Monday, 10 june 2019 | Redacción CEU
With the unstoppable development of technology, some questions arise: Will we keep doing things as we have been doing them until now? How could technology transform our environment? Will we adapt quickly to changes? Will we substitute a model for another? Not a single sector disregards these issues, and much less the retail sector, which is in direct contact with the final consumers. For example, some people see in e-commerce a serious threat to traditional commerce: Why would users go to a physical store if they can make their purchases from their living rooms? New questions lead to designing new strategies such as the boost for flagship stores. They are stores that do not have the purpose of selling, but offering an avant-garde and attractive brand image and, consequently, a different experience to consumers. These stores are just a proof of how the retail world can adapt to change and not only be threatened by it.
The concept of flagship store –also known as concept store or simply flagship– was born in the United States. This term is used to designate the ship where the person with the highest rank in a group of vessels travels. Therefore, it is the most emblematic ship of all: the first and largest ship which represents the rest and is better armed (although to be honest, this will not always be the case). Retail sales have borrowed these words from the naval field to name their reference stores: representative shops that seek to win consumers over from a new perspective.
These shops seek to attract users' attention with resources such as creativity, innovation, design and technology. It is difficult, almost impossible, for a pedestrian to walk pass such a store without picking up on it. They are usually found in central or emblematic streets, and are buildings that attract attention because of their size, architecture or design. In them, consumers find the most ground-breaking products of firms, those that show what the brand is capable of doing. These spaces pay attention to details and also have a larger catalog than the conventional ones. They are conceived as leisure spaces in which the core ideas of surprise, enjoyment and satisfaction of clients prevail.
Against all odds, the mission of these stores is not to sell products (at least not in a direct way), but to convey a brand idea, some values and, ultimately, a particular image. They are spaces in which rather than products, we talk about what the firm is (or what it wants to be). Therefore, these stores serve as a kind of meeting place between brand and clients that follow a thorough staging which seeks to contribute to brand awareness. In other words, these stores are a powerful branding tool.
When a firm decides to opt for this format to land in a country for the first time, the store itself becomes the best lure and also a declaration of intent. In some way, the brand is announcing its ambitious mission to become a benchmark for the consumers in this new market. The launching of this type of stores might also answer to a complementary strategy to the e-commerce world. The firms that design their business mainly in the online world find in flagships a good alternative to present their brands and make their products known in a physical way.
It can be said that flagships work as large showcases to the world. In fact, many times they are located in airports in order to have a broader and heterogeneous public visibility. They are also found in strategic places in large cities. The Primark store on Gran Vía street in Madrid is a good example of this strategy. Its size and location turned the launch of this store into a big event, by managing to gather long queues at its doors for the first days after its opening.
The success of flagships is due in large part to the care into customers' experience. If we can distinguish these stores for something is for its exceptionality. When visiting these shops, users notice a significant difference, whether due to the avant-garde design of the products, the first-rate service provided, the impressive atmosphere or the technology being used. It is true that all these stores share features (size, location, an innovative character, etc.), but there is no single recipe for designing these centers. In fact, if a firm reproduces what has brought success to the rest of the stores, it might fall into repetition and greatly reduce the impact on consumers. Originality is rewarded.
In these stores everything revolves around the sensations, emotions and experiences that clients have. The idea is that thanks to them consumers end up connecting at another level with brands and, in some way, falling in love with them and being loyal to them. Flagships have become a trend among major brands, but that does not mean that this type of stores can only be implemented by large companies. While it is true that small companies have smaller budgets and cannot set them up in the city center, it is also true that they have a greater freedom. They may compensate for this weakness with the decision to bet on innovation, creativity and originality.
The CEU IAM Business School offers an Executive MBA based on the effective training of leaders on essential issues such as innovation capacity, entrepreneurship, internationalization, social responsibility and managerial skills. Thanks to this program, its participants will acquire the tools and techniques, both in a methodological and a practical way, which are necessary to assume new responsibilities in the management area.