15 new store formats in London worth a visit


Strong retail leaders focus on the customer proposition, specifically on innovation. To fuel innovation new ideas and perspectives are vital. That's often the reason behind (foreign) retail safaris: to understand what works well or not, see some hits and forecast misses. On a July 2019 visit to London I saw some new and interesting retail formats, worth a visit.

1 Microsoft Flagship Store


Microsoft store, 253-259 Regent Street. Microsoft has already 80 stores worldwide, but nothing beats this great new London store. CEO Satya Nadella reinvented Microsoft and this is his latest showcase on what the company has established recently. There are multiple floors displaying Razer, Asus, HP, and Surface merchandise. In impressive dark rooms you'll see lots of young people gaming. There are help desks, a LinkedIn classroom and even a campus floor for events. Microsoft's mix of solutions and brands is very divers which adds to the total experience. We were in just a week after opening, so it was very crowded, but enough friendly staff was readily available. In a corner on the ground floor a McLaren Senna is displayed, connected to Forza Motorsport. Obviously you can take the drivers seat, but please line up. Move over Apple, your aesthetic temples really look dull, compared with this impressive store.

2 Peleton


Peleton, 110-112 King's Road. If you love indoor cycling and workouts but don't have the time to visit the studio or the gym, try Peloton. With a Peloton bike you can exercise at home. This new and hip New York fitness company is now venturing into the UK. The brand is by origin DtC only (direct to consumer), but to gain more traction Peleton landed in London with some pop ups (Westfield) and physical stores. A peloton bike is not just a normal spinning bike: the $2,250 bike is fitted with a 22inch HD screen which tracks your performance, with the instructor on screen (beautiful people, live from New York) motivating you to push limits. Obviously you'll need the $39 per month unlimited class subscription (live and archived streams) to get the most of it. Barack Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio are users, so you're in good company. https://www.onepeloton.com

3 Away


Away, 9 Earlham Street. "First class luggage at a coach price", that's what Away is. The new York company was started by ex Warby Parker people in 2016 as a DtC platform. As many other platforms Away needed a retail space to gain awareness and to create an offline experience. I really liked the design of the suitcases, they are way better priced than other luggage brands (like Tumi and Rimowa), starting around $200. The store creates the exciting mentality of travel better than any other travel of luggage brands I know. Away adds smart accessories and thoughtful features like a waterproof laundry bag for your wet bathing suit. In case you had a dip in the pool just to for take off. This new London 280M2 store has a minimalistic design and is located in the Seven Dials, close to another DtC brand store: Dutch bikes by VanMoofhttps://www.awaytravel.com/eu/en/

4 Allbirds


Allbirds, 123 Long Acre. Many Silicon Valley geeks are walking on a pair of Allbirds trainers, it's the brand of the local scene. This young San Francisco based company set out to develop the most perfect shoe on the planet. Not by designing and adding new features, making a more complex product, but by deleting complexity. Co-founder Tim Brown: "The assumption is that innovation is about adding stuff, but sometimes it can be about taking something away and in the case of footwear it was very clear there was a problem with simple". Allbirds shoes are very comfortable, produced with sustainable materials like merino wool and tree fibre. The shoes are mostly sold direct, not via stores nor on wholesale. By creating this offline retail experience in Covent Garden Allbirds is tapping into the trend that trainers are becoming a integral part of the work uniform. https://www.allbirds.eu

5 Petersham Nurseries


Petersham Nurseries 31 King Street. "A place of beauty, an emporium of goods, a celebration of the seasons." Petersham Nurseries is a blurring experience, a green space and teahouse. It's certainly not digital, minimalistic nor DtC. It's actually a blurred shop with really expensive houseware, you can buy beautiful flowers and plants and it is a restaurant with a separate cocktail bar La Goccia. All in the same "nature" look and feel. In busy Covent Garden area Petersham Nurseries is an oasis of tranquility. https://petershamnurseries.com

6 Urban Revivo


Urban Revivo, Westfield London. So we learn and read about all the EU and US fashion brands heading out to China. But Urban Revivo (UR) is doing it the other way around. This Chinese fast fashion brand ("the Chinese Zara"), with well over 200 stores in China, has landed in Westfield with a huge new flagship store. It's good to see a new fashion brand coming over, all the way from CN. The style mix is somewhere between Spanish Mango and Japanese Yamamoto, prices are Zara level, as is the rotation of adding new articles. To differentiate from the many other fashion brands already in Westfield UR has chosen specifically for store design (and audio) as an integral part of the brand experience. The brand might be very appealing to UK consumers (too early to say), but as yearly over 120 million Chinese tourists venture all over the world this could easily be a prime destination as well. http://www.urbanrevivo.sg/#

7 Mi Store

Mi Store, Westfield London. Chinese telephone company Xiaomi started Mi stores to differentiate from other strong Chinese telephone brands like Oppo and Vivo. With Mi stores they looked carefully at Apple stores and Apple product design, but they changed one important element: assortment. Mi stores range a far wider variety of small domestic appliances and electronics than Apple. They even venture into beauty and homeware, though not all CN items are available in this UK store. Prices are less than half of what you would expect. With this Westfield store Xiaomi is underpinning its UK presence, the EU network steadily expanding with a new Paris store recently opened. https://www.mi.com/uk/index.html

8 Brompton

Brompton, Westfield London. British iconic folding bikes brand Brompton recently opened a flagship store in Westfield. Brompton has really beautiful, though expensive, folding bikes, made for commuters in cities. The international retail network leans heavily on independent dealers and owned flagship stores like this one. In the UK Brompton recently started a cooperation with Halfords, which created some headlines amongst die hard fans. This Westfield store stresses the importance of the new e-bikes, starting at $3,100. But the most important element of the store is the workshop, centerstage, which feels a bit off key in this huge Westfield mall.

9 Gentle Monster


Gentle Monster, 28-29 Argyll Street. Gentle Monster, Korean eyewear, ranks easily as one of the most extraordinary retailers on the planet. Some people might know this brand already (less than 30 stores). Its store base is mainly in Asia, with some in the US, as designs and frames are better suited for Asian customers. Gentle Monster stores are actually a combined retail operation and a curated (themed) art gallery in one. Some call this experiential retail. Even if you do not fancy one of the huge frames you could stroll and watch the "exhibits". There is no admission fee. https://www.gentlemonster.com

10 Lush


Lush, 175-179 Oxford Street. "Fresh Made Cosmetics". Lush has been around for many years now. Some years ago I had the impression that the newness and exciting elements of this brand had a bit gone away. So that was my mindset, entering this four year old flagship store on Oxford Street. But no way, this store was super exciting, there were many customers, and a lot of entertainment and demonstrations were going on. The assortment was much more wide and divers than I thought. Yes, Lush's iconic bath and shower bombs are still there, but the array in make up and fragrances is vast. I've never seen a store with so many happy customers.

11 Boots


Boots, 107 Long Acre. Boots, beauty and drugstore, is one of UK biggest retailers and had a profit fall in 2018 of almost 20%. The main driver was fierce competition: online players gaining share as well as low priced formats. Boots failed to innovate its format and customer proposition. With the closing down of underperforming stores and refitting of 24 big beauty halls Boots is well underway of restoring customer confidence. "Our new Covent Garden store starts a journey of reinventing Boots for the future,” said Sebastian James, Boots' Managing Director. This brand new Covent Garden store is really great. Navigation is very clear, with many (new) beauty and wellness brands added. There is a pharmacy, and we've seen lots of well trained staff. This could be proof of Boots' reinvention. https://www.boots.com

12 Dover Street Market


Dover Street Market, 18 Haymarket. Dover Street Market: eclectic, expensive and chaotic. If you would need a place where a great number of high end fashion brands are displayed hop over to Dover Street market. Comme des Garcon founder Rei Kawakubo has chosen the iconic building on Haymarket as the place where a unique mix of autonomous brands and styles come together. The place is a bit presumptuous, but you will certainly see very peculiar fashion items.

13 The Shop at Bluebird


The shop at Bluebird, 29 Floral Street. "The idea is that a customer comes into Bluebird and sees something they haven’t seen before". The Bleubird was an iconic place back in the days on King's Road. It has now relocated to Covent Garden area, a bit less posh than Chelsea. The store displays well over 100 designer brands, in both fashion and luxury categories. This 1,500m2 luxury concept store is housed in a beautiful old carriage hall. https://theshopatbluebird.com

14 Sainsbury's Local SmartShop


Sainsbury's Local, 123 Holborn. Sainsbury's new pilot (just 3 months, probably ending October 2019) has no cashier and no tills. It's a very small store for City workers, right in front of Sainsbury's HQ. You will need to download the special app, link it to Nectar (Sainsbury's CRM program) and scan any item you'll buy. Before checking out with Google or Apple Pay, you will need to scan a QR to reassure you've actually paid. It all felt a bit complex, with lots of signing needed for explanation. Certainly not an intuitive and fluent customer journey. This might be the best customer journey Sainsbury's could offer now, it didn't beat Chinese smart and new retail solutions like Alibaba (with Hema Supermarket) is operating already in China.

15 IKEA Planning Studio


IKEA Planning Studio, 95 Tottenham Court Road. We all know that IKEA is aiming for the inner cities. There are multiple pilots going on world wide. This one on Tottenham Court Road was actually a bit of a bummer. The store showcases kitchen and bedroom solutions IKEA is offering. If you live in Central London the journey to a real big box IKEA is probably a long one, hence this solution "around the corner". The studio offers lots of kitchen and bedroom displays. There are booths in which you could actually sit together with an employee to design your ideal place. We really missed something we always do, when in IKEA: the opportunity buying some incredibly low priced items. We've grown up with the big box concept: after zigzagging through all those displayed rooms you'll crave for the shop downstairs. But it's a showroom, no Swedish meatballs in this Studio.

Rene Repko