, in a fashion destination, brings more success for everyone. A crowd attracts a crowd and it allows you to attract a diverse set of customers.
Retailers have to stop thinking about online and offline as distinct and in conflict. Anyone who thinks like that is already toast. The future of retail is going to be a full immersive and seamless experience between offline and online. Everyone has to come to the realisation that it’s not one or the other.
The technology side can make shopping simpler, easier and more convenient, and we have to combine that with a great experience in stores. That includes engagement with people, because shopping has to be social. We want to make everything easier, for people to be able to go shopping then go out for dinner, or back to work, and when they get home their purchases are waiting there for them.
Online isn’t going to kill retail. It’s changing, as retailers we have to adapt and change with it. The death match between digital and bricks and mortar just doesn’t exist.
On Friday 23 March Barkers will leave their doors open after hours. Enjoy an evening of live music, good foods and fine tastings. Be among the first to peruse the new collection, and score some exclusive offers on the night.