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White boxes blacken fashion’s good name

The end of the white box store design model is nigh. Or at least that’s what customers are hoping for.

In terms of shopfits, research shows fashion-savvy women now feel almost no difference between shopping at a Primark store and shopping at Chanel – both are devoid of emotion, lacking in meaningful interaction and fast becoming formulaic in global cities.

Yet for decades we all looked to fashion retail for innovation. Fashion brands and retailers were the first to invent flagship stores, the first to merge retail and leisure, the first to stretch their points of view across new areas such as homewares, and to initiate parties under the heading of themed events. Where is the next level of consumer engagement coming from?

Today, some of the most successful fashion retailers live online. The experience they offer is often more differentiated, involving and exciting than any traditional fashion brand. From Net-a-Porter to Asos and Long Tall Sally to Trinny and Susannah’s magic knickers at Littlewoods, online fashion is doing well. This is partly because stores have failed to stay ahead of the game and have become stale when customers’ buzzwords are ‘more’, ‘fresh’, and ‘now’.

If Asos is sharing its buyers’ views with its fanatical customers online, how long before they allow their top customers to do their own buying direct from the Paris catwalk?

It is time to develop new propositions that allow customers to co-create the brand. The new holy grail will be to embrace captivating multi-sensory emotional experiences that connect people with each other and make space for customers to be the brand activists.

Mariann Wenckheim is a partner at strategic design consultancy 20/20.

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