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Retailer Insight: Why investing in stores is the right fit for Urban Outfitters

Emma Wisden, European managing director of Urban Outfitters, explains why the company is continuing to invest in bricks-and-mortar retail to create the best experiences for its customers.

This summer has been an exciting one for Urban Outfitters. In July, we opened three international stores in quick succession: in Stockholm on the 5th, in Düsseldorf on the 13th and in Vienna on the 28th. We increased our store portfolio by 6% during the month, adding 30,000 sq ft of shopping space. And we haven’t stopped there. A deal on a Paris store has just been signed and sealed, which will open in the first quarter of next year.

We’re not doing a flat-pack roll-out, we’re making sure every last detail creates a unique experience

There are a few reasons why Urban Outfitters is bucking the trend and continuing to invest in physical retail. We’re underexposed in markets outside of our native US and are constantly looking for new opportunities to expand. We have nine stores in Germany, one in Spain, two in Belgium and three in the Netherlands. Eventually, we could have up to 20 stores in some of those markets, so when a space comes up that we feel complements the brand and what we are looking to achieve, we go for it.

Urban Outfitters Europe has just celebrated its fourth consecutive record-breaking season, so we’re definitely doing something right.

It’s also really important that we create places where people want to spend time, rather than just a place to buy clothes. Our core customer is aged 18-24. They are at a time in their lives when they are experimenting and are on the verge of finding themselves. We’re dead set on creating experiences for them that are just as exciting as they are. Shopping is a social experience and bricks-and-mortar retail isn’t going away anytime soon, but it does need to be as interesting and as experiential as possible.

Each store design is bespoke and we have carpenters making, cutting and carving to create unique fixtures for each shopping space. That’s really one of the things that drew me to the brand: we’re not doing a flat-pack roll-out, we’re making sure every last detail creates a unique experience for our customers.

Our average store size is 13,000 sq ft. The environment needs to be a pleasant place to be in and not cramped – we won’t be opening ‘little Urban Outfitters’ anytime soon. There’s so much going on – our men’s, women’s and home offer, as well as events and lifestyle – that we need to invest in reasonably sized stores.

UO Rewards had double the number of downloads we originally forecast

However, life is increasingly digitised and we haven’t got our heads in the sand. Instead, we’re looking to straddle the divide between offline and online. The digital side of the business is increasingly important and we’re looking to deliver an experience that can be amplified from social media to the stores and vice versa. Stores can create real-life moments, like events or music launches, which can then be broadcast on social.

Increasingly, we find that our customers are expecting to get the same experiences online as they would in store, so constantly evolving our omnichannel offer is key. Our reward scheme, UO Rewards, which launched earlier this year, was released on our app in April and has had double the number of downloads we originally forecast.

What I try to drive across to the entire Urban Outfitters team is how important it is that we continue to differentiate our product and our store environment. There’s an ominous feeling out there at the moment with the variable exchange rates and the current political climate. The most important things to remember are that great product sells and we must keep on investing in young talent, whether that’s designers and buyers, our carpenters or our teams working in store to deliver events. We need to differentiate.

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