Experience over efficiency


This interview
was originally featured in the latest Luxury Special Edition of the trade journal Textilwirtschaft in German and was translated into English by LIGANOVA.

TextilWirtschaft: Ms Leiberg, for Liganova you observe which trends are up and coming or state of the art in terms of brand management and creative strategies. What is currently happening in retail and luxury?

Karin Leiberg: A trend that has been with us for some time is hyper-physicality. This is about stores or pop-ups that create something extraordinary and thus create an experience that goes beyond the everyday, the normal. These stores are characterized by huge installations, loud colors, or disproportionate and playful exaggerations. Everything seems a bit over the top and very Instagrammable, giving visitors quick, intuitive access to the story behind it. This is predestined for our times, in which we often have a short attention span due to sensory overload.

Can you give some examples?

Luxury brands in particular are very innovative and like to experiment. Jacquemus does a lot of that, like the Le Bleu pop-up, the surreal interpretation of his own bathroom that he realized in Selfridges – all in blue. Or Balenciaga, where the London store was completely covered in bright pink faux fur. Hermès also often thinks outside the box, opening pop-up gyms in the house’s style, including medicine balls in typical Hermès material, to bring its signature products to life in a completely new context. Coach recreated an airplane model for a store. The Korean eyewear brand Gentle Monster is also particularly impressive with its surfaces. Instead of efficiency and functionality, artistic, playful installations create a new dimension of retail. The store becomes a backdrop, a stage.

Credits: Balenciaga

What is the idea behind it?

The store is being transformed from a selling space to an experience space. The goal is to create multi-sensory experiences that offer an escape from everyday life and routine, thus strengthening the emotional connection with consumers. The stores become a stage that creates unique “money can’t buy” moments that generate a sense of FOMO. This also makes traditional luxury brands more accessible and tangible to younger audiences such as Gen Z.

How can this trend be explained?

The trend toward hyper-real experience comes at a time when science is opening up new horizons of human perception. A few years ago, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their research into the biology of the senses. Thanks to their studies, we now have a better understanding of how our nervous system perceives tactile stimuli, heat and cold. Thanks in large part to these findings, brands can now evoke emotions in a more targeted way and engage their customers’ senses in a more conscious and comprehensive way in physical space.

How can we picture this in practical terms?

Google’s recent presentations during Milan Design Week are an excellent example of this. It’s less about showcasing their own products and more about showing visitors how much aspects such as look, feel, smell, sound, unique textures, colors and design elements can influence well-being. This concept is known as neuroaesthetics and, of course, affects each of us differently. Many more trends will develop from this.

Credits: Google

What could they be? Only ever louder, shriller and bolder can't work in the long term. In fashion, we've had a clear preference for subtle understatement for a few seasons now with the Quiet Luxury trend.

We see it the same way. Every trend has a countertrend. In addition to the vibrant and expressive hyper-physicality, well-being is becoming increasingly important in retail. We are seeing a trend towards the transformation economy and a growing consumer desire to satisfy the highest level of Maslow’s pyramid of needs: self-actualization. Health, mindfulness and slowing down are issues that are becoming more and more important. Consumers are looking for products and services that proactively support them in their quest for self-actualization, health and happiness.

What does this mean for innovative retail concepts?

Customers are increasingly perceiving things on a sensory level. This means that perception is slowing down. There must therefore be spaces that offer a high quality of stay and create a quieter and more relaxed atmosphere. A growing trend in retail is also concepts such as quiet or silent shopping hours, i.e. certain periods of time when there is no background music in the shop and sometimes no talking. Consumers increasingly appreciate this decelaration through special services. In the future, digital detox will play an important role in the well-being of all age groups and therefore also in retail. Business around retreats and in and around resorts is already booming.

What can well-being look like in terms of shopping?

Luxury health and beauty services and products continue to increase their presence with dedicated retail space. Self-serve spaces are increasingly being opened. Brands must inevitably address consumers’ wellness needs and find ways to integrate them into their business and products. The Biogena Brand Base Salzburg is a good example of a modern, futuristic health experience. The highlight is the welcome-to-yourself tube, which serves as the entrance to the store and enables a conscious, multi-sensory approach to one’s health. The nutritional supplement manufacturer already has 40 stores in prime city center locations across Europe. Or supplement stores and oxygen bars – many new fields and potentials are opening up here. Dr. Barbara Sturm, the luxury cosmetics brand, has developed a light therapy experience, and Rituals offers in-store spa areas with infrared cabins. So it is very much about individual experiences and needs. Healthy eating is another important factor.

Credits: Biogena Brand Base Salzburg

Many retail concepts already have bars and restaurants. What is the next step?

Food is the new luxury, especially for Gen Z. The strategy of integrating pop-ups, bars, cafes, and restaurants is particularly aimed at Millennials and Gen Z, who like to share their personal experiences on social media. Boutiques are adding gastronomic highlights to their spaces or opening their own pop-up concepts. Major luxury brands are diversifying by expanding their offerings to include bars, restaurants, cafes and even hotels. This could be the Gucci Garden, the Prada Flower pop-up, the Burberry restaurant takeover, the Hermès kiosk or, most recently, the Rimowa café in Milan. There are many more ways to live retail today.

What other possibilities are there?

Storytelling is an important aspect. Traditional luxury brands like Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, but also brands like Mercedes-Benz or Porsche have rich archives. They play heavily with their heritage and stage their iconic products like art with a higher cultural value. This is in line with consumer behavior. There is a shift from pure buyer to collector. Strict curation, collaborations or limited editions turn products into collectibles and make them highly desirable. You can already see this with sneakers.

So a restaurant, museum, bar or spa. That all sounds expensive and elaborate. But what does it do for the brand?

It pays off in terms of brand diversification. Ultimately, customers no longer just buy the product, but the lifestyle of a brand. So as a brand and as a retailer, I have to keep asking myself: How can my customer become part of the brand without actually buying the product? They should come to me because they want to be part of the community. You have to create a sense of belonging. Brands can bring people together in communities of interest. That is crucial.

Who does this particularly well?

Moncler Genius is interesting as a platform that not only presents fashion, but also blurs the boundaries between different creative disciplines. But the Prada Frames Symposia or the Miu Miu Literary Club are also good examples. Such initiatives are a sign of how luxury brands are increasingly focusing on creating value through experiences and content. They offer their customers not just a product, but a story, an experience and a community that intensifies the brand experience and creates long-term relationships. This storytelling is at the heart of today’s retail formats. It is about compelling content, cultural programming and great space design.

Credits: Miu Miu Literary Club

Is retail now more than ever community organizing?

Yes, because experiences are created through active participation and a sense of being involved, not just observing. Stories are more important than the product, knowledge and access are more important than ownership. But communities are also becoming more specialized. We see the development of niche communities, member clubs and community spaces. Whisper groups, a kind of Messenger VIP circle where you can only join if you are a member, are also very popular. Such formats increase desirability.

In other words, it's about even closer selection, curation and individualization?

Curation is extremely important. In times of digital overload, it’s even more important to filter information and offers. You have to learn to communicate in a very personal way again, to create a sense of proximity. Brand stores are increasingly becoming places of identification for the community and collaboration areas. Through curated content, as well as changing campaigns and themed worlds, brands can create a holistic experience that goes beyond the products themselves and creates curiosity for the next presentation. Ultimately, the goal is to create destinations that offer customers individualized experiences and personalized services to keep them coming back. After all, it’s no longer about sales per m2, it’s about experiences per m3.

Published in Textilwirtschaft

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