McMillanDoolittle logo


Spotlight on Seoul: Must-see Pop-ups from Our Curated Retail Study Tours

Seoul is a global leader in technology, beauty, food, music, and increasingly, world-class retailing.  During a recent project with our clients in Seoul, our team visited major and up-and-coming shopping districts in this bustling metropolis and weighed in on an impressive array of pop-up retail concepts.

Pop-up stores are an increasingly popular way for brands and retailers to experiment with (and gather data on) new concepts, designs, and products without a long-term commitment. Since these spaces are temporary, they provide an opportunity to reach new customers in locations where a permanent space may not make financial sense. As a bonus, the common theme of “instagramability” amongst the pop-ups we’ve seen no doubt produces an abundant stockpile of user-generated content.

For consumers, these spaces provide opportunities to engage with brands in unexpected, meaningful, and often personal ways.

We have curated dozens of inspirational retail study tours to inform our clients around the world on the latest trends and best practices in retail. We share four unique pop-up concepts from our recent visits to Seoul below:

LG U+ 5G

To celebrate and educate consumers on all that is possible with 5G, LG U+ recently undertook their first pop-up store in the Gangnam District of Seoul. Visitors were treated to first-hand experience with the technology through a series of AR and VR zones including a virtual date with K-Pop star Chan Eun-woo, a front row seat in a 360° viewing of Cirque du Soleil and a baseball stadium where sports fans can get a birdseye view of a game and zoom in on their favorite players. The company also embedded an element of gamification where visitors could earn tokens for each activity they tried and could trade them in for a variety of prizes.

Although the purpose of the space was to promote LG’s new 5G phone plans and their technology, very little mention was made to either in the design of the space. In fact, if it weren’t for the unmistakably LG storefront, there would be a lot of “where are we’s?” being exchanged as people entered the store.

Where they win: Gamification, Interactive Experience


In the trendy neighborhood of Sinsa, Parisian Perfumer Diptyque opened a pop-up shop as part of a global celebration of the 50th anniversary of the brand’s first personal fragrance with similar spaces popping up around the world in Berlin, New York, Los Angeles, London, and Tokyo.  Inspired by Diptyque’s Parisian roots, the store pays tribute to the brand’s heritage as it takes visitors on a journey through the process of creating a fragrance.

Where they win: Brand Storytelling, Design, Edutainment

Samsung Sero

Down the street from Diptyque is the Samsung Sero pop-up which stands in magnificent contrast to many other Samsung retail stores throughout the city and proves that the electronics manufacturer is capable of building something with a certain panache that is inherently cool.

Built with younger consumers in mind, the pop-up opens with the ground floor dedicated to the Sero, the television that (Samsung hopes) millennials have been waiting for. Upstairs, guests are treated to an interactive showroom complete with a coffee bar and an opportunity to have their picture taken as a souvenir.

The most impactful part of the store is the lower level which is dedicated to The Frame TV.  Here, guests can experience for themselves the gallery-like characteristics of The Frame, complete with famous works of art from museums around the world and video interviews with artists.


Where they win: Hands-on Trial, Edutainment, Differentiation, Brand Storytelling

Samsung #ProjectPRISM

On June 4th, Samsung opened a pop-up space on the top floor of their Gangnam Digital Plaza Store to usher in a new era of fully customizable home appliances beginning with their BESPOKE refrigerator.

The layout allows visitors to experience different lifestyle scenarios that highlight how different configurations of the BESPOKE accommodate each lifestyle’s unique needs. In another area, the product becomes art, blending seamlessly into various environments to prove once and for all that appliances can be anything but boring.

Where they win: Hands-on Trial, Edutainment, Design

The retail landscape is changing fast, and innovative concepts are “popping” up every day. Please contact us to learn more about how our innovative retail study tours can provide fresh insights and best practices to inspire your team. Our retail experts would love to hear from you.


STORY Needs (Digital) Work

STORY – a concept described as “narrative retail” –  opened in 36 physical Macy’s locations last week. Curiously, there was no digital opening.

Narrative retail presents a theme-based, curated assortment that is reinvigorated with a new story every two months. It is meant to generate traffic, enhance the Macy’s brand and produce a reasonable amount of sales.  STORY’s opening theme is COLOR – with products, displays and scheduled events all celebrating the hues of our lives.

We visited STORY at two Chicagoland locations – the downtown State Street Macy’s and at Woodfield Mall. Neither location matched the description or pictures we saw of the Herald Square location. But they weren’t bad. At Woodfield, Story displaced the Coach handbag assortment on a prominent pad near the escalators. Two sales associates were happy to speak with consumers, the navigation was clear and I learned about future events.  There were fun gift giving items to buy under $30.

STORY’s physical execution turned out alright.  But there is a huge hole in Macy’s STORY strategy.

1) The STORY assortment is neither presented nor shoppable as a collection on Macy’s desktop website, mobile site, or app.

2) Macy’s desktop and mobile site feature an introduction to STORY, but the app does not.

3) No result appears if a consumer searches for STORY on the mobile site or Macy’s app.

4) If a consumer searches for a key item from the concept – the Levi’s X Crayola jean jacket, for example – you can find it on Macy’s site – but the product page has no tie-back to the STORY concept.

5) If you look at Macy’s Instagram feed there is no mention of STORY – although there is #StoryatMacys

6) And at Woodfield, once the largest mall in America and still a powerhouse, there was no instagrammable location within the STORY pad.

Macy’s goal may be increased store traffic and brand awareness – but a digital-lite strategy will not have the impact Macy’s needs. Nearly 600 Macy’s stores will not have STORY shop-in-shops. The 36 that do will not look as good or have the impact that the execution in Herald Square presumably has. The instagrammable moments there look fun.

A strong digital strategy and investment including shoppable collections could introduce STORY to a much broader audience, drive purchase, drive visits to the store, drive add-on purchases during a BOPIS transaction, and ultimately have a greater impact on Macy’s.

We hope this move comes in the future.

This article first appeared in Forbes.


Spyce Brings Culinary Excellence Rooted by Technology

Spyce via Boston Globe

Spyce is the one of the first restaurants to feature a completely robotic kitchen cooking complex, nutritious, tasty meals. Located in Boston, the restaurant is the brainchild of four M.I.T. graduates based on a vision of cooking affordable, healthy food, robotically, delivering at the intersection of technology and hospitality as more restaurants and retailers move to automate many of their practices.

The restaurant offers meal bowls at low prices, starting at $7.50, using fresh ingredients. Every step of the process, from mixing ingredients to cooking and serving, is automated. This allows for quick cooking, with meals prepared in under three minutes.

Customers wait as their automatically prepared food is dropped from a cooking pot into a bowl at Spyce, a restaurant which uses a robotic cooking process in Boston, Thursday, May 3, 2018. Robots can’t yet bake a souffle or fold a burrito, but the new restaurant in Boston is employing what it calls a “never-before-seen robotic kitchen” to cook up ingredients and spout them into a bowl. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The restaurant brings culinary inspiration with leadership from Michelin Star Chef, Daniel Boulud. Boulud provides menu direction along with Sam Benson, executive chef; and together they choose the menu and train staff on the customer experience.

In an age when labor wages are rising, companies are investing in automated enhancements to improve the customer experience, while reducing labor costs. Robots and AI are entering every industry to bring more efficiency to the process. Spyce is one of the leaders in benchmarking industry standards. Balancing robotics with culinary excellence can be tough, but the enterprise is succeeding in every way.

Spyce is featured in the Smart Shopping trends section of our book. Read more on Spyce and other innovations in our newest book, available for download here.

By Alex Kaufmann


BrandBox and Neighborhood Goods – Is Everything Old New Again?

Neighborhood Goods – a re-invented department store concept – will open shortly in Plano, Texas.  The 14,000 square foot location will showcase a rotating portfolio of previously digital-only consumer brands, dining options and a community space. The concept describes itself as a department store with a story.  Alongside this news, property owner and manager Macerich announced a new concept opening at Tyson’s Corner – BrandBox.  BrandBox is a dedicated space in the A-level mall featuring a similar portfolio of emerging digitally native brands in their own mini-storefronts, built-out and operated by Macerich.  Short-term leases are provided to encourage a rotating selection of new brands.

Both are experiments in creating physical shopping spaces that entice the consumer to visit, making a set of promises to the shopper, brand, and property manager.

To the consumer:

  1. The space will deliver an ever-changing assortment of newness.
  2. The space will provide a reason to linger.

To the brand:

  1. The space will make it easy to test physical retail.

To the property manager:

  1. The space will be a millennial magnet, drawing the next generation’s spending power.
  2. The space will gather data on which brands and concepts are winning and will serve as a pipeline of future long-term tenants.

These aren’t the first attempts to deliver these promises.  A few other examples include: B8ta, the Kickstarter of the physical world (or a new Brookstone.);    IRL, a 2017 experiment orchestrated by the Lion’esque Group & GGP at Chicago’s Water Tower Place;  The Edit at Roosevelt Fields, a B8ta focused on more than consumer electronics;  and Macerich’s existing BrandExp, a short-term service available in many of their locations that you could describe as a physical Shopify.

Do these concepts work?

The rules that apply to all retailers apply here as well.  To succeed, these locations must deliver:

  • An attractive collection of brands and products
  • A well-merchandised store
  • A trained sales staff
  • A location that has the right type of traffic
  • An ongoing source of newness

In other words, these locations require the same skills that retailers must implement effectively everywhere.  Whether or not property managers can develop these skills will determine their success in the future.

By David Weiss


Insights from the Retail Robotics and AI Conference and the Retail and Consumer Goods Analytics Summit. (Part 1)

“Data is the new oil” will be the “retail apocalypse” storyline of 2018. We will hear it – over, and over, and over again.

But unlike the apocalypse storyline – a shoulder-shrugging, sky-is-falling, backward glance at the past, data as oil is a forward-looking call to action.

In April, McMillanDoolittle sponsored Northwestern University’s and the Platt Retail Institute’s 2018 Retail Robotics and AI Conference. We followed that up by attending the 2018 Retail and Consumer Goods Analytics Summit. Combined with our strategic work in consumer insights, the internet of things, and immersive retail experiences, the conferences helped us coalesce some of our thoughts.

Our takeaway:

Retailers need a data strategy – how to capture it, how to use it, how to embed it within the culture of their organization. But more importantly, they need a retail strategy.

Clive Humby first coined “Data is the new oil” in 2006, after introducing retail to loyalty programs and data gathering with the Tesco Clubcard in 1993. A decade after data first became oil, Jack Ma described “New Retail” – including the linking of data from the digital to the physical world. Since then, Chinese companies have led the way in capturing and learning from data. After these companies, Amazon struggles to catch up (yes, we said struggles). And trailing Amazon, the remainder of US retailers wonder where to invest in data strategies.

The truth is that until there are massive disruptions that create access to and the interpretation of more and more data, “winning” on data alone is impossible if you aren’t an Alibaba or Amazon. That’s why data isn’t a strategy.

The winners in retail are, and will be, those that find the positioning that elevates them to the top of the consideration set. Today, data can refine that positioning to a level it never has before – this is the “quick-win” data opportunity. The “quick-win” incorporates new methods of capturing consumer insights, such as machine learning. It is an achievable and inexpensive step to fine tune your retail positioning utilizing new access to data. In turn, refining your positioning is the first step to developing your data strategy. More on that tomorrow.

By David Weiss


Brandless Pops Up in L.A.

I stopped into the Brandless Pop-Up store, which is open for two weeks on Melrose Avenue in Santa Monica, California. Brandless has been on my radar for some time now, and our office has even ordered some of the products.

Yet, I was strangely moved by my experience in the store (and not just because Brandless loaded me up with free snacks-well, maybe a little because of the free snacks).  Brandless is a San Francisco based start-up that has a web-based product offering built around the premise of offering high quality products without a “brand” mark-up. Every product on the web site is sold for $3 and brand “tax” is always calculated—what you would have paid had you ordered the brand product.

So, why was I so impressed by this effort?

  • Even though I knew the brand, I really didn’t know the brand. The store did a spectacular job of educating customers on why their products were different. Brandless emphasizes value and values, making the point that this is not generic product. In fact, Brandless has a very strong brand ethos.
  • Brandless carried a much more extensive line of products than I was aware of. The store featured a full table, as an example, of Vegan products, and another of Gluten Free and yet another of organics. The range was impressive and Brandless has broadened their reach into beauty products. Again, at a $3 price point.
  • There was some great educational signage in the store, Brandles explained FSC certification in paper, what EPA safer choice means and how they define Clean Beauty. While I’m sure that the website covers all of this in great detail, there is nothing quite like great displays and signage to underscore a point.
  • It had all the requisite features of a high energy pop-up. There was a workshop (streamed of course) on Vegan products. there was also a sample station, selfie area and a product taste testing zone. The store had energy and enthusiasm.

Why was all this so remarkable? Brandless is selling packaged goods, the boring stuff that generally gets no attention. If they can create this much energy around “commodity” products, imagine what they can do as they expand their lines further.

Don’t be fooled by the Brandless name. In fact, Brandless is well on their way to building a next generation brand.