In the three years since Diane Ellis became chief executive officer of The Limited, she’s consolidated the Columbus, Ohio-based retailer’s store fleet to 186 units from 259. Now, she’s splitting the portfolio into two groups: stores in AA+ malls and those in B and C centers, each their own retail concept.
A new value-oriented nameplate, Backroom at The Limited, is being rolled out this summer to 86 units in the less-desirable malls. Backroom is different than The Limited and The Limited Outlet and will offer products designed specifically for Backroom and the outlet stores.
Some of the 100 stores in AA-plus malls could be adapted to a new high-tech retail concept under The Limited nameplate. The inaugural store, a 4,216-square-foot unit, had a soft opening at Tysons Corner in McLean, Va., on Friday.
With high-tech bells and whistles designed by Fitch, which created an immersive experience at Pirch in SoHo, the store goes beyond the typical interactive mirrors and kiosks that seem to be an afterthought in some stores, targeting a sophisticated professional customer whose average age is 35 years old.
“We’re leveraging the strength of our digital business, which accounts for 30 percent of our business,” Ellis said. “A lot of our clients do their browsing online. The store is not necessarily being used as their browsing mechanism. We orchestrated the store around understanding the change in her behavior.”
“A lot of clients don’t want to make the leap to go to the fitting room,” Ellis said. “People want the opportunity to put together outfits on the sales floor.” The Limited’s answer: Outfit Bars, where a customer can hang garments near a digital device that offers suggestions for related products. The suggestions go beyond what’s available in the store by integrating the broader endless aisle online where unique styles, colors and size extensions are sold.
The Coveted Closet, which will release a 10-piece capsule collection four to six times a year that can be worn in many combinations, will be familiar to Pinterest fans. A 10-foot-high digital mirror previews the capsule in all its permutations on a model. “The model is layering on the garments, posing and turning,” said Joanne Putka, design director at Fitch. “We added [a mechanism] to the digital mirror for customer interaction, so she can ask to see certain pieces.”
An Inspiration Station, a table embedded with touchscreen technology, can be accessed by a shopper on her own or with help from a sales associate. Touching or swiping the table introduces videos about the creation of Limited products. Ellis said style advisers “are more highly trained and work in a much more elevated way. They’re working to style you.”
Dressing rooms, called The Styling Salon, are more spacious and with amenities such as bottled water and warm towels. “We made it a very spalike experience,” Ellis said. “We’re able to check you out in in The Styling Salon. We made it a much more indulgent experience.”
Since Friday’s soft opening, the average dollar spend at the store is about 30 percent higher than traditional Limited stores. Sales are running about 40 percent ahead of the original Tysons Corner store, which was on a lower level.
“We’re thrilled with results,” Ellis said. “We’ve had very strong metrics.”
The first high-tech store prototype cost 35 to 40 percent more than a typical buildout, but Ellis said with subsequent units, “we should be able to get it down to 10 percent to 15 percent more.”
The Tysons Corner store features third-party products. “We tagged it under brands we love,” Ellis said. “We wanted to expand the assortment. There are women-empowered brands in the accessories and gifts areas.”
In general, the store has a much more edited assortment and boutique merchandising approach.
“The store is designed with a lot less product and more of a boutique feel,” Ellis said. “The store itself is very quiet. The objective was to quiet the space from signage and graphics. We even made hangers the same color as the walls, Benjamin Moore Soft Chamois.”
“A cruciform, it’s a fixture in the center of the store that’s larger than life and very impactful,” Putka said. The cruciform creates a feeling of intimacy without feeling closed in. Rather than traditional windows, two plasma screens run branded videos or promotional videos. Doors at the front of the store pivot to form different configurations of openings to allow part of the store to be enclosed for events.
A Limited store at Boca Town Center in Boca Raton in the spring will be relocated and given the high-tech treatment.
The Tysons Corner unit will determine how aggressively the company moves to open additional concept stores. “We integrated beacons and other measuring technology to understand what elements of the store are driving consumer behavior,” Ellis said. “As we get further reads on Tysons, we’ll make a determination on how that impacts our strategy to roll out high-tech stores.”