The new Heidi.com flagship store in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, embodies the first outing of the 'Retail of Tomorrow' total design and customer-communications programme
‘I shop, therefore I am.’
You don’t need a degree in cultural theory to work out what the provocative American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger was trying to say with her 1987 slogan-driven photographic montage of the same name. Whether or not your politics are in concert with those expressed in the work, it’s hard to deny the central role that consumption plays in developed, and indeed developing economies, the world over.
Shopping, be it in-store or online, is part of the means by which we cast ourselves as active participants in a consumer society. Perhaps more importantly, it is also a key index of the performance of a national economy, with the ability to affect that very performance. It’s only recently that we were all being encouraged to ‘spend our way’ out of global recession.
Neuchâtel in Switzerland may not be the first place you’d think of when it comes to major retail innovations, but the French-speaking town has recently become home to the first application of a new game-changing store concept called ‘Retail of Tomorrow’, which, as the name suggests, aims to shape the retail landscape of the future. Headed up by Samsung Chemical Europe, the state-of-the-art, total design and customer-communications system – unveiled at the new 250-square-metre Heidi.com flagship – operates as a collection of the talents, drawing on the leading-edge expertise of a number of big-name partners, chief among them Samsung Semiconductor, the multinational’s electronic-components subsidiary, and Pritzker Prize-winning architectural office Zaha Hadid Architects.
Acclaimed London practice Zaha Hadid Architects embraced the supreme formability of Samsung's pioneering solid-surface material Staron to create a strikingly graphic, modular store landsape
Its expansion accelerated in no small part by the economic straits of the last few years, which has seen many a long-established high-street brand either struggle to stay in business or, indeed, go to the wall, e-commerce has well and truly stolen a march on its analogue counterpart, with most agreeing that this is a trend set to continue. What’s more, the online world, reflecting the forward-thinking, connective nature of its very technology, has trumped the physical point of sale in terms of brand-building, creating legions of loyal fans and followers for whom identifying with a particular brand goes way beyond the act of making a purchase.
But reports of the death of the traditional bricks-and-mortar store have been greatly exaggerated. Depending on your perspective, we’re either at a fascinating or a troubling juncture, as we attempt to predict just what is to become of the physical retail space, given that we’ve now reached a point where most goods are cheaper to buy online. Some brands are already looking to the future of the offline store as an opportunity to reimagine its meaning, thinking beyond its historical function as a space for the mere display and provision of goods and services.
The concept behind the store design is of a reconfigurable 'stage set', rather than a 'still life', as Fabian Hecker from Zaha Hadid Architects puts it
Enter Heidi.com, the Swiss fashion company that specialises in producing ready-to-wear clothing and which – no prizes for guessing – has established itself as a successful online retailer. Performing a confident reversal of the path well-trodden by countless businesses from a physical presence on shopping streets and in malls to e-trading, the progressive Helvetian brand has proved just how myopic existing thinking is in terms of the supposed binary of physical point of sale on the one hand and e-commerce on the other by opening their first ‘real store’. As an online merchant, they’ve cleverly grasped the fact that operating a physical shop is no longer purely about sales, but rather a very effective marketing device, an additional platform for brand activity that provides devotees of the brand, its community, a space in which they can experience that brand in added-value ways, through such incentives as in-store personalised recommendations, live social-media connectivity and events. This is shopping as social and cultural encounter, as much as commercial transaction, and with little risk of cannibalising online sales. Indeed, in commercial terms overall it’s a case of 1 + 1 = 3. Research shows that customers who communicate with a company both on- and offline spend more than their counterparts who engage solely through one single channel.
Heidi.com flagship store opening on film – featuring interviews with Heidi.com CEO and Co-Founder Andreas Doering, and Fabian Hecker, Associate at Zaha Hadid Architects
Bringing their core competences to bear on the new Heidi.com flagship store, Samsung and the other ‘Retail of Tomorrow’ cooperation partners have delivered a tailor-made retail environment that sees the virtual integrated seamlessly into the physical. The latter is given substance through Samsung Chemical Europe’s pioneering solid-surface material Staron, a supremely mouldable yet robust, styrene-free composite, made from acrylic resin and aluminium hydroxide (a natural mineral, derived from bauxite).
Described by Fabian Hecker, Associate at long-term users of the ultra-smooth wonder stuff Zaha Hadid Architects, as ‘brilliantly formable in all kinds of shapes’, Staron is available in over 80 colours. The acclaimed, London-headquartered architectural practice specified pure white, however, for the Heidi.com project, creating an undulating shop-design system reminiscent of an Alpine panorama; with its family of modular, mobile elements, it works like a flexible stage set, rather than a fixed installation – or ‘nature morte’ as Hecker puts it. This versatile approach to shaping the store’s interior is a decidedly future-proofed one, permitting a variety of different spatial configurations that can respond to changing needs, both business and practical.
A key innovation within the ‘Retail of Tomorrow’ store environment: the stand-alone vertical display unit with interactive screen, designed to work either as an integral part of the storescape or as a standalone, complete shop-in-shop retail satellite
Moreover, the mobile, non-site-specific nature of the display and furniture components means they can be used to create, for example, pop-up spaces in other locations. And while the dynamic design language deployed in Heidi.com’s new Neuchâtel store dovetails with the fluid, parametric forms that have come to characterise Zaha Hadid’s large-scale architectural projects (‘We didn’t want to brand the thing,’ explains Hecker, ‘but to give them some tools to work with, to give them the essence of their brand’), there is the opportunity, naturally, for this kit of parts, thanks to Staron’s eminent formability, to embrace a myriad different look-and-feels.
It seems almost wrong to discuss the interactive customer-communications aspect of the ‘Retail of Tomorrow’ programme separately from the ‘hard’, physical stuff, such is the level of their synthesis. With Samsung Semiconductor bringing their digital-technology smarts to the table – in collaboration with Swiss company INOX Communications, who were responsible for planning the communication programme – visitors to the Heidi.com flagship are addressed before they even enter the store; an interactive shop window is followed up by a digital ‘welcome’ upon crossing the threshold. Once inside, a host of interactive displays, literally embedded into the Staron-cast landscape – such as magic mirrors in changing rooms (which allow you to share live images with your friends on social networks), interfaces offering personalised information and recommendations, and entertainment channels, all built using the latest touchpoint and close-field-communication technology – help to develop a detailed profile of the visiting shopper, offering them a bespoke customer journey.
Highly expressive furniture designs by Zaha Hadid Architects populate the Heidi.com flagship store space, their angles reminiscent of the Alps's glacial terrain
‘It’s about turning anonymous shoppers into known customers, who can be addressed according to their interests and preferences,’ explains Samsung Semiconductor’s Head of Marketing Communications Tom Arenz. ‘It’s a little bit like what you experience when you log into your Amazon account – a wealth of personalised recommendations based upon your purchase and search history, wishlists and other algorithms is presented to you.’
A further innovation within the ‘Retail of Tomorrow’ store environment is a striking, totem-like, vertical display unit with in-built 46-inch interactive screen. It’s been designed to work either as an integral part of the storescape or as a standalone, complete shop-in-shop retail satellite, providing custmomers with access to the full collection catalogue, rewards and special offers, social networking and infotainment, as well as ordering services.
Greater than the sum of its parts: the 'Retail of Tomorrow' consortium of partners deliver respective leading-edge expertise from each of their fields to create a complete retail solution for forward-thinking brands
But such digital wizardry is more than just a fancy sales tool. If venturing into the offline world as an online retailer is as much about brand-building as it is about selling stuff, then what better way to create brand loyalty among your customers than by showing you understand their likes and dislikes in an impressively detailed way. After all, we all want to feel loved.
And there’s a lot of love going on between the partners of ‘Retail of Tomorrow’ consortium, too. Each an expert in their own field, their commitment to working in a truly collaborative way (Arenz talks of the ‘amazing team spirit’) provides the foundation for its success. ‘What’s conceptually interesting for us and for the other partners,’ says Fabian Hecker of Zaha Hadid Architects, ‘is to develop this platform of different expertise that can work not only for Heidi.com, but for other configurations for other similar projects.’
With such a strong stable of specialists committed to offering future-facing brands the opportunity to increase their market performance via a 360% suite of services, the future of retail is, it’s fair to say, already here today.
Fabian Hecker of Zaha Hadid Architects describes the 'Retail of Tomorrow' programme as a 'platform of different expertise that can work not only for Heidi.com, but for other configurations for other similar projects'
The 'Retail of Tomorrow' team
Samsung Chemical Europe GmbH, a subsidiary of the Samsung Group in Schwalbach/Ts., Germany, is responsible for the marketing and sales of STARON® Solid Surfaces and Radianz® Quartz Surfaces in over 30 European countries, and primary coordinator of the project. Thanks to the mellow nature of the surface and good pliability, STARON® Solid Surfaces prove the best choice for the flexible interior design of the Heidi.com flagship store. www.staron.com
Samsung Semiconductor, a subsidiary of the Samsung Group based in Eschborn near Frankfurt am Main, Germany, produces various components for customer-oriented system designs: Display panels for professional use, LEDs for innovative lighting solutions, storage and processor solutions for high-performance media players and NFC chips for contact-free data transfer in the interactive in- store experience. www.samsungsemi.eu
Zaha Hadid, founder of Zaha Hadid Architects, was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize (considered the Nobel Prize of architecture) in 2004 and is internationally known for her building, theoretical and academic work. Just as in the case of the interior design for Heidi.com, each of her innovative and striking projects builds on over thirty years of exploration and research in the fields of urbanism, architecture and design. www.zaha-hadid.com
The Austrian carpentry firm Tischlerei Scheschy GmbH was founded in 1955 and is specialised in interior solutions for all kinds of commercial construction. It is one of the leading companies in its segment on the Austrian market. In building the designs of Zaha Hadid, Scheschy used STARON® Solid Surfaces. www.scheschy.at
INOX Communication SA, a creative agency based in Neuchâtel and Lausanne, Switzerland, has forged a reputation for excellence in advertising, branding and digital solutions. With its communication concept, INOX is bringing the label Heidi.com closer to the customers. www.inox.com
EG Electronics with headquarters in Sweden offers digital signage solutions for diverse branches of industry. The Samsung Semiconductor distributor supplies the panels with touch and design expertise for the Heidi.com flagship store. www.egelectronics.com
Heidi.com is a Swiss fashion brand which was established in 2004 in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel. Up to now, the fresh and high-quality fashion items have been sold primarily on the Internet. www.heidi.com
The Canton and the City of Neuchâtel in the Swiss region of Romandie supported Heidi.com in establishing the brand there, among other things by providing the site for the first flagship store and assisting with the conversion. The region is considered the cradle of renowned Swiss watches and other luxury brands. www.neuchateleconomie.ch