Market Research Week 3: Holt Renfrew.

Apr 5, 2011 by Yuriy Sklyar

This week we have decided to check out the Edmonton downtown core and what it has to offer in the luxury goods sector. After checking out the TEDxEdmonton luncheon with the entire team (which was awesome by the way... if you are free for the next one, do try to make it out - interesting people and great debates; lots of stuff to take away), we walked across to Holt Renfrew, which is considered to be a very high class department store.

Overall, I don't think that Holt Renfrew lives up to the image they are trying to portray. There is absolutely no difference between them and places like Bay, Target and Sears—besides the prices, of course. Read mine and guys' comments below.

Manulife Place, Edmonton Downtown District. The Directory.

Yura: Before we dive into our rant about Holt Renfrew, I would like to say a few words about this directory.

Dear designers/architects (and "creative" people in general): just because it might look good to you, it doesn't necessary mean that it should be done "that" way.

Besides the awkwardly positioned floor plans and the small type size, the location names are positioned at the very bottom of the stand, which literally makes you stand on your knees and read it. Maybe that's what they are going for, who knows?

Tom: I think this directory was built in the 1980s...

Holt Renfrew, entrance display.

Bryan: The old fashioned sewing machine definitely grabbed my attention. Better yet, it ties in well with the adjacent advertising for "Made-to-Measure" shirts.

My one suggestion would be to redo the "Made-to-Measure" poster. The text on it is too low to the ground and too small to read.

Also, how much more do the made-to-measure shirts cost? How am I going to benefit in getting one? Most importantly, who do I talk to if I want to buy one ? Maybe all the tiny text has answers to these questions but nobody will ever be able to read the text, especially if they're just quickly passing by.

Shaun: I'm geared to read one thing before I move on so I like the sign that got incorporated with the display. "This spring you can't live without....getting fit." Unless I don't get the pun? I would probably miss the other sign.

Tom: This was my favourite display. It looks chaotic but tells a story at the same time. The use of an old Singer sewing machine builds some historical value into the shirts. I feel like someone was making this shirt and just took off for a coffee break. I agree with everyone that this display was unclear but I don't think that clarity is important here. If Holt had a couple random stations explaining the process that goes into the creation of their clothing, they would be on the right track. We have learned that people are more engaged and emotional when they are buying into a story rather than just a product. Let people see and feel the craftsmanship and suddenly price holds no value. Yura showed me a great example of explaining a build process.

The Prada section.

Bryan: The mannequin immediately caught my eye. If we're using the old marketing acronym of AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action), this gimmick definitely succeeded on the attention side of things.

That said, I'm not interested in learning why I should buy the clothes the mannequin is wearing—I'm too busy staring at the murder headline on the newspaper. And I certainly don't desire the product. Why would I want to buy something associated with homicide?

The whole idea is risky and edgy—and that's great—but it just doesn't quite work for me.

Shaun: Mannequins are a parody to humans in comparison. They look like us but are completely unaware. Sometimes we find them in compromising positions that make us laugh.

Create an engaging experience to leave a lasting impression.

Yura: While Tom and I were in Europe for business, we did a lot of research on European marketing techniques and other various ways of engaging your customers . I am guessing that this has to do a lot with culture, but most European stores (even small stores) were nicely laid out and designed. Things were extremely easy to find, the girls working there were very welcoming, helpful... and pretty. Most of all, a lot of their campaigns were targeting people on an extremely personal level.

For example: one of the malls in Poland was trying to attract their customers to their location by advertising 3D floor paintings, where people could get their photo taken and I'm guessing have it emailed to them. The cool thing about these was the fact that all of these paintings were also actual ads with real-life products "painted" into them, so once you print out the photo and put it into your photo album, you would always see a bottle of Smirnoff Vodka next to you, which would literally be engraved into your brain "forever".

I guess the point I am trying to make is that Holt Renfrew should target their customers on a more personal level and perhaps not finish the above window display by adding ugly mannequins, but rather let their customers take a cool photo with some of the products and Holt Renfrew's logo in the background (like we did with Tom here, when noone was looking). This is a fun way to connect and engage your customers with your brand , sometimes even without the customers immediately realizing that.

Bryan: They always have really cool, eye-catching window displays here (like the one to the right which was apparently unfinished), but I'm gonna be honest: I just don't "get" this marketing campaign.

I mean, yeah, I guess I could see associating other things that "This spring I can't live without" with the products in the store and hoping your customers make the link, but it's just a bit weak. It doesn't make me want to buy anything.

Tom: While the salesman was turned around I jumped into the display window. I have no idea what they are planning to do with that display but, I'm pretty sure that I did not leave any footprints on that wet paint. With the pink paint I felt like I was standing in a display for pepto bismol.

Louis Vuitton section inside the Holt Renfrew.

Yura: It was honestly quite refreshing to see this store. It felt like I was entering Heaven after spending an eternity in Hell. This just goes to show that some companies actually do value their image and go an extra mile to keep it consistent throughout everything that they do. This Louis Vuitton location actually felt like a separate store in a big, cold mall. Good for them!

Bryan: The sleek black entrance, the warm lighting, the uncrowded shelving, the clean hardwood floors... I love it all. It all feels very "luxury." It's a very inviting space.

Shaun: I like the shelving and placement of products too. It makes it look like they have a large selection by making your eyes go up, down, and in diagonal lines.

Tom: I spent most of my time trying on every single bag in the Louis Vuitton Section of the store. The design inside helped justify spending $900 on something that couldn't have cost more than $25 to make.

One of the product displays in LV.

Yura: There is a fairly limited number of products which makes it easier for customers to make a selection. Everything is extremely clean and tidy, just what you would expect from a luxury goods manufacturer. The product presentation is greatly enhanced by lighting.

Bryan: Again, very clean layout. The shelves aren't crowded at all which makes each product seem even more exclusive and luxurious.

I especially like how they have the wallets displayed under the glass counter-top. I can see that working very well for encouraging impulse purchases . You've just bought a Vuitton purse, so why not buy a matching wallet to go along with it? Very clever.

My only complaint is that we didn't get a picture of Tom trying all the purses on—I'd pay good money for that.

Tom: Bryan, they were man bags. I would like to shine some light on the lighting here. Look at how everything is perfectly lit up. It feels rich.

Interesting graphical effects/details near the entrance to Louis Vuitton store.

Yura: Interesting design elements or simply cool art isn't something new, yet only few companies use it. Why?

Little details just reinforce the shopping experience for people who consciously notice these things. Most of the people will make a note of it on a subconscious level too. This is a small investment for an overall betterment of brand and shopping experience. Don't be afraid to try new and "crazy" things while you're at it.

Non-conventional sun glasses display.

Yura: Touching on my point above regarding design and trying new and different things. Each one of these (several hundred dollar) sunglasses have their own little "space,"  giving each one of them a perception of being more exclusive (than their competition). Unlike all the other stands with sunglasses which allow you to see only the front of the frame, these could be positioned in any way.

In the example above all of them are positioned on a 3/4 view, allowing the customer to see the product from more than just one direction, giving a better idea of what it will look like on them . Though these could be organized (positioned) a little better after every time a customer tries some of them one, LV is definitely on the right path here.

Bryan: This display was good looking and really consistent in terms of the emotions it evoked. The warm, bright lighting "feels" like summer. The circle cut-outs were a good choice for shape too. They look like a bunch of cute, little, warm suns all wearing sunglasses! This display really reminded me of a warm sunny day. I get warm fuzzies just looking at it.

Thinking back, I'm not sure I could really see the sunglasses on the very top very well though. They're a little high up, and I'm sure anyone under 5' 6" wouldn't be able to reach the sunglasses on top to try them on—so that's a bit of a usability problem.

Department store... that Holt Renfrew is.

Yura: I was honestly very disappointed with this store. These guys try to sell $530 sneakers left, right and center, yet they look like every other department store in town, or perhaps even worse. Whoever the genius was who thought that it would be a good idea to use a bright (borderline white) carpet at such a high traffic location as this also failed miserably.

Tom: I do have to credit Holt for the product lighting but, I do agree with Yura that the colour choice for the carpet was lacking.

Bryan: Wow, I didn't notice how many mirrors there actually were in the store until just now. This is great from a usability point of view. If there's one thing I hate when I'm buying clothes it's having to look around for a mirror.

The rest of the store didn't do it for me though. The displays are pretty unimaginative and the lighting—while well placed—felt really cold and uninviting. Worst of all, they do a really poor job of telling me why I should want to buy their products.

There's no in-store advertising that communicates the value or the exclusivity or the usefulness or the trendiness of any of the products. Why would I want to buy any of these clothes?

Why would anyone in their right mind use a carpet in a very high traffic location?

Yura: Here you can see how dirty the carpet actually is and how much more resources it SHOULD take in order to keep it clean (these guys obviously don't care about keeping it clean).

Bryan: Ah! These mannequins have messed-up feet! If they wanted to put shoes on the mannequins, why didn't they give them actual shoes? Here it looks like they just have random stems sprouting out of the bottom of their heels because the mannequins' "shoes" and their "skin" are the same colour.

Shaun: The Old Navy mannequins creep me out so much. And the mannequins with no heads (in general). So many different mannequins. What is the best type of mannequin?

Tom: Shaun are you high? I would like to take credit for pointing out the stained carpets to everyone. If you're planning on selling me overpriced merchandise, at least make the environment look clean.

Another reason why you shouldn't use carpets in a high traffic location.

Yura: Besides the fact that light coloured carpets can get dirty easier, they could also get ripped much more easily then say concrete, or wood. Think of how many more things they have to worry about just because they use carpets. They have to clean them ALL the time in order to keep the store clean, which is much more difficult to do than cleaning a wooden/concrete floor. In case they rip (which I would assume happens quite often in such a high traffic store), they have to replace the ENTIRE carpet (they wouldn't have the same problem with wood, for example, where they could just replace a single wood panel, not the entire store).

Places with carpets also usually attract and contain bad smells much easier than a hard surface floor (see our post on Scent Marketing). Anyways, enough about carpets—they simply should not be there.

Bryan: Yeah, the carpet was pretty bad, all ripped and dirty like that. I still can't believe we saw this in a "high-end" store.

I know there's some psychology out there that says that customers are more relaxed and a little more ready to buy when they're standing on carpet versus a hardwood floor or a marble floor, but at least steam-clean the thing every once in a while!

Tom: This is a fault line from the earthquake that caused everyone to leave the store.

This sums up the Week 3 edition of our Market Research feature. If you enjoyed this blog post, check out Market Research Week 1 and Market Research Week 2.

Yuriy Sklyar - Principal, Threefifty

I'm responsible for UX and UI (among other things) of all projects that come through the doors of Threefifty.

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