In this increasingly digital age, many are predicting dark times ahead for the bricks-and-mortar store. Surely a physical boutique can’t compete with the ease and convenience of online shopping? And yet, a look at some of Italy’s leading brands shows their stores are far from struggling. Embracing rather than bemoaning the advancement of technology, the best are bringing digital into their stores, using virtual elements and tech-savvy developments to complement and enhance the retail experience.
OVS unveils its futuristic flagship
OVS, one of Italy’s leading fashion retailers, recently celebrated the opening of a new three-storey flagship on Milan’s Corso Buenos Aires. To stand out on one of the city’s busiest streets meant pulling out all the stops. Luckily, OVS is a master when it comes to digitally enhanced retail, and the store was launched as the brand’s first fully fledged ‘omnichannel’ customer experience. ‘For the first time, we can provide a full vision of what we are able to develop,’ says CEO Stefano Beraldo. ‘It’s a cutting-edge store.’
Not only does the flagship carry the entire range of OVS goods – from womenswear and menswear to childrenswear and beauty – but it also offers a multi-channel interactive experience. Developed in conjunction with Google for Work, it features virtual fitting rooms and interactive kiosks, sales assistants on hand with iPads, a free click-and-collect service and more. Video walls and light screens broadcasting OVS’s key communication images can be seen throughout, and there are interactive games and even treasure hunts for younger visitors.
Taking the concept one step further, OVS’s app allows customers to browse extended information on products, sends tailored notifications about news and offers, and enables the user to collect loyalty points and even pay via smartphone. Far from threatening the brand’s physical retail element, digital is being used bring people into stores, encouraging them to experience technical and personal services together to enhance the pleasure of shopping.
Pinko launches its new ‘Hybrid Shops’
Pinko, too, has capitalised on new technology to add another level to the in-store experience. Again, this is something that visitors can enjoy alongside the existing great service for which the Italian brand is known. Its ‘Hybrid Shops’ – a new store concept launched across Europe, with seven locations in Italy alone – bring together the best of digital and physical retail. Alongside traditional mannequin displays, which enable customers to see and touch the collections, the stores have interactive screens that allow visitors to browse every single piece from the collections.
More in store
‘The idea is … to offer a range of products that goes far beyond whatever you’d find in a regular store,’ explains Pietro Negra, Pinko’s founder and CEO. Crucially, this service takes the key advantage of online shopping – a greater range of options – and makes it available in-store with the same ease. Customers can buy pieces from the rail as well as the digital catalogue, which will be delivered to the store – or even their hotel – within 48 hours. Described by the brand as ‘tangible and electronic at the same time’, it’s a feature that other brands are sure to adopt.
Traditional brand: non-traditional methods
Boldly modern as this trend may be, it’s interesting to see that not only young brands and multinationals are involved. One of the world’s oldest pharmacies, Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella was founded in 1221 in Florence and retains many of its traditional methods and even products. Yet what has kept this brand successful for so many centuries is the ability to innovate, and there could hardly be a better example of this than the way technology has been incorporated into the experience at the brand’s historic shop-cum-museum on Florence’s Via della Scala.
A new way to shop
‘It’s a new way to shop,’ says company president and co-owner Eugenio Alphandery. On arrival, customers are given a card by the staff. As they are guided through by an in-store expert, who will share in-depth details on each product from ingredients to its individual history, items they like will be registered on the card. There’s also a touchscreen system, which catalogues the whole Santa Maria Novella collection for those who want even more information as they browse. Once they’ve experienced the store itself, visitors are encouraged to explore the brand’s adjoining museum. Meanwhile, staff will quietly and carefully gather the selections made on the store card, making the whole payment process quicker and simpler.
The future of retails
As with Pinko and OVS, what is central to the new experience at Santa Maria Novella is the concept of great service. This, ultimately, is what separates online retail from in-store shopping: the personal service that simply can’t be recreated virtually, and the process of getting to know a product at first hand. What these brands are showing is that, far from signalling the end of the bricks-and-mortar store, advancements in the digital age can actually be used to improve on boutiques, blending with traditional elements to create something that, when done well, is much more than the sum of its parts.