Last month, Zara unveiled its largest store yet, a colossal 9,000-square-meter fashion haven in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. The premises, formerly a C&A department store unit, underwent a transformation into a mega-brand experience as parent company Inditex adjusts its international store footprint strategy. Similar XL destinations can be found in Paris and Miami.
Occupying five floors, Zara is redefining the retail landscape in Rotterdam with curated and experiential fashion. Concurrently, the brand is closing smaller and less significant stores, embracing larger spaces for merchandising and immersive branding. This expansive approach allows for the display, sale, and experience of a wider array of categories under one roof, ranging from cosmetics and sportswear, to furniture and homeware. Notably, Zara's Antwerp Home store allocates almost a third of its space to home fragrance and candles, a thriving growth category that is expanding rapidly.
The era of hastily dropping into a high street store for a speedy checkout to evade lengthy queues and navigate through disorganised racks overflowing with unmerchandised clothing appears to be fading into the past.
Zara is not alone in this trend, as other high-street players are also opting for more extensive premises, noted the Wall Street journal. Following in the footsteps of Ikea, which opened an inner-city outlet on Oxford Street, Apple long ago pioneered the concept of destination shopping, emphasising aspiration and experience in large spaces over mere product acquisition. The leather banquettes and foliage in its London flagship attract shoppers to see and experience its products, perhaps even to stay a while. Having removed the traditional till and payment counter, Apple staff are equipped with mobile payment units and can service customers anywhere in its store.
As major groups like Inditex and H&M streamline operations by closing certain stores to control costs, they are concurrently investing in larger spaces to showcase more of their brand offerings. These revamped spaces often feature beauty stations, coffee corners, virtual browsing zones, and unique additions such as a Japanese tea shop, as seen in Uniqlo’s Covent Garden store. H&M’s upgraded Regent Street location boasts a nail bar, lash bar, clothing rental services, and floor-to-ceiling television screens. It also sells clothes.
The traditional notion that concept stores were exclusively reserved for high-end fashion and niche brands is evolving. Stores like Milan's iconic 10 Corso Como and the now-closed Colette in Paris were known for delivering unique and exclusive pieces from luxury brands and guest designers, along with capsule merch drops, emerging brands, music, food, exhibitions, and other events. Milan's 10 Corso Como also hosts one of the city’s premier art bookshops, and its garden restaurant draws a fashion-forward crowd year-round. But the high street has caught on.
While online platforms facilitate much of the search and discovery process, physical stores remain pivotal for brand engagement. The traditional retail strategy of having a presence in every town's retail corner is evolving, with brands opting for fewer but better stores. According to the Wall Street Journal, Inditex's strategic move to eliminate a quarter of its stores since 2018 contributed to an 8 percent increase in total revenue from stores in 2022 compared to four years earlier.
Creating memorable in-store experiences in new hubs is poised to drive brand engagement further. Shoppers in physical stores may come to have a beauty treatment and meet a friend for coffee. Tomorrow they may shop online.