Farfetch, owner of British multi-brand luxury boutique Browns, has been building its interpretation of the store of the future over the last three years. The future had to be put on hold when lockdowns and closures of non-essential shops in the UK contributed to delays in 2020.
“I’ve been so frustrated because we can’t get it open,” says Holli Rogers, chair at Browns and chief brand officer at Farfetch. She’s excited for the grand reveal: at last, the new Browns flagship will open on 12 April in London. With Farfetch engineering the store’s new approach, technology, high-touch services and customer engagement will be at the centre of Browns’ retail strategy.
The new store on Mayfair’s Brook Street is the latest iteration of multi-brand e-commerce marketplace Farfetch’s new strategic initiative dubbed “Luxury New Retail”, harnessing its technology and brand relationships to digitise the luxury industry. Farfetch’s deal with Alibaba and Richemont late last year cemented its move from a marketplace to a luxury tech provider. They already offer e-concessions as a service, and in 2018 reached a deal to work on Chanel’s Paris boutiques. The new Browns is the next step in Farfetch’s vision of digitising luxury, with augmented reality and links to the marketplace.
“Browns has always been an innovative retailer and Farfetch has worked to keep this spirit alive and pioneer new ways of engaging customers both online and offline,” Farfetch founder and chief executive José Neves told Vogue Business. “[Our ambition is for] Browns to remain at the forefront of retailing… by continuing to pioneer innovative ways to engage the customer but also to continue to champion new brands and designers, which it is famous for.”
Since 2018 Farfetch has been working with Chanel to roll out its in-store technology including an app to view Chanel’s runway looks, book an appointment and pre-arrange a selection on arrival, alongside high-tech dressing rooms with a connected mirror to display customers’ choices. At Chanel, the technology was used for storytelling and customer discovery of collections, while Browns will use the same technology to offer customers a seamless shopping experience, says Sandrine Deveaux, executive vice president of future retail at Farfetch.
The store, it appears, is far from over. While consumers have gotten used to the convenience of shopping online, they also miss being connected in a physical environment, says Deveaux. “Brook Street is a landmark and it’s where we can showcase to the world our vision of luxury retail.”
In its new flagship, Browns wants customers to visit and stay longer. Unlike its previous store, which sold womenswear and menswear spread across two floors, the new flagship housed in a Grade II-listed building features over four floors of fashion, accessories, homeware, fragrances, fine jewellery and watches. There is also a restaurant by Native, an outdoor courtyard, a dedicated area for makeup and styling, and a room with constantly rotating experiences (first up is work by British photographer Juno Calypso). The store will also host a changing programme of experiences aimed at engaging the community (the first line-up includes hypnotherapist Michele Occelli, celebrity nail artist Jenny Longworth and Sang Bleu tattoo artist Delphin Musquet).
“It’s like inviting people into your home; you always want them to stay for longer, because the more fun you’ll have,” says Rogers. “People can visit us and sit in the garden, have a bite to eat, then chat with a concierge or see their favourite sales associate, or book a residency there. You could come back multiple times a week and have a completely different experience.”
“Retail entertainment” is key for Browns, says Deveaux. “While consumers are shopping a lot online, they’re missing the excitement and emotional connection in a physical space. The store is no longer a place where you only buy stuff, but where you go to experience something new.” Ultimately, it’s about giving customers an opportunity to interact with the Browns brand in person, she says. “We want them not just to shop with us but to enjoy experiences and that’s how we can amplify our relationships and make the [business] successful. Retail is not dying, but it’s evolving and reinventing.”
Importantly, fashion is still at the heart of the store, including Browns’ signature designer curation. Founded in 1970, Browns was once London’s most influential boutique and “the epicentre of everything”, says powerhouse PR Mandi Lennard, who worked at Browns as a buyer between 1988 and 1993. But despite its history and reputation, the competition today to capture the luxury consumer is “extremely fierce”, says luxury industry consultant Robert Burke. “It’s a great time for speciality stores and you’re seeing stores like Dover Street Market, and in the US, The Webster, have incredible growth. Brands today seem to be more open to working with them than department stores, and they’re able to create more unique experiences for the customer.”
Casablanca, whose designs are inspired by founder Charaf Tajer’s North African and Parisian cultural roots, gained a cult following after it was shortlisted for the LVMH Prize in 2020. Browns spotted the brand early and picked it up for Spring/Summer 2019 and has been “a great partner”, says Tajer. “They trust and invest in new ideas that we bring. As a young brand we need support, and Browns has given us that. It’s why we are only working with retailers that we can build a great relationship with.”
Connected mirrors and high-touch services
The connected mirrors are just one element of the tech in-store. Customers can use Browns’ app to book an appointment, search for and add products to their wishlists, which can be shared with a personal shopper. Personal shoppers can also access customers’ profiles and see their searches and preferences, and recommend products. On entering the store, there is an in-store mode that is built on top of the existing commerce app, which shows content available only in stores. “It’s a truly connected experience, and this is important for us, because that’s how you create emotion and deliver services that are truly meaningful for the consumer,” says Deveaux.
Augmented reality virtual try-on tools allow consumers to try on products that may not be in the store. Instead of completing a purchase at a designated checkout point, payments can be made via a link sent to the customer.
“We want [the technology] to be used in a way that complements the experience, so that it’s faster and smoother and customers feel like they’re being taken care of and are part of the conversation,” says Rogers. “It gives us a different way of engaging as opposed to a sales associate taking you to the dressing rooms with a handful of clothes, which feels really transactional. It’s that melding of technology and customer service, which is what luxury is ultimately about.”
Some of this is not necessarily new technology but that seamless end-to-end shopping experience for customers is vital and therefore the “right” move for Browns, says Burke. “After eight to 10 months where they’re shopping predominantly online, we know there’s excitement from them to go back to physical stores, but they also expect it to be all one experience — and it should be.”
Tourism is unlikely to return to the UK until the end of the year, but pent-up demand from local consumers will have “a positive effect” for Browns, predicts Solca. “It does seem like a good time to open a new store in the centre of London.”
Source: Vogue Business