The shaping of an “authentic” consumption experience through shops
Courtesy of Brandforum (www.brandforum.it)
In a world where the consumer no longer believes in brands, is probably because the brands no longer believe in the consumer. Or the brands no longer believe in the idea of brutally over-segmented consumers. Today we all demand the right to be unfaithful: that is, above all, the right to choose, to be intelligent, to pursue our own path of independent consumption, to be smart and, from time to time, to be different. More and more often we see ladies matching an Armani coat with a skirt they bought from a stall, or at a business meeting wearing a pair of shoes by Tod’s and in a shirt persistently hunted down for some ten euro among the cluttered Zara or H&M shelves.
So, once upon a time, a long time ago, the product, was the object that responded to a material need. The shop was where the product became available. Then the brand arrived, and from the material needs we moved on to the immaterial needs. The shop became the ideal place for representing, finding and consuming the brand. Today we can conclude this iter saying that the real brands are no longer objects or products, but have they become “the” shops? It may sound a bit extreme, but there is no doubt that shopping is no longer what it used to be in the 80’s, even if many shops still work with the same logic. The purchase goes well-beyond that moment of gratification of one’s ego: it has become a structured and completed experience within itself, that moment in which today’s consumer manages to give a total meaning to his/her own purchase.
In a world of uncertainties, consumers believe in what they see, feel and touch; that is, the believe in shops that they perceive as real, that do not build artificial worlds but make consumption testing possible in the real world. A concept retail like Camper’s (over € 150 million turnover in 2004) offers the consumer an interpretation key to the consumption dictated by original, cultural, interesting values. Camper is a modern rereading of the Mediterranean world, able to go beyond the stereotypes so as to become the symbolic ground of discovery of diversity and contradiction in which we live today.
A perfect concept for the current consumers, who are no longer satisfied with being actors, but they want to feel like directors and authors of the purchase, testing a product or brand. Therefore shops today no longer represent the end of a brand production process, but instead, the center of its very production.
Brands like IKEA, Zara, Mediaworld, have become repeated pilgrimage destinations. Even Italian companies, traditionally anchored to a solid productive vocation have had to deal with the situation that in Italy is often bringing foreign retailers to a dominant position. The retail fever is slowly contaminating many of our enterprises as well. Every year we see new attempts and experiments of producers that venture in the universe of distribution brands. Convention and research follow having as protagonists the “new prophets” of concept, at times architects, a times consultants, at times professors. We witness debates on the use of perfume or the light on the sales counter, on the architectonic importance of unlikely all-glass shops, on the estimated brand value that a concept store might have at ten thousand euro per square meter. The figure of the consumer is drawn closer and closer to the Disneyland stereotype tourist, and the shops are cluttered by more and more complex stylish, spectacular and expensive operations.
It is said that the consumer is looking for experience. But the idea of experience is too often confused and reduced to the idea of kolossal, of wonder, of funfair for adults. A few years ago everyone was talking about an inedited French concept, Andaska, on the life outdoors, and water and mountain sports. In that shop it was possible not only to buy brand name clothes that were not necessary for a trip, but it was even possible to book a trip in that same shop. A few years later, that concept, though innovative and original, failed, maybe above all for its operating artificiality and absurdness.
What is on the other hand the apparently more simple or almost ordinary success of Zara, H&M or Esselunga? Although in elegant settings, the Zara concept is built on its products: skirts, sweaters, scarves, pants, shirts, hats. In one word clothes. No scent. No particular music. No touch screen or maxi futuristic screen. Nevertheless Zara offers its consumers something that has become of great importance: freedom, the right to self-determine one’s own consumption. The freedom to surf among clothes as if they were in stalls.
They have the freedom to move as they please to find a shirt that a half hour before they were not able to see; the freedom of being able to afford different high fashion clothing everyday. Zara offers democratic and daily high fashion: no longer an inaccessible world but a transversal one, suiting everyone and all pockets. A place where you can live style everyday.
Some aspects of TV reality shows, though being the fruit of fabrication and fiction, have re-contextualized even the actors, V.I.P.s and dancers in a recognizable concept making them look real to the spectator. They are linked to the consolidation of a tendency in retail to those we could provocatively call reality shops: where the consumers can experience shopping in a way considered authentic, simple (but not for this ordinary), true, that neither contain obvious brand manipulations nor expect to overload with redundant messages.
Paraphrasing Bauman, people choose a liquid shop that promises them to never completely be the same. A shop available everyday even to re-negotiate a part of its own identity together with people, migrating from time to time among stylish and consumerist ideas even to the antipodes and incomprehensible ideological-segmented look of the traditional marketing.
The shops that for the consumers are really special today are not necessarily full of special effects, nor are they of presumed value stereotypes deduced by the consumers. The winning shops, instead, are places where new and useful things are sold through storytelling, making them look “real”, therefore credible. From this point of view, Casa Camper in Barcellona, a hotel open in 2005 by the Spanish brand, responds to the concept of “construction of reality” exactly as much as the Zara shop, or as much as the Lush colourful shops that transform soap bars in fruit, chocolates and vegetables to be sold by its weight, under the title of critical consumption. Places that know how to offer consumption philosophies that do not expect to swerve people to their own brand message, to their strategies, to their curiosity, to their creativity.