A Unique Shopping Experience, You Decide?

The end of the summer months not only brought us an abundant amount of gloomy days but also some new retail stores. Sandwiched between its sister brands on Regent Street, Arket opened its first London store on the 25th of August. With the likes of H&M, & Other Stories, Cos and Monki all a stone throw away from each other, the H&M group seem to be taking over our high streets.

Arket, meaning ‘sheet of paper’ in Swedish, has been built on three core concepts – archives, archetypes and the market. The layout and organisation of historical record offices provided inspiration to the company’s creative director Ulrika Bernhardtz. In a recent interview she said, “We felt, ‘What is the role of a physical store these days?’ It’s changing. It needs to add something, it can’t be only a place of transaction, otherwise you might as well go online. You need to bring a new element to the store.”

So what’s new?

For a change, you enter the store through the men’s section, followed by homeware and a café towards the end of the store on the first floor. The second floor houses women and children’s collections. Unlike most other stores, there is a lack of mannequins, visual merchandising & digital elements in the external facing windows allowing customers to see straight into the store through the free standing perimeter. While all other windows are fighting against each other, will Arket get lost in between? Or will this technique intrigue customers?

The bespoke terrazzo stone matches the walls, ceilings, shelves and fixtures, creating a flat and very paired back environment. Although an entirely grey room may sound cold, the Arket store is somewhat the opposite. The colour-blocked collections create unique spaces, liven up the store and make the shopping experience slightly easier. If you want a blue shirt, you go to the blue section etc., this links back to the concept of archives and the ease of finding an item.

Storytelling plays a key part to the concept of the Arket brand and this can be seen throughout the store in displays of dried yarn and coloured pigments in jars. During my visit, shoppers seemed to walk past the ‘exhibitions’ and ignore the story behind the brand. Each product has been given its own code, like an item in an archive, based on its department, category, product type and material. This was essentially created to make repurchasing easy as managing director Lars Axelsson said, “We want people to come into store and breath out and relax, not take a sharp breath in. We realise the omni-channel reality of people shopping on their phones, so if they can quickly punch in the ID number and purchase, it works for them.” It is an interesting concept, whether it will be used and understood by the average shopper is another question. Also in terms of longevity, will the jacket I buy this year still be in production in the years to come? Fashion is ever changing and unless it is a basic white tee, I don’t see many customers reaching for the same item of clothing for consecutive years.

Arket have also chosen to not fill every square meter of their store with product, which is typically seen in boutique stores offering unique merchandise. The lack of items in some cases made the store feel as if it had just had a major sale and all the good stuff had been sold out. So, in terms of new? Apart from the paired back grey environment, more ‘breathing’ space/lack of product and the two small ‘exhibitions’, this store is just like any other. The introduction of a café in a store has also been done before. All be it aesthetically pleasing, does it offer a unique shopping experience? You decide…