BERLIN — The new H&M store in Berlin, opening this Friday, will be the first of its kind worldwide. It will be one of the brand’s smaller stores and, if successful, it may also signal a change in the way the Swedish fashion giant sells clothes.
This Berlin-based experiment is all part of H&M’s broader overhaul, as the company invests in high-tech logistics, spruces up stores and revamps customer services. “What we wanted to explore was, how can a big brand like H&M go local?” said Anna Bergare, business developer at H&M Laboratory, the Group’s innovation hub, who has been involved in the research behind the new store, named H&M Mitte Garden. “How do we become more tailored and more niche? We are starting to see how people are living differently, spending more money on things like eating out and other experiences. Thanks to technology, people are also often aware of what they want to buy before they even walk in a store.”
The result is what Bergare described as a “hyperlocal store.” The company did not wish to reveal the cost of outfitting the new outpost but with its pale green walls, high vaulted ceilings, wood and white shelving, the fresh 3,300-square-foot space in Berlin’s trendy Mitte district isn’t anything like the usual, huge H&M mall-style store shoppers are familiar with. Overall the look and feel is more like that found in stores run by H&M‘s successful spin-off, & Other Stories.
On offer are special lifestyle products — Frau Tonis perfumes made in Berlin, Canada-based cult skin-care brand, The Ordinary, bags from Swiss brand Velt — as well as around 120 vintage items selected by Berlin-based stylists, Out of Use. There’s also a juice and coffee bar run by Berlin eatery Daluma at the back of the store and beyond that, through another set of doors, a charming garden. Downstairs there’s “the showroom,” a closed space that customers can be invited into to check out the latest styles before they are available upstairs. Up until the end of the year, this H&M store will also host yoga lessons once a week, early Friday mornings. Other cultural events, and even a Christmas market, are in planning.
Perhaps most interesting of all the features though are the H&M clothes on sale — or rather, not on sale. The full range is not here and any warehouse atmosphere is gone. Instead, there’s a selection of garments from H&M’s main collection curated to appeal to customers native to this neighborhood only — “creative, fashion-oriented women,” Bergare said.
The rest of H&M’s range is still available here but must be sourced online. In a corner of the store, there are two Microsoft Surface Pro touchscreens for customers to browse the rest of the collection and, if they wish, order it from a dedicated H&M web site built especially for this outlet. It’s not all about sales: The information on the laptops could also just inspire. Shop staff were tasked with styling, then photographing, themselves and others in H&M. They’ve compiled an Instagram-like portfolio, accessible via the screens here. “More local ownership,” Bergare commented.
With around 20 staff, the ratio of service team to customer is slightly higher here, confirmed Thorsten Mindermann, H&M’s country manager in Germany. Sales assistants will be given a smart watch that alerts them when, for example, a customer needs help in a changing cubicle, or requires a cashier at the counter. All of the staff will also carry a smart phone, armed with an app dedicated to navigating this store.
Once the store opens, data about how the space is being used will begin to be collected. And the aim of everything from the wheeled racks to the in-store technology is to stay agile and react quickly and specifically to the desires of shoppers. “We didn’t want to build something big and complex that makes people behave in the way we think they should,” said Andy Hood, head of emerging tech at AKQA, the London-based digital services agency that worked on in-store technology. “We are starting with something pretty simple and we are going to evolve it over time.”
That’s not to say all of H&M’s larger outlets are set to shrink immediately. “I wouldn’t say every store will look like this,” Mindermann cautioned. “This store will just be an inspiration.”
“It’s a trial,” Bergare further explained the need for change in retail tactics. “We know that in the next few years, half of all retail sales will be digital. We believe in connection and collaboration, [with locals] and in the hyper-local. The learnings from this project and other future projects will really contribute to that. How it all turns out, we will have to wait and see.”