Image Source LSN

Total Retail is the latest buzzword whizzing around the industry. It’s a new way to described the old ‘omni-channel’ concept and aims to show that  brands have to now project their messages and identity as much offline as online so that customers get the ‘total’ approach. Simple really.

But does Total Retail bring anything new ? And does social media actually do much to drive sales? My own gut feeling is that all too often social media is that it can just create noise rather than substance if not considered strategically.

So to check out the concept, I went out hunting in New York on a recent business trip to find new stores that have adopted the ‘total retail’ approach and to test it for myself. I chose menswear stores to visit as Euromonitor predicts that mens’ clothing will globally outperform womenswear by 2020 and checked them out first online to see if they lived up to their internet image.

First stop on my tour was Todd Snyder, a newly opened menswear store at North Madison Square. The store included a full range of Snyder’s own brand apparel, from formal wear to sport and casual but but cleverly surrounded by edited ‘other brand he likes’ picks for shoes, watches, sunglasses and skincare. There’s also a barbershop and a café and bar. In short, Todd’s has added all the ingredients to make it a one-stop-shop for a cosmopolitan male shopper like me.

On the surface, it also has everything a store should have. Infact, Todd’s is almost a mini department store with all the product types well categorised. Yet there was something missing – mainly clues as to how best to navigate yourself around the place, and how best to shop. While Todd clearly has a story and style that translates well into physical architecture, visiting the store was more like a 3-D brochure than an enjoyable customer experience.

On the website, for example, there was lots of chatter about the craftsmanship and garment edits yet none of that showed up in the shop which seemed a little disjointed by comparison and there was no nod to provenance or customer personalisation that I had expected to see from what I had read on the website.

My next stop was to Saks which recently opened a men’s store in Brookfield Place – the heart of the downtown financial district. As you would expect of a shop at the epicentre of finance, there is a serious emphasis on made to measure and bespoke tailoring for the affluent traders and bankers it obviously hopes to entice. To catch the attention of the passing by customers, Saks has also opened a pop-up space outside the store in the mall showing off its tailoring services – although the measuring happens to take place at the back of the store. In the store itself, there’s all the usual eye-candy like shoes, watches, sunglasses and bags and it’s perfect for browsing but also missing that little extra ‘total’ experience that I had expected of such a great brand as Saks. My conclusion ? Needs to try harder.

Finally downtown at Greene Street is Warby Parker, the best example I saw of a store that has customised the ‘Total Retail’ approach. Warby Parker has really thought through the buying journey, and you can start and end shopping online or in the store or mix between each channel. Whether online or in the store your are helped to find frame shapes, style and colours that suit you and easily get to a selection to try either in the store or posted to you at home. Either way you give back what you don’t like and keep the best.

What works for Warby, though, does not necessarily translate into the higher bracket products but they have got the sense of experience spot-on with their menswear clothing lines. If my tour taught me anything, it is that retail brands need to be distinct about the ‘what’ but also the ‘how’ a customer gets from his or her digital or physical interaction.

To get that right, brands must identify the platforms that resonate most with the people they want to target and that is to find a fine blend between offline and online. With the public now using the mobile phone increasingly for shopping, researching and information, there’s no question that brands need to be able to take those customers on the journey with them. Retailers need to make that a seamless journey too.