As a retail and customer relationship management expert, I spend a lot of time in stores. As I have said most of the time, even though retailing online is growing fast, and customer experience in the E-commerce is constantly improving, the main customer relationship medium remains the retail.
A lot of companies have understood it:
- Nespresso, who built its business model and customer service excellence on the Internet, has built a strong store network in order to be closer to its clientele.
- Apple doesn't stop opening stores, even though they are an hardware company, in order to master the way its products are distributed.
- French E-commerce leader Cdiscount has strong ambitions in developping a store network.
- French Mayo and mustard producer Maille (Unilever group) owns two stores in France where they sell some premium products.
Most of the time, the idea of these companies are to use the point of sale as a showroom which emphasizes on the products, and on the greatness of their brands. Some may earn money (I believe it is the case of Apple's store), some are pure advertisement (like direct banking company ING Direct, or online Internet provider Free).
Not only "suppliers" or service companies are opening concept stores. Some retailers also have concept stores in order to prepare the future of their banners. One of the most well known concept store that has been launched those past few years was Carrefour Planet. Not only because it was the concept store of the largest retailer in the world beside Walmart, but also because it was innovative.
As a pro, I am seeking for those kind of initiatives to visits. Because they always have the most updated tools , but also because you can see in it what is the best service one company can provide to its customers.
But it is always interesting to put them into prospectives. Indeed, with concept stores, most of the time, you are in front of a non profitable store: a lot of tests are put in place in order to see what suits the most the customer, and what is the most efficient. It is always important to have that in mind. This is the reason why, it is always important to understand where profitability is, and where the cosmetic part is.
This is the reason why, you should not spend too much time in concept stores, because most of the time it can't be implemented at a large scale.