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Apps Gone Retail

Chances are, you’re familiar with brands that have “gone retail.” Under Armour is an example that comes to mind. The sportwear company initially built brand awareness through innovative marketing, licensing with sports teams and by distributing products through multi-brand specialty retailers. Fueled by explosive success across those channels, the brand decided to open “controlled” retail stores that are directly operated by the company.

Another brand that has “gone retail” is less obvious than Under Armour. LINE—a free calling and messaging app used by 220 million people worldwide—is the biggest tech company to go public on the New York Stock Exchange this year. Beyond LINE’s core mobile communications technology platform, the company operates physical storefronts in the Asia market. In Seoul alone, there are three stores with the Itaewon location serving as the brand’s flagship affectionately known as the Villa, named for installations of rooms that are decorated by theme featuring Line Friends’ most popular “characters”—Brown, Sally and Cony.

You may be wondering what a mobile app could possibly sell in a flagship… The three-story Villa features a smart store layout that is organized by product category and in-store experience. On the first floor, customers can shop toys, stationery and new arrivals. Walk upstairs and find fashion apparel & accessories, home goods and an event zone that has become a popular place to throw LINE themed birthday parties. On the third floor, the Line Café and a photo booth are not to miss. Throughout all three floors, customers have plenty of opportunities to snap selfies with life-size Line friends to share on social media.

What strikes us most about Line going retail—aside from the fact that they seem to sell branded everything—is that Line’s core offer is an app that can be downloaded for free. We’re not even talking about a retailer. What we are talking about is a technology company that has been able to successfully translate its brand into a physical flagship concept.

We expect that other non-retail brands may also “go retail” in an effort to stay connected with customers across channels in interesting ways. Brands that may have an easier time with this are those with some type of cultural affinity and physical store offer that is worth visiting. Who’s on our short list to watch? A Spotify listening room/bar/retail concept with artist exclusives could be interesting. Or even an Instagram concept that offers on-site printing and photo editing classes targeted at aspiring photographers and selfie stick aficionados.

The recipe for success seems to be one part core offer + two parts Mickey Mouse. The next Line Villa is to be seen. For now, we have to hand it to Line—and Friends—for bringing a truly innovative concept to life. We think Brown & Sally are deserving of a pay raise.


McMillanDoolittle is a premier international retail consultancy bringing deep experience with world class clients. Our partners have extensive experience interpreting the retail marketplace and converting insights into successful strategies. We help clients develop innovative solutions in strategy development, the customer experience, new concepts, brand performance, retail performance improvement and retail intelligence services.

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