The word digital means different things to different people, but for the purposes of what follows it must be understood to involve digital displays and widgets that make shopping more interactive, if not more straightforward.
If you agree with this definition, there remains little digital action in Regent Street relative to central Paris at present and a quick trot along the Champs-Élysées shows just how much is being done to create engaging interiors using movement and interactivity.
Whether it’s the show-off Citroën showroom where you can insert yourself, instead of a long-dead French president, into a head of state’s open-topped car and wave at the crowds, or moving light boxes, much is being done. Repeat the same exercise on Regent Street at the moment and while you will certainly encounter light boxes, the chances are slim that you’ll see much to match the Parisian displays. Even Morgan, the fashion brand that boasted a UK retail presence in days gone by, has opted to use large-format video screens and “sharing mirrors” (which enable you to send images of yourself to your friends and to post the same on your Facebook page) in its Champs-Élysées store.
Interestingly, as a rule of thumb, the higher up the shopping scale you head, the less the impact of digital visual merchandising makes itself felt. Indeed, head into luxury perfume brand Guérlain’s pop-up store, or Merci, the boho chic shopper’s preferred haunt in the Marais district, and there is almost no evidence that the world is heading for any kind of digital future.
The other point worth noting is how many shoppers seem to be taking advantage of what retailers are offering in the digital arena. Young and old alike seem happy to play with touchscreens as part of the Parisian mid-market shopping experience.
Designed by French ‘starchitect’ Jean Nouvel, the three-floor H&M takes the screen with moving images on it and adds a twist by making the screens themselves a mobile attraction. The outsize screens, dotted around the store, are on vertical rails. This enables them to ascend and descend from floor to floor, via wells on each level, not unlike an escalator. This ensures that even if the content they are showing doesn’t catch your eye, the screens’ movement through the store’s different floors means that you will.
The other point marking out this store as different from a standard H&M is the lighting, which is provided by lights on long stalks attached to the perimeter walls and ceiling. Couple this with the use of upscale materials on walls and floors – limestone flags throughout – and you have a store that may be offering low-price fashion, but which has a good stab at giving its luxury neighbours a run for their money.
The midshop catwalks are also noteworthy, if only for the amount of space that they are given in a location where retail space is the most expensive in Europe.
Citroën’s exercise in brand building
It’s not usually the policy of this magazine to write about cars or the manner in which they are promoted. The multi-floor Citroën experience shows what is possible for retailers, however, by combining digital displays and a deal of imagination.
As well enabling shoppers to become the star of a French presidential cavalcade, as already detailed, there are numerous touchscreens and video displays across each level and visitors are actually encouraged to take photos og the interior.
This is about brand-building, as well as providing an experience, and there are a number of retailers that might do well to look at what is being done here and consider whether allowing shoppers to take snaps in their stores might actually be a good idea.
The cars really are the stars of this interior, but the way in which visitors interact with them is also a major part of the appeal. This is a digital experience, rather than just a few screens with moving images.
Marks & Spencer, Champs-Élysées
Marks and Spencer pushes its social network presence in its windows and shoppers can order products at the ‘boutique virtuelle’
Open since last year, Marks & Spencer’s re-entry into the French market has been made through this pint-sized department store. It may trade from three floors, but each of them has a very modest footplate. The range has also been edited, so if you’re male and in search of Le Style Anglais, don’t get your hopes up too high.
Having said that, while there are options aplenty for the female clothes shopper, men needn’t feel too short-changed, thanks to the ‘boutique virtuelle’ on the ground and first floors. This enables those who wish to do so to trawl the ranges and order items that are not on show in the store.
Nothing too remarkable about this perhaps, but the difference between this branch and the one on London’s Edgware Road is that shoppers are using the outsize iPhone-like terminals to check what might be available if they were in search of, say, meanswear. In London, following several visits by Retail Week, the digital lounge has proved somewhat short of shoppers – perhaps suggesting that the boutique virtuelle is about shopping for what’s not in store.
When M&S was last a trading entity in the city, one of the prime delicacies that was snapped up by Parisian shoppers was the white sliced loaf. This time round, it’s plats préparés (ready meals to you and me) and the checkout queues are as long as those in London. If there was a criticism, it would be that there should be more checkouts, but given the store’s diminutive nature, this might be a wish too far.
Guérlain’s visual merchandising has a little black dress theme
Of course, there are those who choose to eschew the siren call of digital, opting instead for good old-fashioned visual merchandising. Luxury scent brand Guérlain is among them and its pop-up shop (it’s been up and running for more than a year now), next door to the brand’s grande dame flagship, shows what can be achieved without recourse to the digital screen.
Taking as its theme ‘the little black dress’, scent bottles are displayed along the perimeter and on a narrow, mid-shop table. The latter has a line of funnels along its length, meaning a small piece of cloth you have impregnated with one of the smells can be used it to waft the scent up your nostrils without losing any of the precious high or low notes (or something like that). And everywhere you look, there are graphics formed of black ribbon that depict a figure wearing that black dress. At the back of the shop, a little black dress is even put to work as a lightshade.
This temporary store is, apparently, very successful, and does provide a fresh take on the somewhat formulaic business of selling fragrances.
Merci, Boulevard Beaumarchais
No tour of Parisian retail these days would be complete without a visit to Merci, purveyor of boho chic fashion and homewares and favoured by almost every style commentator you could shake a stick at. And, at the moment, it has gone for a totally minimalist theme for its interior involving an installation composed of simple hangers.
These are used at the entrance to the shop to create a kind of sculpture composed of white vests. Then, as you turn to look at the rest of the interior, you become aware that many of the walls have hanger collages on them.
This is about as far as you could get from any kind of digital input and does serve to illustrate that while digital may have gone mainstream, as far as display is concerned there is still much that can be done by a strong creative team using basic materials.