Here is a guest article by Oliver Legris about the new Burberry Flagship.
This week, Burberry started their PR campaign to introduce to the world their new world flagship, a 44000 sq ft shop on Regent Street London.
The angle for this campaign was a shop designed to resemble its website.
This catchy headline was enough for everyone to tweet about it, being impress without really knowing what it means.
As a Londoner and a planner in a digital agency obsessed with retail places, I had to go there to understand if this was PR bullshit or a groundbreaking changing innovation.
1. The Burberry brand context
1.1 Its objective
Burberry has a simple mission: Stay a relevant luxury brand that sells high margin trench coat because they are the « trench coat reference » but also be able to diversify itself to have the legitimacy to sell other high margin product.
1.2 The context
Burberry is one of the few « one-brand luxury billion revenue luxury group » left alongside Chanel (even if the have Eres and Bourgeois) and Hermes (even if they just launched their chinese brand Shang Xia or that they own John Lobb).
While big luxury groups with multiple brands (LVMH, PPR, Richemont) have a portfolio of brands big enough to cover all the market, one brand groups are in this dilemma to stretch their brand with multiple lines to cover middle and high end market and flood the world with licence products to increased their sales, but take the risk to make their brand weaker, and jeopardise their long term future.
1.3 The actual strategy
Burberry has 3 main pillars to achieve their objective
1.3.1 A global vision via the Chief Creative Officer
Christopher Bailey is more than just a designer. He’s a Chief Creative Officer, meaning that he directs all the brand execution, from the product to the shop, including the band associated to the shows and the digital activity.
This global vision for a brand via a Chief Creative Officer became popular in the 2000’s, in particular with Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme who rebranded (from Christian Dior Monsieur to Dior Homme), but also define guidelines for everything around the brand (like always using Helvetica).
1.3.2 Take the leadership of the English fashion scene
One of the most clever move from Burberry was to leave Milan for London Fashion Week for their womanswear show (menswear is still showed in Milan).
Not only it gave a better visibility to the english fashion scene, but it made Burberry the headline of the London fashion week, whereas in Milan, they were a secondary brand.
This move allowed Burberry to become The English Fashion brand.
1.3.3 Becoming the best in class in digital
Burberry understood very quickly the opportunity of digital. Not only to drive purchase but becoming a reference.
Their innovation and investment in digital (40% of their marketing budget) gave them the opportunity to stand out at least for one thing.
Indeed it would be hard to have become first in skills (they are not a haute couture brand) or media purchase (LVMH is too powerful), so they decided to lead the digital, and this was a clever move
2. Regent Street, the Burberry world flagship
When you understand this 3 main pillars, you understand how important this flagship is:
It has to prove their global vision, be the symbol of their involvement in the British landscape, and be the best in class in digital experience in a shop.
From this point of view, the Burberry flagship was sold as the perfect match of digital and brick&mortar.
So is this true?
To visit the shop, I decided to be poorly dressed (pair of jeans with big holes, running shoes and a backpack) and pretend I did not know anything about the brand.
Indeed I consider if the luxury staff would give me a high end service in this poor condition, they could only do as good with people looking like potential customers.
2.1 A shop respecting the standard of luxury…
I decided to approach a salesperson and ask her if she could give me a tour of the shop.
She immediately accepted and after checking with her superior if another salesperson was available to take her place in the room, she started the tour.
On the main floor, you have the accessories (bags, wallet etc…), the brit line (the cheapest line), and the licence (sunglasses and perfume). Everything a regular person could be potentially ready to buy.
The first floor carries the trench coat, the second floor the London line (average price), the children and the shoes, and the upper floor carries the Prorsum line, the one you see in the fashion show (men in the second and half floor, women in the third and half floor).
Whereas the main floor is one big room, the more you reach highest end products, the smaller the room are.
The Prorsum lines are in little saloons.
My host, I think her name was Zora, was absolutely delightful, taking the time to explain me everything and answer my tricky questions. (yes I like to ask tricky question like « what justifies the difference of price between a trench coat in the London line and in the Prorsum line »).
When you reach the Prorsum part, you start feeling the service that a real luxury brand deserve.
You can have drinks (they offered me champagne, I sticked to water), and the ratio of staff for every customer is ridiculous (3 salesperson for 1 client minimum).
So for the moment everything was fine
2.2 … but the « designed to resemble to the website » is clearly over sold (to remain polite)
After the tour, I asked for the « digital part ». I wanted to see the magic.
So let’s cut the crap now:
The magical mirror that shows video when you bring a product?
Only five in the whole shop. 4 in the Prorsum area (2 for men, 2 for women) and one in the exotic bag room (bars made of alligator or ostrich leather).
As you can guess, only the Prorsum item have the RFID chip that triggers the video.
Oh, and the mirror are in the fitting room, so if someone is in there, no magic mirror time for you.
I tried it, it’s nice but the video displayed is not a woaw moment. Basically it is a close up of the item you holding to help you justify the price tag (I tried mine with a £395 studded leather glove pair).
So yes, employees have iPad and can take your credit card on the spot, but it’s a bit limited to call this a store designed to resemble to the website. (and please don’t tell me they have the tallest screen in a retail store)
The other part of the digital meets retail (synchronise screens, 500 speakers broadcasting songs) was nothing more than any other shop in the world.
So yes, in the child section you have 4 iPads for your children to play with, and sometime the screen are showing rains with rain sound in the shop, but I’m still looking for the emotive content to engage with (the press release was saying: « nearly 500 speakers and 100 screens engage customers through emotive brand content »).
2.3 … and the experience to pick up a product you bought online is terrible
To really get the whole process, a few days ago I bought a product on the Burberry website to be picked up in store.
I only mentioned it at the end of my tour to avoid being identify as a potential customer and have any kind of special treatment.
So first surprise, amongst the 200+ employees in the shop, only one is dedicated to get products bought online.
Sadly for me, I was not the only one picking up items. So instead of waiting, the sale associate suggested me to go look around for 15 minutes and come back.
So 15 minutes late I came back.
First mistake, the service to pick up product is called « customer service ». I’m sure it would be harder for anyone to come up with a more neutral name. Sad they just miss an occasion to make the customer feel special, and justify their price.
Anyway, you could think you would go in a nice room and that your waiting time would be an enjoyable moment?
Wrong again. You are in a little corner with only one place to seat (3 person maximum) and you wait. You wait very very long.
You wait for someone to notice you, and you wait for the person to get your product.
With only one customer in front of me, the process took me 10 to 15 minutes.
Don’t get me wrong, staff was still lovely, smiling and helpful (even if they don’t suggest drinks while waiting) but the experience was just bad.
3. Final thought
The Burberry Regent Flagship is a very nice flagship, with a quality of service in a luxury shop as good it could be (Tom Ford still remains on the top of my list, but it’s normal, you’re most of the time the only customer in the shop).
However the whole digital meets retail thing is not there or I really missed it during the one+ hour I spent in the shop. It’s clearly oversold but I guess the PR result are here, and not everyone is as picky as me. And please, improve the pick up service, it’s almost embarrassing for a luxury brand and even more for Burberry.