Cover of Shopping Centre News, from 31st May, 2014

by Michelle Cramer
Shopping Centre News
31 May 2014
pp. 30-32

Spread from Shopping Centre News, pp. 30-32

In previous articles I have investigated the history of window shopping, the rise of the flaneur and the changing face of high street retailing as a consequence of integrated technologies. It’s now time to take these concepts to a whole new level. In urban retailing in the 21st century we can observe a shift, not away from the product, but to an augmentation of product. Many have discussed the role of experience in contemporary retailing. This article investigates ‘The Department Store’ in Takapuna, Auckland, as a model of e(vent)-tailing to discover why Conde Nast Traveller would identify it as “One of the Seven Wonders of the Shopping World.” It is not all about shopping.

E(vent)-tailing is a proposition. It suggests that just as retailing connected with the information age to create e-tailing, successful current retailers are embodying events as part of their retail program. More than a ‘sale’ or ‘give-a-way’ approach, these events are embedded within the culture and nature of the store and, in the most evolved version, intrinsically connected to the community and place within which they are located. As such, e(vent)-tailing is a transaction, an experience, and physical sensorial-based interaction with a place. It is the equivalent of the 4-D movie for retail.

The Department Store is used here as an exemplar of e(vent)-tailing. It utilises a curatorial approach to merchandise and extends that concept to a curatorial approach to events management. While merchandise and transaction remain fundamental to the concept, layers of local, regional and nationally significant events secure the store’s place in the cultural landscape of Auckland. Not an anchor to a retail core, the store is the epicentre of life at Takapuna.

The Department Store is a self-described modern take on the traditional department store experience. It has been assembled by the internationally recognised fashion designer Karen Walker together with Stephen Marr and Dan Gosling. Their approach is to create a single environment where one can experience the very best from the worlds of design, beauty, fashion and interiors. To that end, they have created a purpose built three-storey retail house at Takapuna Beach in Auckland, well outside the established and normalised shopping precincts of New Zealand’s largest city. The focus is on destination, support of an existing like-minded community, and avoidance of the generic product and bland shopping experience.

The Department Store is a curatorial experience. Focus is on selection and edit. There is no better way to describe this than to take a virtual tour through the retail house. Arrival is via the Coffee General Tearooms on the ground floor. Coffee General begins the curatorial experience by offering an edited selection of coffee from an array of roasters throughout New Zealand, profiling different coffee beans through variations in origin, roast profiles and blends. It also focuses on brewing technologies and equipment.

Adjacent to Coffee General, Annie O Botanical Stylist provides a twist on the traditional florist. Focusing on botanical styling and indoor gardening, the concession pushes the boundaries on how landscape and flora, including quirky terrariums, can be incorporated into the home as well as events.

The ground floor is also home to the brand of Karen Walker. This is a relatively ‘quiet’ experience again focusing on edit and selection, rather than the ‘house of brand’ approach its namesake could easily have taken.

It is coupled with Black Box, which showcases a selection of local and international fashion brands, Nature Baby, a renowned organic cotton and merino made New Zealand-based children’s label, and The Men’s Department, which offers, as they say, ‘all things manly’.

A central spiral stair climbs from ground to level one, providing a theatrical connection between the floors. On level one, Lucy and The Powder Room provides pampering, and The Dressing Room, displays luxury lingerie and swimwear. This floor is focused on seasonal change, with both the stock and the significantly ‘greened’ environment changing in response to the four distinct climates of Auckland. So too, the associated blog posts provide advice on how to manage climatic change from a personal environmental perspective.

Ascending again, level two is the home of Stephen Marr’s salon, a destination for New Zealand’s high profile designers, a curated and edited Topshop collection, and, playfully, Top-Up. Top-Up is described as ‘a hotbed’ of small fashion concessions, housing some of the best local and international talent of the moment and by nature changes rapidly creating a hive of activity.

The point of this experience is the free-flowing movement up, in, around and through concessions. It provides an extension of the traditional sidewalk window shopping, encouraging the street-walker to enter, explore and linger. Scale is relevant.

It is not an endless labyrinth of, as they reject, the generic. The concessions are small, well-considered and well-tailored to the customer, and in response there is dialogue.

In all great curated experiences, personalities emerge. At The Department Store the ‘store-hold’ name is Jade. Jade Leigh Kelly is a designer at Karen Walker. Her role sees her designing accessories, jewellery and knitwear. More than that, she is obsessed with painting her nails.

That obsession has extended to in-store classes and a social media campaign that appears as a fixture on The News, an online lifestyle magazine curated by The Department Store.

People travel to The Department Store to see Jade’s nails.

People also travel to The Department Store in response to a highly active events campaign fostered by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and The News. The store likes to celebrate. On Monday 28th October, Labour Day, 2013, the store hosted the Takapuna Beach Treasure Hunt. On that day, thousands of dollars worth of product from The Department Store was buried in the sand. For a small amount of money, guests were invited to purchase a Treasure Hunt spade and map from The Department Store and walk a few hundred metres to the beach to join hundreds in the search for treasure. The formal event involved engagement with the local beach and surf-lifesaving community, other store owners, and local services. It drew crowds from across Auckland, keen to engage in an out-of-store experience. If the experience in-store is an extension of window shopping encouraging street-walking in and through the building, then the out of store festivities take retail to the streets, or in this case the beach.

Events at The Department Store are the norm. This Easter long weekend provides another example. On Saturday 19th April 2014, the store hosted The Department Store Easter Show. This included a petting zoo and fair trade chocolate bunnies.

They have now held three annual Easter Egg Hunts and festivities for Christmas. Moreover, they also like to support their culture, so Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s national day, and ANZAC Day, are also the focus of events. In this way, the store is dedicated to its cultural setting, both the physical landscape of the beach and beach-side community within which it resides, fostering national pride, and promoting New Zealand designers wherever they may be in the world.

The Department Store is both a curated environment and a constantly changing and evolving event.

It encourages exploration, reinforces local culture, and showcases the best of New Zealand design from botanical styling through hair design to the more expected fashion.

It represents a new model of retailing, one that encourages being part of the display, and an immersion of the customer within a culture that happens to include purchase.

It provides a natural exemplar for the idea of e(vent)-tailing and it is little wonder it has won the award for best retailer in the world, proudly wearing the badge of Conde Nast’s 7 Wonders of the Shopping World.

See Michelle Cramer‘s next article, ‘Place Consumption: The New Place Economy’

See Michelle Cramer’s previous article, ‘Festival of imagination’