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Global Retail Innovation: Curation and Customization Key to Driving Change

With shoppers getting savvier and markets becoming increasingly saturated, retailers have to set themselves apart in new ways to keep consumers coming back. And according to experts, curation and customization will be key to commanding a customer base.

At a seminar Monday titled, “Global Retail Innovation: The Latest Concepts and Ideas Driving Change” at the National Retail Federation’s 104th annual Retail’s Big Show at the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center in New York City, moderator and senior partner of retail consultancy Ebeloft USA, Neil Stern, said the theme for retailers today should be: Think different.

Stern revealed seven key innovations leading the charge for change including curated collections, customization, experiential retailing, hyper local, online offline mashup, retailvention and technology intervention.

“In the age of everything being available on the Internet,” Stern said, “curation is becoming increasingly important.

Trunk Club was the first retailer highlighted for achieving success in this category. The simplified shopping solution for men pairs consumers who sign up with personal stylists, puts together a trunk of handpicked clothing and ships them to the shopper’s home. Similarly, German Outfittery is providing personalized service and style consultations for men based on the consumer’s preferences and lifestyle.

In terms of customization, Stern highlighted UK department store Selfridges as seeing success in this area with its Fragrance Lab. At its Concept Store in London, Selfridges is offering consumers a new way to explore beauty by stepping into a profiling experience and leaving with a just-for-them signature scent. And consumers can also decide how committed they are to the project by selecting either the express experience where a questionnaire about preferences and habits yields a personalized fragrance in five minutes, or the immersive experience, where following the questionnaire, consumers take a sensory tour—touching, sniffing and seeing objects—and reveal responses to each to determine their scent type.

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Experiential retailing, or the idea that retail stores are becoming social gathering places where consumers can “work with the brand and be one with the brand” is another key trend in the space, according to Stern, who said one of the best retail stores he saw last year was the U.K.’s Hedonism.

The wine and spirits boutique has made experience its business offering tastings, rare vintages, wines from small growers, chandeliers made of wine glasses and an expert staff who lives for what they do.

Getting hyper local and tailoring product offerings to the local community like France’s Au Bout du Champ, which provides individualized lockers with organic local products where consumers can collect their goods at their convenience, has been doing will also be increasingly key.

Seamless retailing has been a buzzword and will continue to be as stores are becoming delivery points for product, according to Stern. The U.K.’s Argos, Stern said, “is the first retailer that has reached the omnichannel tipping point.” The store, which sells toys, home furnishings and personal care items, among other things has reduced its square footage, and increased its tech capabilities—the store has become a virtual showroom of sorts and consumers can browse products on tablets and have them brought out within 90 seconds provided the item is in stock.

Retailvention, according to Stern, is the notion of recreating a category. Eyewear innovator Warby Parker earned the NRF award for Innovator of the Year for 2014 in this category for reshaping the eyewear buying experience.

This year, Stern has his eyes toward Dr. Fleming, an Italian “pharmacy of the future” where architectural barriers have been removed in favor of minimalistic design and designated spots where pharmacists and clients can interact and discuss health questions and information.

“It’s less about product on the floor and more about giving solutions to the customer,” Stern said.

Space to Ninety 8 in Brooklyn, N.Y., an Urban Outfitters retail concept is also being touted as an experiential platform. Beyond in-store product, a communal rooftop space gives shoppers a space to lounge, eat, and most importantly, stick around in the store.

In terms of technology innovation, Japan’s Teamlab hanger is a key example of this trend. The interactive hanger is linked via a sensor and when a customer picks up an item on the hanger, details about the product become available on a screen above the clothing rack.

With technology becoming increasingly relevant to retail, Stern said brands often get caught up with where to start and what to use in terms of technology, but “Technology is not the answer, technology is an aid,” he said.