After eight uneventful hours in transit, the plane from New York touched down in Düsseldorf, Germany. Leaving the plane, I navigated a labyrinth of jet ways, corridors and hallways until I was standing face to face with the often-dreaded customs agent.
I handed him my passport, and with a smile and a sardonic grin, he asked, “Are you going to EuroShop?”
“How did you know?” I queried.
In his cutting German accent, he replied, “Everyone’s going to EuroShop. It’s like an invasion.” This indeed was an invasion in the best sense of the word.
Living in tumultuous times, where some profess the virtues of walls, borders and boundaries, it was refreshing to see people from all walks of life descending as one on this charming German city. It was an inspiring celebration of our industry and an immersion into German culture. Passports of all colors, from a vast array of ports-of-call, were flashed in front of customs. The beauty of this was not lost on me. While we often refer to the “retail wars,” it occurred to me that it is perhaps retail, with its many faces, that will save us from the treacheries of a turbulent world.
No matter our political leanings, we all somehow gravitate to those retail canyons, corridors and corners that extoll the virtues of everything from Apple and Samsung, to Ugg and Armani. Whether we march to the beat of an Eastern drum, or wave the banner of Western ideologies, we all want the latest smartphone and the coolest pair of jeans. And while some bow to the East and others the West, we’re drawn like magnets to retail’s cherished halls. So the retail wars have spawned a recurring invasion every three years to the quaint and quiet of Düsseldorf for EuroShop.
A true global experience, I dined with dear friends from Italy, new friends from Russia and two guys from the exotic, faraway land called The Bronx. I traveled to The Netherlands with a group from Brazil, met with an enthusiastic class of students from Australia and spoke with folks from China and Vietnam. I discussed visual merchandising with a designer from Turkey and lighting design with a Dutch engineer. In four short days, any perceived walls, valleys or chasms were quickly traversed as we broke bread, raised our glasses in multilingual toasts, and shared philosophies, strategies and “war stories.”
Once on the show floor, my experience was laced with the latest techno-wonders and innovations, digital this and techno that. But what made the show great was the passing of three years after the previous show: enough time for the next phase of retail’s incredible evolution to surface. During earlier shows, we saw technology, technology and more technology, and that was great. This year we saw technology married to compelling tactile retail solutions. Ah, human nature, it indeed pushes us to do rather curious things. As mere mortals, we always seem to go too far in one direction, or too far in the other. This year, exhibitors at EuroShop found a comfortable, if not effective position, smack in the middle of digital and brick-and-mortar – the two must coalesce. The debate is over; stores are not going away. However, retailers must find a compelling reason to bring customers back into the fold.
To stay on the front lines of retail engagement, retailers must focus on the beauty of the store while curating the strategic deployment of technology throughout their brands’ cultures as well as throughout the store environment. Retailers must bring the best of online into the store. The line between digital and physical is diminishing; they are both portals to a company’s DNA and vital stepping stones on the path to purchase.
While history is replete with marching legions of conquering warriors, the continued development of the microchip is the prime factor in the relentless march of the technology that is fueling today’s retail wars. And as cyberspace obliterates all boundaries of engagement, it’s heartening to attend an all-inclusive brick-and-mortar industry event that welcomes all from near and far. Information is the arsenal of today’s retail wars, and sharing information, as demonstrated by EuroShop, will help raise the banners of success.
Eric Feigenbaum is a recognized leader in the visual merchandising and store design industries with both domestic and international design experience. He served as corporate director of visual merchandising for Stern’s Department Store, a division of Federated Department Stores, from 1986 to 1995. After Stern’s, he assumed the position of director of visual merchandising for WalkerGroup/CNI, an architectural design firm in New York City. Feigenbaum was also an adjunct professor of Store Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and formerly served as the chair of the Visual Merchandising Department at LIM College (New York) from 2000 to 2015. In addition to being the Editorial Advisor/New York Editor of VMSD magazine, Eric is also a founding member of PAVE (A Partnership for Planning and Visual Education). Currently, he is also president and director of creative services for his own retail design company, Embrace Design.