Look at your emails, your Instagram and every website you visit. It’s no secret that data dictates the way modern marketers engage consumers online. But as retailers open more stores—whether they’re entering the physical world, expanding into a new market or just expanding in general—data also plays a huge role in decisions there. See how Birchbox, Roots and T-Mobile have done it.
Every brand’s customers are unique. While Birchbox considers beauty giants like Sephora and Ulta to be its biggest competitors, its target demographic tends to look at products differently: function over fashion.
On paper, the Beautycon Festival seems like a good place for Birchbox to engage with its customers. However, sponsoring that event wasn’t a success for the brand. Like the beauty landscape in general, Beautycon is focused more on the “beauty-obsessed,” as Amanda Tolleson, Chief Customer Officer at Birchbox, puts it. Case in point: Beautycon’s tagline is, “You don’t need lipstick, lipstick needs you.”
“Those customers want to spend five hours in the store,” says Tolleson. “Our customers find beauty products useful and purposeful, but they’re not passionate about them.”
That attitude shapes the layout of Birchbox stores, the first of which opened in New York City two years ago. While a Sephora shopper may be more knowledgeable about individual brands, the Birchbox customer’s searches tend to be a bit simpler. As a result, their stores are organized by category, which is unusual in the space.
“If you’re shopping online, you’re looking in the mascara section,” says Tolleson. “We designed the store less about finding the brand for you and more about finding the product for you.”
Headquartered in Toronto, Roots is a household name in Canada, especially for its signature striped wool socks. Americans are less knowledgeable about the brand. As Roots expands into the U.S., the retailer is focused on where its top online customers live, regardless of the population.
The Miami metropolitan area will soon house the nation’s largest mall, in addition to 5.5 million people. But thick socks aren’t a necessity in South Florida, unlike Boston, which is home to a million fewer potential customers.
“We didn’t just enter any city; we looked at where people know who we are,” says Almira Cuzion, Vice President of Retail Operations at Roots. “And we wanted to give those customers a brand new experience. Out of our 2,000 square feet, we only have a very small section selling product. The rest of it is telling the customer who we are as a brand.”
No matter where Roots customers are from, they know the brand for its log cabin aesthetic. That’s why the Boston store has a room fashioned to look exactly like one of Roots’ famous salt and pepper sweats.
“It isn’t just about storytelling verbally and what we say to the press,” says Cuzion. “It’s actually about customers walking through the store and experiencing the luxuriousness of what we sell and what we’re about.”
T-Mobile already has countless physical stores in the U.S. Eight of them are in my neighborhood in Queens alone.
Still, when T-Mobile opens new stores and merchandises existing ones, digital data heavily factors into the company’s decisions. And the company is opening those new stores rapidly. Last year, T-Mobile opened 1,465 stores in 638 new cities. One of those is a flagship in San Francisco, which replaced an Apple Store earlier this year. There, T-Mobile partnered with Nest to “bring products to life.”
“There are lots of semiotic code coming to life here, where we look at the science of meaning and what elements we can bring to help customers live in their home,” says Kyrsten Laboda, T-Mobile’s Director of Retail Design and Merchandising. “Just like at home, we have a lounge-type setting with a demo on a tablet, where you can pick the audio equipment and music you want to listen to.”
The brand understands that the store experience needs to be special, especially given how easy it is to buy T-Mobile products online. It’s even easier to learn about those products online. The brand understands that and sets up stores accordingly.
“We don’t have to share as much product information as we did in the past because people, for the most part, know what brand and device they’re interested in,” says Laboda. “Just like the grocery store puts milk in the back of the store, we find devices are sought after. This enables us to give them a more premium location.”
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