Footwear is taking centre stage across the world’s top retail precincts, with curated offers at its heart.
By Gary McCartney*
It’s a widely accepted fact in retail that it’s not what you sell, it’s how you sell it. For many customers, shoe shopping can transcend the functional and head off into the zone of the emotional, philosophical, and sometimes just plain irrational.
Coco Chanel said, “a woman with good shoes is never ugly”, Marilyn Monroe maintained, “if you give a girl the right shoes she could conquer the world”, while Christian Louboutin claimed, “shoes transform your body language and attitude. They lift you physically and emotionally”.
I’ve just returned from a mini world tour that included Rome, Dubai, and Singapore. The most interesting retail experience in each city included shoes.
Dubai does footwear
Dubai Mall delivers almost 10,000sqm of shoe heaven in the Level Shoe District. Created and curated by Middle Eastern luxury retailer, Chalhoub Group, it showcases designer brands, limited editions, and interactive experiences.
Even given the scale of Dubai Mall, it’s a destination in itself, and has the air of somewhere you’d happily spend the day if you were so inclined, sustained by refreshments from the centrally placed Vogue Café.
Visually it’s an exhilarating mix of free form sculpture, avant-garde fixtures, and classic stores within stores. The layout is almost village-like, with something new around each corner.
The strategy follows Chalhoub’s research into consumer trends among affluent Gulf nationals, namely the ‘quest for indulgence’, ‘need for recognition’, and ‘longing for bonds’.
This customer is a high spender, wants to have the latest, and seeks out known and trusted brands. They are also looking for a service driven customer
experience, hence The Sole Lounge, for pedicure and foot treatments, and The Cobbler, for repairs and bespoke shoes.
One essential part of the mix is providing rest space for customers. The Vogue Café has refreshments, but there is also the right amount of lounge space among the boutiques to allow shoppers, and importantly, their partners, to take the weight off their Manolo Blahniks and recover
for a while before continuing the quest.
When in Rome
In Rome, Louis Vuitton has taken retail therapy recovery to a new level. On the second floor of its three level flagship on Via dei Condotti, it has installed a mini cinema and bookstore, encompassing all things Italian.
While your partner tries on every pair of shoes in the store, you can browse coffee table books of vintage Sophia Loren photos while viewing a compilation of Italian classic film clips.
Conventional retail wisdom would condemn this as non-productive space. But what it does, is occupy non-productive customers and take the pressure off their happy, active shopping partners.
The other thing it does is localise the offer. You can buy Louis Vuitton anywhere in the world, and normally one luxury brand store looks pretty much the same as another, however, this delivers a uniquely Roman experience.
It’s an important concept in an era where international brands dominate every shopping centre in the world and homogeneity is a continuing danger.
In contrast to the classic prestige brand experience, Asian shoe merchant, On Pedder, creates visually progressive and innovative environments.
Pedder on Scotts in Singapore has taken more than 2000sqm of Level 2 in Scotts Square with what, at first glance, appears to be a collection of designer shoe stores, including formal, casual and kids concepts, as well as pop ups and spaces dedicated to art and food.
Separating categories into distinct shops allows Pedder to develop a sense of specialty and accentuate each category. The intention with the pop ups is to continually showcase new labels and collaborations and keep the overall offer fresh.
In particular, the athletic category has been highlighted in response to a global trend for athleisure apparel and a general Asian desire for well known brands and limited editions.
It’s worth mentioning that in conjunction with On Pedder, the neighbouring café, Coffee Academics, is listed as one of the world’s best cafés.
Here, the art of coffee is taken to ridiculous heights. My Blue Mountain Wallenford Estate blend was prepared using the Aeropress method by a young man who took the term ‘hipster’ to a new level. It was a perfect match for the retail.
Both On Pedder and Level Shoe District have created something new and unique by curating large collections that would otherwise be fragmented and scattered throughout shopping centres.
Luxury shoes would not normally share space with athletic shoes, but these curators have recognised that shoe buyers do not make such distinctions and purchase shoes from both ends of the spectrum. By putting it all together into a well edited and curated collection, and most importantly, adapting to a local customer base and adding the right level of service, these retailers have created something that is more than the sum of its parts.
This article first appeared in the February issue of ARA’s The Retailer magazine.