As Zara vows to sell online in every single country by 2020, its new Milan flagship shows how it is putting digital at the heart of its stores.
Isla made the announcement at the reopening of Zara’s Milan flagship, a store where its digital ambitions come to life. Tech plays a major part in this store, but the result remains first and foremost a shop rather than a place where only technophiles feel comfortable.
In fact, the store in the fashion capital is not just good, it comes close to being called ‘iconic’.
A cinematic experience
Number 11 Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the location of the newly refurbished and extended Zara womenswear store (the menswear store was given a makeover at the end of last year and is in an adjacent building) that reopened on September 5, was built in 1941 as a cinema, which it remained until 1999.
Zara took over the space in 2002, which was the Spanish retailer’s first store in Italy. Until April this year, it has ticked over as one of the many international retailers that line this long, pedestrianised thoroughfare.
Now it is open once more with a redesigned and renovated interior that places a heavy emphasis on the building’s pre-Zara heritage.
While it may be a grand structure that feels like one of Milan’s many high-end emporiums, it is mid-market, determinedly so, and packed with tech.
But the shopper would not realise this unless they go looking for it. The tech is unobtrusive to the point that it is almost indiscernible.
On the outside, Zara has played the retro movie house card. A large, light-bulb-studded sign above the entrance reads ‘Cinema Zara’.
A canopy, similarly lit, is in front and above this, completing the picture of a days-gone-by arthouse movie palace.
So far, so low tech. Walking through the door into the atrium, which was formerly the cinema’s ticket hall, the shopper can admire a circular patterned marble floor that leads to a horseshoe staircase also in marble.
The walls have pictures composed of mosaic tiles while overhead there is a Murano glass chandelier that is more like the sort of thing you would expect to see in one of Park Lane’s ostentatious hotel function rooms. A white circle with LED lights has been suspended beneath it, ensuring this is a not a dingy preface to the interior.
While the store has no external windows, thanks to row upon row of matt steel rafts with LED spotlights attached to them the lighting levels are high. The rows have been designed to become successively shorter as the shopper walks under them towards the back of the floor – the location of the cash desk – imitating the seating plan of a cinema.
Worth noting too is the fact that as part of the blueprint of this store both the lighting and air conditioning can be controlled remotely, via the web, from any other store in the world, though why this is necessary is not entirely clear. This, like in other Inditex eco-stores, uses 20% less energy than a comparable old-style shop, something that is central to the group’s endeavours, according to an Inditex spokesman.
The screen behind the cash desk on this floor stretches floor to ceiling and from the left to right-hand perimeter wall (it is the same on the other floors), making this the most prominent feature of the floor. But the spacious, non-linear layout of the display equipment ensures the stock is not overlooked.
The real talking point, however, is the hole in the middle of the floor and in the ceiling directly above it.
Surrounded by a low wall, it allows customers to look down to the kidswear in the basement or up to the two floors above ground level (each of which also has a void). It has something of New York’s Guggenheim Museum about it.
Bringing online into the store
Around the perimeter, the store designers have installed the occasional suspended iPad-sized tablet, showing fashion mood shots. Thereafter it’s the mix of marble tables, low and high mid-shop rails and an escalator with a bronzed finish that completes the overall vista.
The top floor is home to Zara’s new ‘online section’. Demarcated by a white neon sign on the wall, this is where Zara customers can browse and shop online and it has been designed so there is not a jarring difference between online and offline – it just looks like another part of the store.
The store also has an automated collection point like the one trialled at Westfield Stratford, where shoppers can collect orders made online by entering either a QR code or PIN.
This has been integrated with the store design by giving its surroundings the same aged bronze finish as the escalators.
Also noteworthy are the RFID interactive mirrors that allow shoppers to get a view of garments complementary to the one they have selected. This is tech nudge, rather than push selling.
Finally, it would be hard not to see the 21 metre-high screen that runs through the store’s floors beside the escalators.
But despite all the tech that has been layered on to this interior, it is a shop and not a nerdy playground, and this is where Zara scores high.
What has been installed is intended to enhance the environment, make the divide between physical and digital less obvious, and improve the ease of shopping.
A shop first then, a building with tech second, but both work together. It is also a good example of why Inditex continues to flourish.