Retail is about the experience.

This story first appeared in the April 2, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

That was the message from a presentation by Ethan Song, cofounder, chief executive officer and creative director of Frank & Oak, and Ali Asaria, founder and ceo of Tulip Retail, on “From Virtual to Physical: How Frank & Oak Became a Model for Omnichannel Retailers.”

According to Song, the apparel brand was started three years ago in Montreal. “We wanted to create cool clothes for regular guys like us,” Song said. And while the company is a fashion brand, it wasn’t other design houses that the company looked to emulate. “We looked at media companies as our reference,” Song said. That focus gave Frank & Oak the vision of how to make the lives of its customers better, the ceo said.

Song described his firm as an “experience company.” By that he means Frank & Oak creates an experience that guys want to repeat. That experience — content on the site, the ability to buy products online and personal service, whether texting customer service or working with a personal stylist — are all powered by technology. Yet it’s the culture and content that changes monthly that pushes Frank & Oak more into the media realm, or at least that’s how the company views itself.

The monthly collections are available for a 60-day period, allowing for small production runs that tend to sell out in 45 days, Song said. And the monthly digital content, not to mention the style advice features, all help to improve the life of a Frank & Oak guy. Even mobile, whether its the payment services or ease in accessing the site’s online content on a smartphone, helps to up the experience quotient.

Song advocated that people stop thinking of each option — physical, mobile or desktop — as separate channels or screens. Digital content is available at the Frank & Oak stores, even at the Toronto location where half the store is a bar. The company also eschews beacon technology to help with self-service checkout.

“We did the opposite. We empowered our stylists at the stores to know all about the customers wherever they buy. All the channels link to the core base,” Song said.

Asaria, whose firm provides retailers with in-hand technology to provide store associates with product, customer and store information to improve the customer experience, said, “We keep hearing of how shoppers have changed….Ninety percent of what’s happening is inside the store.”

What Asaria means by that, he explains, is “Stores are the strongest line of defense against e-commerce pressure and new entrants.”

While retailers use beacon technology to personalize or make recommendations through apps, the key for retailers is still in the stores, he said. Using Frank & Oak as an example, the style advisers are not store associates. Their presence is not transactional, and that means a store’s purpose is no longer about inventory. Rather, the “store is a way to share the brand, the products and the experience,” Asaria explained.

He said for omnichannel, consistency and continuity at every touchpoint is key. According to Asaria, it’s the simplest things that drive the return on investment, such as sales associates having mobile capability to answer questions from customers. “The future of retail is the store and the future of the store is the associate,” Asaria concluded.

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