Reformation wants you to shop online, IRL

Reformation wants you to shop online, IRL

Over the next couple posts, we’ll be discussing the impact of technology in retail stores. More specifically, we’ll consider how formerly ecommerce-only companies have integrated technology into their brick-and-mortar locations. 

This week, retail guru Olivia Horvath explored the womenswear company Reformation’s high-tech space in New York’s East Village.

A “Cool Girl” Aesthetic That’s Good for Planet Earth

This LA-based line was launched in 2009 starting with an eCommerce site. The brand was intent on making feminine and effortless pieces while focusing on sustainability.  They developed a customer base with their on-trend pieces made from dead-stock fabric, sustainably sourced material, and repurposed vintage clothes. Moderately priced pieces and buy-now-wear-now fashion rendered this brand accessible to the masses.  

Reformation also appealed to socially-conscious young women — their target demographic — by sending updates via email about how they reduce waste from sketch to production. This marketing tactic instilled confidence in environmentally-conscious consumers.  Reformation was providing added value, convincing customers that by shopping with them, they could have the wardrobe they craved while decreasing water usage and their own carbon footprint. 

Of course, without great pieces, Reformation would just be another green startup. Yes, this environmentally conscious business model has helped their image, but it is Reformation’s “cool girl” aesthetic that has sealed their success amongst young, bicoastal women. 

Currently, Reformation has three retail locations in downtown New York City, (LES, Soho, Bond Street), four in California, and one in Texas. 80% of their sales still come from their website, but rerouting how technology influences customer experience in-store is driving more and more customers to their brick-and-mortar locations.

In late 2017, Reformation’s updated their retail stores with cutting-edge technology — especially their Bond Street location.  Their goal: to make a high volume store function seamlessly by bridging the gap between shopping Reformation online and in-store. 

In-Store Millennial Minimalism Showcases Tech

From my past experiences at the SoHo locations, I’ve found that Reformation is one of the few companies dedicated to making sure their branding and customer service go hand-in-hand. This approach creates a well-rounded in-store experience. I was intrigued to see how their well-curated branding might be affected by the high-tech updates.  

First off, the overall vibe of the Bond Street store is a bit more uptight and cold than the Soho location, but it does feel higher-end. Bond Street —a cobblestone off-street between Lafayette and Bowery — is a-tucked away hidden gem, lined with boutique hotels and restaurants. When walking up to the store on the brick-adorned street, it seems like you’re approaching a gallery space. 

Upon entrance, the well-lit and spacious venue feels like a factory-turned-curated-showroom. There is minimalist design, tall ceilings, white-washed walls, bare wood floors, and muted music.   The only accent pieces are the tech updates like large touchpad displays and the occasional, California-cool succulent plant. 

To the left of the entry way, there is a large touch pad display to greet you — not an actual person. With this technology, you can pick pieces from Reformation’s stock and build your own dressing room. This iPad is not intimidating; it’s much like shopping on their website. Instead of browsing the space for clothing, I perused the collection online, considering a style first and then selecting my size and color preferences. The process of shopping in-store with a tablet felt natural immediately.  

A Game-Changing, Unforgettable Magic Wardrobe

After customers build their own personalized dressing room, they’re advised to check-in at the “love desk”. Here, customers will most likely have their first interaction with a store associate. While the associates are there to check customers in, they were adjunct to the user-friendly devices. Once checked-in, customers can relax in the lounge or browse Reformation’s edited section of third-party accessories. 

After a short wait, associates call customers by name and guide them to their fitting rooms, where your wardrobe is awaiting you. Inside, you’ll see your selection of pieces have appeared magically, thanks to a false back in the fitting room that leads to the stock area.  

While in the fitting room, you can have a truly personalized experience.  There is a smaller touch screen where you can add more sizes/items, plug your phone in and play music, and create your own mood lighting.  

Every avid shopper knows lighting in the fitting room is key to confidence while trying on new clothes. At Reformation, customers can choose from three different lighting options: golden, cool, or sexy-time. This was one of the first dressing rooms that I didn’t want to rush out of. It felt luxurious and intimate. I felt free to take my time, take selfies, and ask employees and friends for their advice. I almost felt like Cher Horowitz in Clueless with my own virtual, intelligent closet.  

Once customers finish up in these hard-to-leave fitting rooms, it’s time to checkout. Shoppers simply bring items to the aforementioned love desk and check out via portable tech with cash or credit.

Customer Service That Needs to Catch up to Tech

While I enjoyed the novelty of the magic wardrobe, what I was left desiring was a more positive experience with the sales staff. Reformation Bond Street is great for those days when I’m craving the least amount of human interaction possible.  I got this feeling that more training was needed for the associates to feel comfortable not only with the new tech, but also with classic customer rapport. 

For example, while at the love desk, the staff exuded annoyance when I asked if I could check out.  To me, a truly high-end shopping experience would require the staff to treat shoppers as well as the tech does. The last impression a store can leave is during check out and the goodbye.  This quick interaction nearly diverted my overall positive experience.

Reformation can improve upon their tech-based customer experience by syncing customers’ online profiles with their in-store purchases.  That way, the customer profile can be more readily available to staff, creating an even more personalized experience.

Also, while the company is quite visible with their quarterly sustainability reports online, their environmentally-friendly business model feels secondary when in-store. Their motto, displayed demurely throughout the store, reads: “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2.” But there is no reference to what the slogan means — and that’s a missed opportunity.

Reformation Isn’t Perfect — But It’s Well-Worth the Trip

I truly enjoyed the convenience and functionality of the tech at the Bond Street store. Like shopping online, their devices were user-friendly and allow customers to control their own experiences. There’s even an upside to the lack of staff engagement: no one pushes the customer to try on a size or style she's not comfortable with. The staff is there not to make a sale but to assist in the Reformation experience. 

Ultimately, I’d prefer to keep shopping Reformation online. But if I feel I need to try a specific style on for fit or quality, then Bond Street will be my destination. While the whole experience is not perfect, I’ll take any excuse to indulge in Reformation’s magic wardrobe one more time.



My trip to Adidas.  The store Nike would have built in the past.

My trip to Adidas. The store Nike would have built in the past.

After having a good experience at the new Nike flagship, I was excited to hit the new Adidas flagship up on 5th avenue.  There was quite a bit of media hype over this store and I was interested in comparing.  While I really liked both store experiences, my top line insight is Adidas is more prescriptive of a traditional flagship store right down to its location.  It was big and bombastic and dramatic.  In my opinion, Nike's choice of SoHo, it's community strategy, it's service strategy, and the nuanced expressions of the strategy in the design, are reflective of a greater level of sophistication in the experience putting Nike one step ahead of Adidas.  Adidas is the store Nike would have built in the past which is probably testament to Nike's experience and resources as a global brand.

That said, the Adidas store is impressive and captures the unique street edge of the Adidas brand. What really struck me was the product design and collaborations.  I found myself constantly being pulled into the product on the shelf and there's a lot to look at with four floors and multiple categories. While Nike chose to champion Running, Soccer and Basketball, Adidas has a wider range of product categories and as a result offers more choices.  I'm not a fashion designer, but their product collaborations are good and the Pharrell Williams product is a must-have kind of hot.

The use and branding of technical materials is both impressive and engaging to the touch. Adidas brands and labels a lot of technology which you eventually tune out but it's always there to reinforce their expertise.  One of my favorites fabrics is a paper material used on jackets.  It's lightweight, tough as nails and elegant all at the same time. 

Both Nike and Adidas are great merchandisers but I noticed a unique layering technique at Adidas.  Displays were like mini-scrap books, layering photos, signs and a range of product to bring athletes and product stories to life.  

One of the most unique features of the store is a bleacher section built into the stairs.  It's not an unexpected element, especially for a "stadium store" concept, but the positioning of the grand stands is both useful and entertaining.  The area will serve the store well both as a resting spot for weary 5th avenue crowds as well as a mini-stage for store events and product launches etc.  From the street one looks up to the fans facing them as if the street is the playing field.  A unique and fun perspective.

The music is, of course, spot on and put me in a great mood.  While Adidas doesn't have a strong service statement they've teamed up with a professional training company and certified trainers roam the store talking to guests about whatever sport they play offering advice on how to train better, deal with injuries and of course what products can help them be a better athlete.  Like Nike they utilize technology to evaluate a runner's stride in order to make product recommendations.  Overall, the staff supporting all of this was very energized and seemed genuinely excited to be there.  

Both stores seem to be new chapters for Nike and Adidas as they battle it out in NYC. I'd say both customer experience are well thought out down to the details and both transport you into their brands.  As a fickle customer they've both convinced me and won me over.  Despite all the technology and promises of personalized data points, it's the product design I can't live without.  I now have products I "must have" from both brands to complete my look, not to make me a better athlete (they can't fix this :) but I appreciate their effort.  



Nike Soho put me 'in the game, on the floor, in the match.'

Nike Soho put me 'in the game, on the floor, in the match.'

This season, thanks to the Nike running store in the Flat Iron district, I've been happily sporting a few pairs of Nike's and I've made a few satisfying trips to that location where I first noticed Nike's new commitment to service.  So, when I read about the new Soho flagship I was so excited to get over to see this new breed of Nike stores.

In perfect form, when you walk in your senses are overloaded and you're transported to what feels like a pro-level athletic event.  The booming music puts you in the middle of a half-time event at an NBA game but you're not looking down from the bleachers, you're looking up from the floor.  A massive video wall welcomes you in and draws a clear line in the sand.  Nike SoHo is 'at your service' in four very specific ways..which they list.  While the store reinforces the commitment to service, it's the employees or "Athletes" as they call them who do a great job delivering on the promise.  

This new flagship seems to mark a new chapter in Nike's story departing from the brand temples of the past.  It is literally larger-than-life occupying four floors in SoHo but it's more authentic and it means business. It's kinetic and feels more active and in-motion rather than the staged drama of it's predecessors.  As the guest, you're no longer the spectator.  You're 'in the game, on the floor, in the match.'  Teams of mannequins tower over you like the 'gods of the sports' without being specific to any one athlete. Could that be you? Video puts you in a moment or you see your reflection in the surfaces and you're part of the picture.  The store interacts with you passively and actively.  You're among the athletic gods but you're next to them, rubbing elbows, comparing your height to theirs.  Product (as technology) is hero and reinforced around every corner.  Yet while the soft apparel product is positioned as technical, but approachable, the technical product is positioned as soft and human. They've brilliantly gone anti-tech with the Nike / Apple watch and presented it in human non-intimidating super simple terms that stand out against the technical apparel environment. 

In the last year, I've done a lot of work around guest experiences that connect authentically with the community and that's exactly what Nike is trying to do here.  When I spoke to one of the Athletes she said, "We are here to make sure you guys in the community, in Soho, have what you need." So while it sits in a global tourist destination its message is local.  Welcome Soho.  

It was an inspiring visit to the Nike Flagship SoHo. I felt genuinely welcomed, engaged and inspired. Have a look at the photos and see for yourself but you cannot have this experience through any digital means.  It's only through a visit that you will you have this experience.  Isn't that the bar that all retail stores need to hit today?

Comments from my Nike Running Store experience - Flat Iron District

One thing that immediately struck me, beyond the must-have styles and wonderment of how they continue to advance the design of tennis shoes, was the onslaught of personal service.  It is clear that Nike has implemented a service program defined by a "personal" level of service for everyone.  I'm not a known 'big spender' nor do I call ahead and ask for a personal shopper, but that's exactly what I got at the Nike Running Store and I walked away feeling like I now have a go-to store and guy who would do anything to make sure I'm happy with the shoes on my feet.  

What did he do?  What you would expect however he actually did it.  He got to know me, stayed with me through dozens of considerations, offered advice and a bottle of water and shared information on the local Nike running and work-out clubs.  He made it clear that this was " your service."  Bottom line, he be-friended me in a normal not too overly friendly or weird sort of way and then wrapped up my shoes in a great presentation and sent me on my way. 

My 'Creative Morning' at Etsy HQ

My 'Creative Morning' at Etsy HQ

I joined a group called Creative Mornings.  It's a breakfast lecture series for the creative community. The organization is a bottom's up community comprised of local chapters across the globe. Their manifesto is:

Everyone is creative.

A creative life requires bravery and action, honesty and hard work. We are here to support you, celebrate with you, and encourage you to make the things you love.

We believe in the power of community. We believe in giving a damn. We believe in face-to-face connections, in learning from others, in hugs and high-fives.

We bring together people who are driven by passion and purpose, confident that they will inspire one another, and inspire change in neighborhoods and cities around the world.

Everyone is welcome.

This month the theme is "Fantasy" and Randy Hunt, the head of design at Etsy spoke on the power of Fantasy in storytelling comparing a famous architect's premeditated and well designed funeral with Kanye West's Saint Pablo tour highlighting the power of design to transport us into fantastic places. Randy Hunt is an amazing guy and Etsy headquarters is proof of his skills as the architect of the brand's expressions.  

Here is a peek into the public floor (6) where Etsy Labs and the Etsytorium both live.  The curation of art and craft, the Etsy voice in signage and design choices as well as the functionality of the space made it a morning to remember.  

High Street Flagship Stores Contracting

High Street Flagship Stores Contracting

In a recent article published by the Business of Fashion, rents on major high streets in New York and Hong Kong are dropping.  On New York's Fifth Ave rents dropped from $3500 to $3000 a square foot and vacancies are up to 15.9% from 10% earlier this year.  Brands are pushing back on high rents and looking for ways to cut budgets.  While they are not abandoning the thought of a flagship store they are looking for less expensive "cooler" locations.  

This is yet another sign of pressure on the retail store model needing to become cheaper and more nimble for brands and for consumers.  Again this makes me wonder, with the pressure of online sales on retail stores, are developers, brands and store designers reacting fast enough with solutions that move product in the real world in different ways? 

(read the full article:  "Why retail flagships are no longer hot properties," BOF, Nov 18, 2017)


Be brave.  Be transparent.  Embrace Radical Transparency.

Be brave. Be transparent. Embrace Radical Transparency.

Be brave.  Be transparent.  

Agencies are especially guilty of being more about "smoke and mirrors" with clients than being transparent with them and I would argue this leads to losing clients and employees. 

(Watch Carolyn Kopprasch talk about transparency)

Carolyn Kopprasch, Chief Happiness Officer of Buffer, shares how transparency in a business and in life translates into empathy.

To paraphrase Carolyn, building strong client relationships, sharing pricing structure and profit, making the right hires, being internally transparent with salaries, equity and especially self-improvement all have a magical effect on relationships promoting empathy between people inside and out of the company.

I believe in the power of empathy. I wonder how I can be more transparent with my partners and clients.


It's 2016, why are you still going to the office?

It's 2016, why are you still going to the office?

Seriously, why do so many brands that consider themselves leading edge still subscribe to the office environment?  While there are pros and cons to "office" or "not to office" the option to "not office" opens up a world of new possibilities.  

(click here for a great article summarizing the pros and cons and tools for working remotely)

Time is currency and one of the chief rewards of working remotely is time. It's like giving people a bonus.  When you give people time back in life to spend it on whatever makes them happy you get happier people.  This fundamental truth can then yield higher quality outputs.

I've worked remotely most of my life and can say for sure that 4 hours on my own is the equivalent to 8 hours in the office.  It has made me become feverishly focused on "the work" and intolerant of office politics, office gossip and cultural issues that distract teams from focusing on what matters most.  When people are empowered to use their time in a way that serves all aspects of their life they have less time to complain and more time to be productive.  

When I started working from home I did not have the tools we have today. We are lucky to be able to explore this new frontier where work meets life empowering us to enjoy a better balance and be happier people.

Store Closings.  Doom and gloom or the next wave of possibilities?

Store Closings. Doom and gloom or the next wave of possibilities?

While stores closing and downsizing is a painful short term reality there lies opportunity.  Kenneth Cole will close nearly all of its stores, 63 in total to focus on his online business.  It looks like he will keep flagship stores in NYC and Arlington, Virginia.  As hard as it might seem for those of us in the retail world, it makes sense. The reality is, Kenneth Cole will still have a need to connect with his fans in the real world, just not through an expensive fixed retail store format.  He will also still have a need to sell his product in the real world, just not at his outlet store format anymore.  So we can bemoan another round of store closings or we can get cracking on what is next for these brands.  How can we repurpose physical retail space to be more nimble and temporary? What are other real world formats that will put him in touch with his fans without the long term investment of a store?  How are we making it easy for brands to pop-up across the nation without signing a 10 year store lease?  As retail designers and developers are we dreaming big enough and are we moving fast enough?

Brands interested in humanity and being real should look to transparency.

Brands interested in humanity and being real should look to transparency.

"Poet and fiction writer Benjamin Brindise will take us on a quest for transparency in an attempt to find the truth inside the lie."  Creative Mornings.

Benjamin talks about his journey to being vulnerable and truthful on stage and how that has liberated him and changed his work to be honest, real and transparent.  Overcoming his fear has gained him an audience, support and success.  People are interested in the truth. Brands seeking honest and human relationships can learn from Benjamin's lesson on transparency.  Being vulnerable and facing their fear of not being perfect will be an honest and transparent voice on stage that people are looking for and will respect. 

Benjamin Brindise (born 1987) is an American writer of fiction and poetry as well as a Teaching Artist at the Just Buffalo Literary Center.