Back in 2012, one of the major pieces of retail news in London was the opening of the Burberry flagship in one of Regent Street’s grandest buildings. This was the place you could wander in to and be met by sharp-suited types, each of whom packed an iPad and was ready to walk and talk you through the ranges.
There were ‘magic’ mirrors, small screens at every turn and in the grand atrium of this former movie theater, a giant screen would stream catwalk shows live to an invited audience. It was all about ‘future proofing’, and we all gasped, so this is what the future looks like.
Now it’s all gone, or appears to be at first glance. Six years down the line, and the store’s had a refurb that has swept away all of the tech, with the exception of the atrium screen, that did so much to define what it was about.
So what went wrong? Well, actually, probably not that much (although the Burberry share price has taken a bit of a hammering lately, but it is not alone in this). It’s just that, far from being future-proofed, the Burberry store was a creature of its time.
Retailers in the UK, mainland Europe and the US have begun to realize that shoppers head to the shops to shop and that any number of screens will not change the outcome. Consider the fact that almost everybody on both continents already has a screen grafted to their face in the shape of a smartphone, so if you want to communicate effectively with shoppers, do so via the screen that they are familiar with and which they use, all of the time.
But back to Burberry. There is still plenty of tech in the Regent Street emporium, it’s just that you can’t see it and, for the most part, it is accessed through the app on your phone. There you can benefit from augmented reality, hear about ‘style stories’ and ‘shop on the go’. This is the vision of the future and, as usual, it’s here now.
To be precise, it’s what’s happening today. Another six years down the line, and who really knows where we’ll be. We’ll know in 2024.
John Ryan is a journalist covering the retail sector, a role he has fulfilled for more than a decade. As well as being the European Editor of VMSD magazine, he writes for a broad range of publications in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany with a focus on in-store marketing, display and layout, as well as the business of store architecture and design. In a previous life, he was a buyer for C&A, based in London and then Düsseldorf, Germany. He lives and works in London.