With many of the country's biggest retail chains facing store closures, layoffs, sinking profits and even bankruptcies, it's no secret that right now is a tough time for retail, particularly that of the brick-and-mortar variety. Consumers have more options than ever for where and how they can discover and purchase the things they want, and traditional retailers are struggling to capture the attention of tech-savvy millennials. Unsurprisingly, it seems to be the less traditional retailers who know how to do that.
Take Warby Parker. The online-native, direct-to-consumer eyewear brand opened its 50th store this past weekend and plans to open 20 more before the end of the year. That's pretty quick expansion given that it opened its first store less than four years ago. So, how is the tech-savvy brand getting people into its stores to buy something they used to get at their doctors' offices? By creating what it hopes are unique, entertaining and social media-friendly in-store "experiences" and visual elements.
The company's latest example is its biggest yet: At its new storefront on the well-trafficked Melrose Avenue (the brand's fourth in Los Angeles), there is a separate room made of green screen — dubbed the "green room" — with a photo booth feature, in which customers can record their own 15-second videos against a variety of backdrops, including an aquarium, a big pepperoni pizza and a palm tree-lined boulevard. Available props include glasses with green-screen lenses (so the backdrop fills them, too), green-screen blankets (so you become a floating head) and, of course, any pair of optical or sunglass frames you'd like to try on. Like any photo booth you might encounter at a fashion event or Kardashian birthday party, you can easily send the video to yourself to download and share.
The idea was to incorporate a fun nod to the location's proximity to Hollywood, also accomplished by a movie theater-style marquee sign with regularly rotating titles in the front window, clapboards behind the register and a big Hollywood-themed mural by LA-based artist Alia Penner. Over the weekend, there was even a location-specific Snapchat filter. But it was also part of a greater strategy on Warby Parker's end to incorporate special experiences that are unique to each location. "The best brands and retailers have to give people a reason to go into a store," explains Co-Founder and Co-CEO Dave Gilboa. "Every day in the press, traditional retailers are announcing bankruptcy or closing stores, and it's because they haven't innovated the shopping experience."
The Melrose store marks the brand's biggest investment in an in-store experience yet — Gilboa calls Los Angeles a "super important market" home to many of the brand's customers — but it certainly isn't the only one.
In Miami's Wynwood Arts District, a Warby Parker store is designed to look like you're inside a pool; there's even a camera in the ceiling positioned over a cement "float toy" from which you can have your picture taken. In Portland, a store has a "do good arcade" featuring classic video games; the money you use to play goes to a local charity.
The company develops all of these concepts in-house, focusing on "unique elements in stores that stand out and people want to talk about," says Gilboa. If they also opt to Instagram them, that's great, too. "We're in favor of people sharing images and videos, but leave it in the hands of customers and don't push it too hard," he says. At press time, the hashtag #warbygreenroom had 57 public posts since opening Saturday. For a storefront that's been open less than 48 hours, that's not too shabby.