Where Art & Retail Meet

I visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art this Saturday for probably the 10th time, but for the first time I was truly amazed by the merchandising and selection in the Mia store/gift shop. This inspired me to think deeper into the intersection of art and retail and the psychology behind consuming art or “artsy” products.

Gift shops and stores within art museums are usually strategically placed right by the entrance and exit so that you have to pass them when you walk both in and out of the museum, which makes complete sense. And after looking at art that costs more than your life’s worth (probably) for a few hours, if you’re someone who is often inclined to buy souvenir-type items as a memory of a place, you’re likely to go into an art museum’s store to pick something small up.

This is where you’ll first come across the typical merchandise in an art museum store such as prints, posters, magnets, mugs, notebooks, stickers, pins, scarves, etc. that have the museum’s most notable artworks on them. I can’t afford to buy Starry Night, however, I can afford to buy a Starry Night poster to hang on my wall and a Starry Night mug to drink my coffee out of every morning.

What inspired me about the Mia store was the narrow yet incredibly expansive assortment of products from brands that I’ve often only seen on Instagram. The Mia art store has your typical products-postcards of the works within the museum, a table full of Mia-branded goods such as notebooks, shirts, caps, pens, etc., books covering a variety of art-related topics, and some high-end jewelry that ties into the different exhibits, but it was also filled with quirky, trendy, design-oriented and Instagram-famous products that were carefully placed into their respective places.

By quirky and trendy I mean Baggu bags, miniature things like puzzles, fun food-oriented items, cosmic astrology dust, and affordable and more modern acetate jewelry. Instagram-famous brands would be Baggu and Machete, and design-oriented items would be the HAY monochrome toothbrushes and the Poketo clear acrylic rulers, and protractors.

It was almost as if the store was merchandised specifically for me, and I would have never expected the Mia store to carry any of these products, so props to the merchandising team there. One example of this that I have is the small collection of Woll Jewelry at the Mia store, which is a jewelry brand I found on Instagram based out of California. I have not yet found a store that carries this brand of jewelry but have always really wanted to touch it prior to making a purchase because the jewelry is made out of an unconventional material. With it being in the Mia store, I got to touch it and feel it and interact with it in a way that I couldn’t otherwise do, which benefits both Woll and the Mia store.

Where I’m going with all of this is that there is so much more potential within an art museum store for products beyond the specifically-themed artwork gifts. With the more famous art museums such as the Met, it makes sense for the majority of the products to have prints of the Van Gogh’s, O’Keefe’s, and Monet’s, but there is still room to bring in products from small art and design shops or those jewelry makers you see on Instagram that make jewelry unlike the traditional kind found at art museums.

The Mia art store is a perfect example of an art store that capitalizes on not only the art that hangs within the museum and the educational resources such as books but also the lifestyles of people beyond the average art-goer who have money ready to spend on fun and quirky products that maybe don’t have anything to do with the art museum.

Is the airport the new mall?

I got an email this morning from Coresight research that had an intriguing headline; “Global Tourism: Improved Infrastructure and Enhanced Shopping Experiences Are Driving Airport Retail Sales.”

I couldn’t actually read the report because of not wanting to pay for a membership, but it got me thinking about my recent travels and helped me compile all of the retail-related travel behaviors I noticed while traveling last month.

First, I want to talk about my experiences with airport retail. I have been traveling alone since I was 10, and every time that I went to the airport, I bought the same things each time. I started with a bag of Haribo gummy bears and whatever brand of water was available at room-temperature at Hudson News. Once I hit 14, I added in some form of coffee, preferably from Dunkin if I could easily find one. Somewhere between 18 and 19 I started to buy business-related books, too, from whatever kinds of bookstores I could easily find. Last year was the first time that I got to try a vending machine with Benefit Cosmetics in it, and I only purchased a sample primer because I thought it was really cool to get makeup out of a vending machine.

I have the same purchasing routine almost every time that I travel (excluding when I have to lug my dog all over an airport), but flying internationally for the first time this year opened my eyes to airport retail because I actually paid attention to my surroundings. Here are some important points made with my commentary attached:

Between the brief details provided by the free page of the report and some of the notable mentions in this Retail Dive article, here are four of the most important factors of the boom of the airport retail industry:

  1. Airports have a price advantage and offer ample opportunities for convenience (Coresight). Of course they do! I’m obviously going to spend $4 on my room-temp water because there’s nowhere in an airport to get it cheaper. I’ll pay a ridiculous amount for a soy latte because I’m not going to get any better deals. I’ll even pay some amount for a primer that comes out of a vending machine just because it’s cool and I don’t know what else to do, and there are tons of other people who behave like this. If I feel like I’m carrying too much I can go and buy myself a bigger bag and if I’m bored out of my mind there are tons of places to buy myself a new book. When people travel, they like to do what’s easy, are willing to compromise on food prices, and probably feel like they deserve to treat themselves, which is part of the reason why stores in airports are usually so successful. Travelers tend to forget really important things, too, which definitely doesn’t hurt any retailer.
  2. Airport retailers have invested in engaging shopping experiences (Coresight). About a month ago I went through the Frankfurt airport, and was amazed with the visuals that I saw in almost every store. From luxury to The Body Shop, it was so hard to not just go into the stores and take pictures because of how amazing they all looked (Step it up, LGA). Below are two pictures that I took of the Hermes store that invoked a pretty deep emotional response from someone who pays attention to visuals with intense detail yet has no connection to the Hermes brand nor can even dream of being able to afford something from Hermes. Retailers of all sorts are capitalizing on the consumer desire for an engaging shopping experience, and it’s relatively easy to grab the attention of a wandering airport dweller trying to kill time.
Hermes, Frankfurt International Airport
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3. People traveling usually have disposable income (Retail Dive). While this is not always true, it’s true a lot of the time. Your standard airport dweller usually does have the budget to indulge in an airport, and if they have a lot of time on their hands, they will probably be pretty easy to convince to make a purchase. For people who are constantly travelling, the airport can become what a mall is to someone who doesn’t fly often- a place where you can get almost everything you need.

4. The rise of budget airlines (Coresight). I was exposed to the world of budget airlines in Europe last month, traveling in and out of the Bergamo Airport in Milan (basically an airport for Ryanair and other small, budget European airlines). When you get through security at Bergamo, you only have one option of where to walk, and it is down a long and winding hallway of stores of all kinds. The hallways eventually spits you out in an upscale food court with the few gates behind. I walked slower than I ever have down this hall, admiring all of the different shops and thinking about how this airport was very strategically designed to get people to shop it. The majority of people in the airport were only travelling with small bags due to probably only leaving their countries for a day or two, which made it easy for purchasing small goods. From local food and wine to luxury stores to toy stores and more, I had a blast dipping in and out of stores to kill the time. My favorite was a wine and pasta shop that sold Italian wines and bags of pasta that definitely catered to the tourists going through the airport. It took some major self-restraint to not buy a bunch of bags of pasta and multiple single-serve bottles of Prosecco.

Most of what I noticed in terms of airport retail really stood out to me in Europe, but the Retail Dive article above brought up some really great points regarding the future of airport retail in the U.S., and they all revolve around none other than Amazon and its potential impact.

Imagine an AmazonGo store in an airport where you could get essentially any small item that you would need in addition to a plethora of premade meals and ready-to-go snacks that you could then purchase without actually taking your wallet out with the cashier-less checkout technology. Woah. This would eliminate my reason to go to Hudson News for sure, because yanking my wallet out of my backpack is one of my least favorite parts of traveling when I just need a bottle of water so I don’t pass out.

The potential impact that Amazon has on airport retail in the U.S. is almost overwhelming to think about, so we’ll have to see where it goes.

Staples’ New Retail Concept

featured image from Chain Store Age

In this morning’s email from Chain Store Age, one of the leading articles was First Look: Staples launching new retail concept in Boston by Marianne Wilson.

My first thought was, “Wow, I haven’t heard anything about Staples in years.” I’m sure that there are plenty of others in that boat, too, and I was even more surprised that the headline had to do with innovation at Staples.

Once upon a time, when I used to go back to school shopping with my mom, for the earliest years I remember heading to Staples to get all of my supplies. I loved picking out new folders and notebooks, pens and paperclips, rulers and calculators, etc., and looked forward to it every year.

As I got older, we started to go to Target for back to school shopping instead, and only visited Staples to get the more obscure items that we couldn’t find at Target. The most recent time that I went to STaples was when my mom brought me there when I was 13 or 14 because I got an ugly virus on my Mac and none of us had a clue how to get it off and there were no such thing as Apple stores nearby.

Now, in my 20s and at the end of my education road for at least a couple years, I find myself buying any office supplies I need off of Amazon and heading to Target if for whatever reason I actually need a notebook. I had to think hard about why I would ever need to go to Staples, and I think that many people might have to ask themselves that question, too.

After reading this article, though, I’m really excited for the future of Staples and I’m incredibly optimistic about these new store formats. I believe that evolving from a warehouse type of store with ugly carpets and beat-up walls to a space where people can work, accomplish those life tasks that no one really knows how to do (get TSA precheck, print something when you don’t have a printer or print something larger than what the household printer can do, find a decent place to hold a meeting, record a podcast, find professional legal and tax help, etc.), and buy anything that you might need for any kind of office space is what Staples needs to become relevant in the life of the average American again.

Here is a quote from Mike Motz, CEO of Staples US Retail (pulled from the CSA article)-

“We recognize that the way people shop is changing, and with the launch of Staples Connect we are adapting to fit the needs of our customers. Our customers are teachers, students of all ages, small business owners and side hustlers. Research shows that much of what they are seeking is real human interaction with members of their community and industry, which is key to productivity and growth. At Staples Connect, we do more than just supply your success through product offerings, we wholeheartedly support it.”

Adapting to the needs of the Staples customer will be what shapes the future of “office retail.” I love that Motz points out that the Staples customer is a teacher, a student of any age, anyone with a side-hustle, or just anyone who does some kind of work.

There’s something welcoming to me about the Staples Connect idea, and I think that coworking at a Staples could be less intimidating than a hip, start-up coworking place that we hear so much about, especially when there are plenty of work-related services offered that you often have to go elsewhere to find.

I also think about the span across the US that Staples has. While this concept is only being tested in a few Boston stores and will probably not make its way into the more rural areas of the US, I think it could easily cater to suburban working Americans. If I still lived where I grew up in New York and owned my own small business, I would essentially have no options for coworking, printing resources, legal/marketing services, or anything of the such other than my tiny local library or heading down into NYC. However, there is a Staples 25 minutes away (which is a tiny, tiny commute for the area) and I would 100% go work there if the space was inviting and there were all kinds of resources for me and my business, which is what makes this idea so powerful for me.

I’m hoping that this concept is a successful one that can revive the Staples brand for the average working American.

What does resale mean for the Nordstrom shopper?

Nordstrom has just launched See You Tomorrow, a curated resale shop located in the NYC Flagship store. Everything in the shop has been bought by consumers who have either returned the products or have resold them back to Nordstrom (Forbes). See You Tomorrow is also online at https://seeyoutomorrow.nordstrom.com/.

All of the products in this shop-in-a-shop have been carefully examined and refurbished, and according to some of the people who have visited, look just as well put together as everything else in this Nordstrom location, but with lower prices.

Shoppers can bring their clothing items to the flagship store to consign for a Nordstrom gift card, but it is not clear if the clothing brought in has to be from Nordstrom or from a brand that Nordstrom carries. In the future, Nordstrom hopes to be able take in items that are sent to them from customers, not just brought in (Glossy). Returned products usually get sent to Nordstrom Rack to be sold at a steeply discounted price (Glossy).

The shop is set to be in the flagship location for at least 6 months and will expand into other locations depending on future success (Mall of America, please?).

You may be thinking, “Another department store doing resale? Eh.” but in my opinion, this is different than ThredUp in Macy’s or any other department store. I’ve been in a Macy’s that has a ThredUp section, and I was pretty disappointed. The only exciting thing to me was that I could be buying something used rather than new, but the display of the products was disorganized and overwhelming, and the product selection was confusing to me. At Nordstrom, these are items of clothing that are from designer or even luxury brands that are being sold at significantly lower prices than usual, which makes them affordable to wider range of people and therefore expands Nordstrom’s consumer base. There are lots of shoppers who avoid shopping at Nordstrom due to higher prices that aspire to own designer goods, and this gives shoppers access to high-quality goods at a fraction of the price.

Resale tends to make fashion more affordable to the masses, which is why I think that this is an amazing strategy for Nordstrom. I, a middle-class college student, can visit the store or the website and buy products that are in great condition that I wouldn’t usually be able to, which gives me more incentive to shop at Nordstrom. These products are also unique because they probably aren’t available on a mainstream level anymore. I trust that Nordstrom has taken good care of these products and that they have authenticated them to the best of anyone’s ability.

A big problem that major players in the resale world have run into has been authentication issues (@TheRealReal) that have put a damper on the trust that consumers have for these retailers. I don’t know why I trust Nordstrom to be better at this, but I just do. Nordstrom has been creating magic in the retail world as of late and I trust that the people behind See You Tomorrow want their curations to be as authentic as possible. Nordstrom also has an advantage in that many brands that are hesitant to sell at department stores do actually trust Nordstrom and know that Nordstrom can offer them something more than the rest.

I also think that this is a great move for Nordstrom because of how big the resale market is. The consumer mindset has shifted in the last few years as to what to do with things that we no longer need. It used to be “just throw it away” and moved towards “How else can I use this?” but now the first thought that many people have is “How can I make money off of this?”.

See You Tomorrow will give every person in New York an opportunity to resell their used designer products (because you know there are plenty of wealthy people in NY who have designer or luxury items that they no longer use) and make a quick profit off of them that can then be used to buy something else from Nordstrom.

I also really love how Nordstrom didn’t take a sustainability marketing angle and has focused more on the reselling of their products. While resale definitely cuts down on waste, this is not going to make a huge impact unless this idea truly scales across the country. And, you can’t forget that you can only get money back in the form of a Nordstrom gift card, which forces you to buy more from Nordstrom. However, if you then went and bought more things from the See You Tomorrow section, you are shopping in a more circular and sustainable way.

My last thought on this is that there is so much potential for Nordstrom here. Having a resale pop-up within the standard Nordstrom store makes hunting for that perfect, gently-used treasure that’s unattainable for most people a fun and exciting shopping experience, and encourages a wide range of shoppers to consider shopping for used items before buying new.

For more info/sources, visit :

The Future of Resale is Taking Shape at Nordstrom Now | Forbes (featured image source)

‘Resale and Retail Can Peacefully Coexist’: Inside Nordstrom’s long-term resale plans | Glossy

On H&M’s “high-tech” recycling bins…

On 1/13/20, Chain Store Age covered the implementation of H&M’s “high-tech” recycling bins in its NY Flagship location. That article can be found here.

*As a preface to this entire piece- recycling is great, and any sustainability initiative is better than none. I am also a hypocrite because I have shopped at H&M in the last year and own quite a few things from them. That being said, more needs to be done.*

From the Chain Store Age article written by Marianne Wilson, here is what you need to know:

“The new bins, which debuted on Jan. 12 at H&M’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City, house a digital scale and feature integrated digital screens. As shoppers deposit their bag of unwanted clothing into the bin, the integrated scale tallies the donation. In real-time, the digital screen displays the weight of the donation, along with a message thanking shoppers for “making a difference.” …”

“…The screen then displays a QR code that customers can scan for a 15% discount coupon that can be used on a future purchase in-store or online. The code also directs shoppers to a website outlining H&M’s sustainability efforts and goals, as well as how their donations make a difference. For example, for every 50 lbs. of donated clothing, H&M plants a tree through its not-for-profit partner, One Tree Planted. The fast-fashion retailer has a goal of collecting 5 million lbs. of apparel and plant 100,000 trees by the end of 2020, according to the company…”

“…H&M plans to add two high-tech bins to flagship stores located in Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. By the end of 2020, there will be 16 bins available across all eight locations.”

On the surface, this all sounds good. Recycling is great, and making the recycling box “high-tech” is cool, too. My first two thoughts were these: “Where does the recycled clothing go?” and “What makes that box actually high-tech?”

In terms of where the clothing goes, the article states this:

“Donations are either reused in new collections, recycled into textile fibers and applied to new materials or products beyond apparel, or are sold as second-hand merchandise, according to the company’s website.”

As a skeptic of H&M’s sustainability campaign, I, as a curious consumer, want proof in the future that random, donated clothing is being reused by H&M in their new collections. I want proof that it’s being recycled into textile fibers and applied to new materials, and I want proof that it’s sold second hand. I want to know where H&M plans to sell this clothing second-hand. Are they going to create their own, random used clothing website or store? Are they going to sell it to other, more established resale sites? Or are they going to only actually resell their own products that are recycled via their own second-hand resale site?

Is this better than the average person just throwing away their clothes? 100%. Yet, I have learned that recycling used clothing is an incredibly difficult task for the organization taking that clothing in, and all of that clothing needs to be washed and somehow sanitized before it can be remade into something else or resold, and recycling actual fibers into new textiles is extremely difficult, all of which require tons more resources.

My last question in that scope is “Where does all of the clothing go that H&M just can’t figure out something to do with?” I’m curious to see, especially with that 15% off coupon that H&M is promising.

Because there are only going to be 16 boxes as of now, H&M probably won’t have to deal with mass amounts of clothing or many of the logistics that I just questioned. I think it’s great to test out this concept, but for as large of a company as H&M, this just doesn’t make that big of an impact.

Onto the recycling box…sure, the box is more high-tech than a box that doesn’t have a screen, can’t weigh the amount of clothing, and can’t provide a QR code. Is that really high-tech though? In a day and age where technology in retail is evolving at a lightning pace and there are checkout-less stores and robots that can do so many things?

I also want to point out that the link provided to H&M’s Sustainability section of their website does not actually go there, and if you are searching H&M’s website, the “Recycle at H&M” tab does not actually bring you anywhere.

Within H&M’s Sustainability reports and statements, they do acknowledge that they need to do more than just recycle, and that they want to focus on reducing their carbon emissions in stages over the next 20 years.

The goal for H&M with these recycling boxes is stated above, saying that they plan to collect 5 million pounds of clothing and plant 100,000 trees. Trees are great, and we need them, but as taken directly from (and posted right up on their website to be easily found) H&M’s Kim Hellstrom, Strategy Lead of Climate and Water for H&M group:

“…For us, it’s all about credibility – that’s the absolute key. I don’t wish to criticize those who plant trees, but if we start claiming that we are climate positive through planting trees, that’s just not credible. Planting trees is not carbon reduction; it’s carbon storage…”

“…You can also practise insetting. That’s what I want us to do, rather than offsetting. Because you should sweep around your own front door first. Insetting is a way of addressing a company’s carbon footprint within its supply chain…”

“…So it’s not just about giving money to companies that can plant trees – that’s just treating the symptoms, not the disease. There’s nothing wrong with planting trees if you’re a consulting company and the only emissions you emit are from the fan on your desk. You can buy renewable energy and incentivise your employees to take the subway instead of the car. If you want to do more, great – plant trees! But for us, as long as we’re pouring out carbon into the atmosphere through our supply chain, we need to address the problem. As a company that takes responsibility for our emissions, we must recognise that this is where our focus needs to be. Otherwise, it would be a bit like pouring oil into the Atlantic and planting trees in Africa and stating, “We’re a sustainable company”.”

I give Kim Hellstrom credit for actually acknowledging that the company needs to focus on insetting and addressing their environmental impact via their own supply chain. However, saying that you want to do that doesn’t mean that you can be awarded for doing it. Why focus on high-tech recycling boxes when you know what you really need to do? Fast fashion is not sustainable, and it just really can’t be.

I really want H&M to take the strides to be more sustainable, but with a company so large and widespread, insetting the supply chain is the answer. Not “high-tech” recycling boxes in a couple of stores that are offsetting carbon by planting trees, especially when your own Climate Strategy Lead says that’s not as impactful as it needs to be.

Nordstrom NYC Flagship

In the week following Christmas 2019, I headed down to NYC to take a look at the Nordstrom NYC Flagship store.

It got a ton of hype in the retail news world, meaning that I couldn’t head home for the holidays in NY without checking it out. I’ll preface this piece with this statement: This was by far the best shopping experience I’ve ever had.

Sure, experience is a mega-buzzword in the retail community, however I truly believe that my two hours in this store were an experience, not just an act of shopping.

After visiting the shops at Hudson Yards and not being impressed with anything other than the beauty of the building, shopping at this Nordstrom was everything I could have ever asked for. I haven’t shopped at Nordstrom much in my life, only ever browsing through when I would walk out to my cat in the MOA parking lot after long days of work. I’ve always liked that Nordstrom has always been a more elevated shopping experience than the one you might get at Macy’s, but I had never been convinced to buy something at Nordstrom and would always buy the items I liked elsewhere, usually at the individual brand’s website.

The Nordstrom NYC Flagship is perfectly nestled into a corner of a busy NYC street, and the architecture of building blends into the surrounding city-scape, giving it a true “NY feel.” The Men’s store sits right across the street, looking similar yet different. It’s easy to tell that you’ve found the stores based on signage, but I really love that they didn’t try to be the only building in the area. While the building is shiny and new, it still fits in well with the old of the area.

I didn’t spend much time in the men’s department, mostly because I didn’t initially realize that the women’s and men’s departments were in separate buildings separated by a street. I was too excited to even really give the men’s department a good looking at.

Upon entering the street-level doors, I was greeted with friendly faces, a lot of customers, and an elevated shopping experience. The store is quite bright and a little to white for my taste (white walls, ceilings, floors, etc.) yet I still felt like I was shopping in a place like no other Nordstrom that I had ever been in.

I would say that the handbags and shoes floor was not that impressive to me, however I was amazed with the multiple levels of women’s clothing. As you go up the floors, you experience the luxury brands and then transition into the designer brands, with a very small section of young contemporary brands such as Topshop. I love brands, and seeing ones that I had never seen in person before (Comme des Garcons GIRL, Tibi, Ganni, etc.) was like a dream.

Small, curated selections of new-season clothing are strategically placed throughout the floor, and you’re encouraged to touch ALL of the clothing and even try it on. Speaking of trying things on, this leads me into my next section about the endless services that this location offers. Buy online pick up in store, alterations, shoe repair, a spa, a beauty bar, personal styling, customizations and alterations offered by a plethora of brands, and so many more. While none of these concepts are new, it was really cool to be able to actually see them all come together efficiently under one roof. While I was trying some shirts on, there was a touch screen in the room that I could ask for alterations and tailoring directly from, and one of the tailors could come right to my fitting room if I so desired.

If I wanted a stylist to follow me around the store or completely just shop for me, that could be arranged as well.

My overall favorite part of this experience was the atmosphere of the store. Every time that I have been in a Nordstrom, I’ve always felt either very out of place in the luxury section (don’t get me wrong, I am out of place there, but I still like to admire) or like an annoyance in the other sections. The associates always seemed to be dressed very professionally and act in a stiff manner and either don’t want to converse with you or very obviously want to sell you something.

This location was like no other. The sales associates ranged from all types of people, different ages, races, genders, and all truly just looked like real people. While they were all still dressed professionaly, it was clear that they all are allowed creative freedom through their clothing expressions. This made them more approachable and also allowed me to see different products worn in ways that I never would have though of.

Every person I walked by was willing to help, and they were also very good about leaving me alone if that’s what I wanted. I was also overjoyed with my experience browsing through the luxury sections, such as Moncler, where it was obvious that I wasn’t someone who was going to be making a Moncler purchase that day yet the sales associates still treated me with the upmost respect and wantred to actually talk about the products rather than sell them or ignore me because it’s clear that I can’t afford them.

Lastly, I really loved the gift pop-ups in the store. There was one a few floors up that had more generic holiday gifts for anyone, decorated like a gingerbread house, that had a better selection than any other gift pop-up I’ve seen. On the street level, however, there is a large structure that showcases curated pieces of art, jewelry, accessories, books, and perfume, all from digitallhy native brands or artists that I have found via surfing social media that really tested my urges not to buy anything. The products were all unique and were from brands or artists that you wouldn’t necessarily expect Nordstrom to carry, which was really great for someone like me who finds most of what I purchase via social media.

Overall, I had so much fun shopping here. It wasn’t a matter of zepnding money, I enjoyed browsing, seeing new things (some products for the first time in person because they’re only sold online) and being treated equally to all of the other shoppers. Nordstrom, you did goooooooooood.

1 hr at The Shops at Hudson Yards

On the Saturday after Christmas, I went to NYC for a day to check out all of the new retail buzz. First on my list, after stopping into all of my favorite SoHo stores, was Hudson Yards.

I first heard about Hudson Yards sometime in the last year, and figured it was some kind of new shopping mall in NYC. I later found out that Hudson Yards is now its own NYC neighborhood with shiny new skyscrapers dedicated to shopping, living, and working office spaces, and The Shops opened in March 2019. Situated right on the Hudson River, Hudson Yards definitely stands out as a bright and new neighborhood looking to revolutionize that specific area of NYC.

The most notable infrastructure is the staircase that has both an interesting shape and a perfect social media-worthy shot opportunity at the top. When I was there, the staircase was definitely drawing people in, as there were lines just to enter it. I think that this sculpture was definitely a smart move because my guess is that more people head to the area to check that out compared to the shops, and people end up dipping into the shops just because they’re there.

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Onto the actual Shops at Hudson Yards, I’ll start off by saying that the shopping center is beautiful. It’s open, filled with natural light, and designed with a clean and contemporary lifestyle in mind, which is something that I’ve never seen in a shopping mall before. The atmosphere isn’t constrained and wouldn’t be overwhelming if you took all of the shoppers out of the equation.

Being that it was the Saturday after Christmas, this place was PACKED. It was what I imagine Black Friday to be like. The first floor, filled with designer stores, was insane and I, someone who can usually handle crowds with lots of pushy people, even felt like I had to go upstairs.

My first complaint is the lack of directories. The directories are touch screens and are very interactive, but there were so few of them, jam-packed with people that I didn’t even bother. At each escalator there were signs that listed about three or four stores on each floor, which didn’t even come close to covering what all was there. I resorted to looking at the store directory from the website on my phone. I also overhead some shoppers complaining about how you don’t even know what stores are in the shopping center.

I’m going to get a few minor complaints out of the way, as well. In this particular building, there were very limited bathrooms. Each had a line that wrapped around the bathroom and out into the halls, and I could only find about one or two per floor. Next, the dining areas were crowded with people with no place to sit due to the limited seating, which made the very few places to eat seem like too much of a bother to go to.

Onto the actual retail experience…

I didn’t have any expectations of what this place was going to be like and didn’t know of any stores in the building other than b8ta because of a podcast it was mentioned on. In terms of the stores that were there, it felt to me like any other slightly-elevated mall. Having a lululemon and Aritzia in my opinion mean that the mall gains enough traction that it is slightly more special than your average suburban mall, but other than that, it had stores like H&M, Zara, Banana Republic, Uniqlo, etc., all of which are stores that I would much rather visit in Times Square or near Rockefeller Center or the surrounding areas where they are standalone stores that contrast with the surrounding buildings.

To prove that it wasn’t just me who didn’t know what stores were there, Zara and H&M were essentially empty on their floor, and both stores were having massive sales, which usually draws in tons of people. Another complaint that I had, which is not a jab at the retail workers anywhere, because I know the feeling, was that the stores were all pretty messy. Uniqlo was essentially impossible to shop and had a terrible layout compared to other Uniqlo’s that I’ve been in, but Zara, H&M, and Banana Republic were all really hard to shop because product was all over the place. It was as if all of these stores had a ton of traffic yet there were never more than 8-10 other people in these stores while I was there.

Overall, if you’re looking for that elevated mall experience, this is almost it. I’d argue that the dining could definitely be improved, but there are plenty of cool sculptures to look at outside of the buildings to make up for that. As a New Yorker that lives outside of the city, I wasn’t blown away enough by this “new mall experience” to ever go back. My favorite part about shopping in NYC is being able to walk around the streets and dip into the standalone stores, specifically those types of stores that aren’t in malls such as Everlane and Outdoor Voices, and appreciate the more limited merchandise and unique architecture of the standard NYC buildings. I guess it comes down to shopping preference, but I wasn’t inspired to do my shopping at Hudson Yards.

2019 Retail Dive Awards Reflections

This past week, Retail Dive announced their selections for each category of their annual Retail Dive Awards.

Here’s the breakdown with my commentary following:

Retailer of the Year: Walmart. Walmart has done a lot of really cool things this past year and has definitely been an interesting retailer to follow, however, I just can’t get behind calling them the retailer of the year for 2019. Despite many innovations, Walmart has also failed in a lot of aspects as well, most notably with Jetblack. The Jetblack headlines this past year were almost embarrassing to follow, and to me personally, Walmart is not a grocery store that I would ever willingly go to to fulfill my grocery needs. I understand that Walmart can be a lifeline for middle to lower class consumers and is sometimes the only mega retailer in a geographic area that can support the needs of the community, I just don’t think they deserve the title of retailer of the year. My picks: Kroger, Amazon, or Target.

Executive of the Year: Michelle Gass, Kohl’s. What? I know that Kohl’s is really trying to catch up, but accepting Amazon package returns doesn’t cut it. Nothing against Michelle Gass, but to me, Kohl’s is still an irrelevant retailer and any retailer that I consider to be irrelevant cannot possibly have the “Executive of the Year.” I don’t have a personal selection for this category, but I would probably chose an executive who’s company has had increasing profits throughout the year.

Disruptor of the Year: ThredUp. I can get behind this one, but if I had made this decision, I probably would have chosen The RealReal. I think that The Realreal has disrupted the luxury industry significantly despite the setbacks of authentication and what not that they have faced. I think that there is a more sustainable potential for The RealReal to disrupt the luxury sector than there is for ThredUp to disrupt the mainstream apparel sector. I am 100% for ThredUp being implemented in department stores such as Macy’s and actually think that that’s a revolutionary concept for department stores, but I need more time to look over the actual effectiveness and results of these ThredUp “pop-ups” in these department stores. I love ThredUp for their commitment to finding second lives for all of the clothing items that would otherwise be thrown away, but in the span of 2019, I think that The RealReal has caused more retail disruption.

Trailblazer of the Year: Universal Standard. I totally agree with this. I have not purchased anything from Universal Standard, but I follow them on social media and am always amazed with their ranges of sizing and products and their use of diverse models that not many clothing brands could even imagine to compare to.

Store Concept of the Year: Nordstrom Local. The Nordstrom Local store concept just isn’t interesting or innovative to me. Merchandise-free stores are now just becoming a trend, and if I am going to a Nordstrom, I want to see a lot of curated merchandise from different brands that don’t have standalone stores in my area and I want to walk out with things that I can wear immediately. In terms of their personalized styling or alterations, I think that every Nordstrom store should have an alterations section and to emphasize personal styling and customer service and engagement is kind of boring. I don’t need styling from Nordstrom and I don’t want to be bothered while I’m shopping. I feel that this store concept only appeals to a limited sector of consumers and it isn’t something that’s able to be implemented on a mass scale, and that’s something that Nordstrom as a brand needs. I don’t have a specific pick for a different store concept that I think deserves the title, but I do want to point out that Canada Goose is definitely leading the innovations in store concepts. From their cold rooms to their inventory-less store in Toronto that has real snow and ice, I think that being able to emerge your customer in a realistic environment for where they will be using the product is a genius tactic.

Gap, you make me sad

The other day I visited a Gap store while on my break from work with the hopes of trying on a new pair of jeans that Gap launched so that I could find the right size. While the jeans were fantastic and I ended up ordering them online, I was so disappointed by the physical Gap store that I visited that I felt the need to write about it.

As a disclaimer, I was only in one Gap store and can’t speak for every Gap store in the country. However, most of the pressing issues with the store that I noticed seem to be corporate merchandising decisions that are just followed by the people who work in this store, which is why I’m generalizing the entire Gap experience as outdated and sad.

I really love Gap products and can always count on them for quality denim and outerwear, but they’ve just let themselves go as time has gone on. What was once such a prominent company in the American consumer’s eye is now a brand that is often seen as inexpensive and outdated. With quarterly results that continue to drop and the stepping down of Art Peck, former CEO, I actually believe that Gap has a lot of potential but things just need to change.

When on the Gap website and looking at new arrivals, one might actually find it surprising that jeans retail for around $80 and wool coats retail for around $200 because the average shopper never pays that much for Gap products. Lone behold Gap’s first problem, there are too many deep promotions that occur throughout the year. Gap needs to decide whether or not they want to be a discount retailer or a full-price retailer with a couple of seasonal sales. This way, the consumer knows what to actually expect in price from the company. A reason that I ended up purchasing those jeans online was that there was a site-wide 50% off your purchase promotion and I could use my Gap cash, which brought the jeans down to $35. There were no promotions on the jeans in-store, and they weren’t even marketed as new product.

My nest issue with Gap is their social media presence. How boring!!! A strong Instagram presence is so critical for an apparel company’s brand image, and Gap’s is nothing short of uninspiring. Their posts solely feature people modeling their products on a white background, which makes it hard to imagine yourself wearing their products while out and about living your life. Every person looks like a model, and I think it would be really beneficial for Gap to showcase posts from people in the community wearing their products to make their social presence less forced.

Lastly, when I was in the store, I was incredibly confused by the physical layout. There was A TON of product everywhere, and I struggled to find the new products that I was looking for, which are usually right in the front of the store. There was essentially no marketing, and it’s holiday season! The mannequins were dressed in outfits that were overly colorful and hard to imagine anyone wearing. Gap’s online presence focuses on the history of the brand and their strives for inclusivity, but the actual gap stores look like discount outlets. If you want people to spend $200 on a coat, it can’t be on a rack with $14 t-shirts and $20 blouses, it should be in an full-priced outerwear section or surrounded by full-priced items that can logically be worn with it.

Shopping in a physical Gap, which I had not done in a long time, had me overwhelmed and my merchandising red flags were all up. Gap needs to figure out who they are and who they sell to, and then create marketing plans that embrace that brand and customer if they want any kind of chance for survival when so many other brands are doing it so much better than them.

Will Black Friday always be the same?

With Black Friday/Cyber Monday week finally over, I figured it would be a good time to share my thoughts regarding Black Friday/Cyber Monday week now that retail has shifted entirely to preparing for the upcoming December holidays.

I’ve never been one to go hard on Black Friday, and I’ve never actually gone shopping on a Black Friday, which still even surprises me because of how often I shop and how much time I spend absorbed in the retail industry. I’ve made Cyber Monday purchases for the past few years, this past one included. As my taste in clothing has become more *refined* over the past few years, I’ve always run into the struggle that is the things that I would be willing to drop a good amount of money on not actually going on sale for Black Friday.

For example, this year I was planning to make one big purchase (in terms of my bank account), and it was going to be the Super Puff jacket from Aritzia, which retails for $250. I was expecting it go on at least a little bit of a sale, but lone behold, it did not. If that jacket’s price had even been reduced by 10%, I would have probably purchased it. Leading up to Black Friday, I really thought that this jacket would go on sale because of how popular it was and the fact that Aritzia started their 50% off site-wide Black Friday promotion a few days before Black Friday. There was another coat that I was eyeing, that was $200-something, reduced from $400-something, so I was really banking on the Super Puff going on sale.

from Aritzia.com
https://www.aritzia.com/us/en/the-super-puff

My coworkers at Omni Talk were at the Mall of America on Black Friday, and pointed out on their live podcast that Aritzia was pretty much dead, which I do not feel bad about at all because of how disappointed I was that I didn’t get the jacket I was waiting on for months.

All of this aside, while spending this year for Black Friday/Cyber Monday was sky-high and in the billions, I noticed something that I didn’t notice last year. A lot of my favorite brands, that are relatively popular for millennials/Gen Z’s, didn’t have any kinds of sales going on for Black Friday.

Everlane, one of my absolute favorites, had no sales, but donated all of their profits from their “Black Friday Fund” to Oceana to help pick up plastic from the oceans.

https://www.everlane.com/black-friday-fund
Taken from https://www.everlane.com/black-friday-fund

Kotn, another one of my reliable brands, used all of their Black Friday profits to help build schools in Egypt, where their cotton farmers work and where all of their materials are sourced from.

TOPO Designs, one of my favorite outwear brands, and Blue Nile Jewelry, one of my favorite jewelry makers, put a super small selection of their merchandise on sale for the weekend, rather than taking an approach like Gap and others do, where the entire site has a fixed markdown percentage for all products.

This had me curious as to the future of Black Friday/Cyber Monday, especially as the spending power of millennials and Gen Z’ers increases, and will continue to do so. With changing consumer behaviors and a deeper consciousness for environmental impacts, as well as the prominence of brands so heavily shopped at during this weekend decreasing, will Black Friday eventually become irrelevant?

My prediction: probably not. But, I think that it will change significantly in my lifetime. Brands like Everlane and Kotn are doing something so untraditional and against the norms, and both brands ended up raising significantly more money for their Black Friday Funds than they had aimed for, which to me says something big.

As someone who manages to want all of the things that literally never go on sale, even for Black Friday, I’m excited to see how the beginning of the holiday retail season changes in my lifetime.