Travel diary: 5 cool stores in Asia

We talk a lot about the purpose of stores in the industry. The words “experience”, “convenience”, “friction”, “speed” and “sustainability” are all part of the language of our lives.

“Experience” is the buzzword that just keeps on buzzing and used with wild abandon to describe just about anything at all. But what does it really mean when it comes to retail right now?

Well I’m going to show you. Here were some of my highlights from a recent trip to Shanghai and Tokyo.

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1. Samsung Galaxy Flagship, Tokyo

This Samsung Galaxy flagship takes you into another world. The store is made up of 1000 Galaxy smartphones on a series of rotating shelves, catching and throwing the light, and this impressive facade is only the beginning. As soon as you step into this store, what first strikes you is the atmosphere, which feels like a glimmering portal into the future, helped by the conscious design of light and shade. The black colour palette on each level of the store guides your vision intentionally “into the light” of each display.

As you wander through the seven levels, you travel through the past, present and future of Samsung Galaxy. A science museum of sorts greets you on level two, where you discover phones deconstructed in artful ways with technology at the focus in both product and presentation in the displays. The walls are lined with digital screens and content that again focuses your eye on each storytelling moment.

Digital is everything in this store. There isn’t one display that doesn’t utilise some form of digital technology but, surprisingly, it isn’t overdone. There is a lot going on, but the design of the store guides you effortlessly from one display to the next. Be prepared to engage with this store because it’s made for play. There are so many activities and interactive moments in this store – and it’s how they convert you into a Samsung fanatic.

A picture is worth a thousand words. This store is an Instagrammer’s dream, so that speaks for 99.9 per cent of the population. Super-friendly hosts guide you into multiple different experiences that all involve taking selfies.

When you step into the first room, you enter your own Instagram handle. It’s pitch black until suddenly the entire room lights up, immersing you in a digital world of your own Instagram posts, plastering the screens from floor to ceiling with music and movement. And in a particularly meta moment, you can post a photo of yourself among your Instagram posts.

On level five you are invited to get a little interactive in a room that has been set up with theatre-style seating. But this isn’t just any seat. Once you strap yourself in place and put on the goggles (Samsung, of course), you are launched into a four-dimensional and intensely realistic movie experience, kayaking off waterfalls and finding yourself ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ with zero self-control.

There is no question that customers will walk away from this store impressed and with memories to share on social media and beyond.

2.  Hi-Panda, Tokyo

If you’ve been to Tokyo, you’ll know that cute animals and mythical-looking cartoon characters are a big deal here. Hi-Panda represents an entire brand derived from a cute yet grumpy-looking panda anime, but boy, does this panda know how to put on a show.

It all began with an iPad, handed to us at the entrance of the store. This iPad opens up another dimension in which you can experience the brand. As you walk into the space looking through the screen and around you, Hi-Panda is flipping, swirling and bouncing along the store, entertaining and interacting with the environment and even the product. Next level.

The interior of the store is stripped back. It’s minimal and almost like a museum in the way that it presents the clothing and merchandise, with effortless touches of movement and again, superb use of light. If it’s possible, this store is both subtle and brazen at the same time.

And once you think that you’ve seen it all, you reach the top level and it’s so bright you think perhaps you’ve entered panda heaven. With a welcoming host on each level, we were invited to get our cameras ready, as the glass tank with a giant Hi-Panda inside began to fill with smoke.

But the experience doesn’t have to end with the store. If you take home a Hi-Panda T-shirt or any other product, you can continue to experience the animated panda from the app on your phone. One of the most seamless and interesting offline-to-online integrations I’ve witnessed so far.

3.  Innisfree, Tokyo

Breathe in the calm and breathe out the stress. These stores are awash with a feeling of freshness, bright and softly lit with beautiful touches of lime oak and well-placed greenery. You can’t help but linger.

The Innisfree stores are full of subtle customer moments that create convenience and ease of store navigation for the shopper. Each product has a thoughtfully created display that deconstructs the ingredients, presenting the natural elements that bring these simple beauty products together. But among these visual moments, digital and interactive experience certainly has a presence, particularly in the Hangzhou store, where customers are invited to engage with the Innisfree brand through education, games, and personalised offerings.

One of the digital moments was the smart skin analyser, bringing a “spa treatment” quality into the store experience. Analysing the skin, the smart device generates an instant report of your skin condition, recommends the best Innisfree products and with a simple scan of a QR code, it allows the customer to keep the report handy in their Taobao account.

These stores are bustling with people of all ages filling their baskets, and why not? With $2 face masks, their pricepoints are undoubtedly setting Innisfree apart from competitors such as Aesop, Sephora and Mecca. And even with very attractive product prices, this brand hasn’t scrimped on the nice-to-haves that mean a lot to customers.

It seems that many brands have stepped it up in their gift-with-purchase pursuit, and Innisfree has dedicated an entire wall to it in their Tokyo store in Shibuya. Customers walk away with a feeling of satisfaction that they not only got what they paid for, but also a little bonus or two in the basket.

Innisfree perfectly aligns with today’s customer who aspires to consume with care and naturally. Even the Christmas campaign was suitably named “Happy Green Christmas”. This brand is fast becoming recognised for its creativity and conscious recognition of how customers wish to shop both on- and offline, and where possible, marrying the two to create the ultimate beauty shopping experience.

4.  Nike House of Innovation, Shanghai

Earlier this year, I visited the NYC House of Innovation, where I gushed at every inch of the supercharged store. But then, there was Shanghai.

Take a Nike shoe and simply add water. As soon as you wander into this space, you are met with shoes in glass boxes, which invite the customer to make it rain, splash a puddle, or light it up. Each mini-experience was as thrilling as the last and just about every customer that we saw took part in the activity.

It did make me wonder if those people are buying into the features of the shoe or the novelty of the display. I guess it doesn’t really matter if they are indeed buying.

It’s no secret that gaming is a rapidly growing space, so I expected to see more of it integrated into stores. Of course, Nike presented not just any in-store game, but a supersized interactive experience that shows up on a screen travelling from floor to ceiling, all the way up to level four. The Nike worshippers are invited to play this game of speed and agility, consequently increasing their time in-store.

Customers are welcomed to either slow down and enjoy the experience, or speed through it with convenient pick-up and purchase. The option here is key. Some of us want to get in-store, buy the tights we want to wear to run club in the morning and bounce out with our fancy House of Innovation bag. But there are others that like to take their time and need to be further encouraged to explore, sit and take in the experience at their leisure.

5.  Aldi, Shanghai

We all know and love Aldi – its German logo heart, special buys and clever marketing campaigns. Now take that Aldi and imagine it in the bustling centre of Shanghai.

Bringing urban convenience to the locals of this residential community, Aldi in Jing’an, Shanghai, is a welcome change of scene among the traditional no-thrills supermarket and grocery landscape of China. They’re all servicing a consumer who desires fresh food fast and quality international options, as the spending power of China’s middle-class continues to climb.

At a glance, this Aldi store appears quite normal, but it is the subtleties and simplicities that make this a store for everything.

So it was no surprise to see at the entrance of this store, that customers were invited to scan and let Aldi know that they had arrived and were ready to shop. But the smarts of this store don’t stop there – they go beyond what the customer can see, presenting subtle nuances in an energetic fitout with lighting and music that changes throughout the day to suit the shoppers’ moods.

Once the bottle of French wine from the region of Burgundy has been scanned, you can pay through WeChat and leave without saying a word to anyone at all. There’s no conversation about a bag, a receipt or the weather – it’s like online shopping with instant gratification. And as our Chinese shopper is far more au fait with online shopping and convenience, this is a must-have.

We arrived at 4pm, and the warm glow and vibrant interior welcomed us in. At the front of the store, locals sat, drinking a barista coffee and waiting for their upmarket express meal to be prepared, while others handpicked their beautifully presented oranges and Australian fresh milk. The Australian store design team at Landini has created a place where people want to spend their time and linger.

This store brings the locals international products such as the German confectionary Knoppers, but in a very accessible and unpretentious way. The personality of Aldi is strong in this store, grounding it in its heritage, but the layer of technology gives this version of Aldi a futuristic sheen.

This aspirational urban store welcomes a community – and there appears to be something for everyone.

Jemma Caprioli is the chief customer officer at Dashing Group. She works with a multitude of retailers across several categories to produce customer-led retail experiences.

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