The new rules of retail: nurture the tribe

Many retail concepts these days have me rolling my eyes, but this one got me intrigued over my morning cuppa.

Founded by merchant Mindy Yang, Perfumariē is  a New York fragrance store that positions itself as a meta-discovery studio, open access event space, and incubator. The subject of What Perfume are you wearing? Now you never have to tell, Perfumariē feels very alt luxe, with its focus on nudging consumers to be more thoughtful, conscious. And it’s also a mix of the the new rules of retail I’ve been a proponent of: refining and elevating the in-store experience; centering the store experience on discovery, learning, and experimentation; nurturing tribes; and … getting daring here … charging people for the experience.

Is it good? I haven’t been there: it may be good PR aided by good journalism, but it certainly holds some promise, and I hope to find out. Will it work and can it last? I also don’t know. But I like the direction, and the ideas should be food for thought for other retailers.

Here’s how it works. Perfumariē puts the scents on tap, and allows you to try them without first knowing the brand you’re testing. You are led through a guided process, after which you select a couple that you like, and receive samples. You only learn the identity of the brand at a cocktail party (and ultimately online) at the end of the month. You pay a $20 fee for sampling. And there’s a membership you can buy, too, with the perks being exclusives, invitations to events, meet and greets, new scent “reveal” parties.

Here’s why this has me intrigued.

It creates better consumers…

…by damning the “branding”, dumping the story.  The perfume industry is one in which marketing, distribution and sales costs make up the bulk of the cost of a $100 bottle of mainstream department store perfume, leaving the true “cost” of the perfume at $2. Imagine buying a scent without seeing all that branding. Or, for those who won’t employ or buy glitzy marketing, imagine not knowing what that “story” is. And, if you eschew mass perfumes, imagine NOT knowing which perfume artisan created that scent, or knowing their story. You focus on the essence of perfume: what you like, what moves you, damn the branding and the celeb, damn the high-minded story.

…by helping consumers understand how important branding is to THEM. There are some downsides to this lack of brand and story, of course, because at the end of the day, brand and stories are a source of information. I think it’s important to know the quality of things. It’s important (for me at least) to know whether the fragrances use synthetics or natural ingredients, or to know whether it’s mass or artisanal. But if you’re at all thoughtful, this approach actually helps in a number of ways.

You understand how important brand is to you – either pro or con. You may find yourself liking something from a brand or celeb you despise. Or, of course, you may find a brand you and your cohort have never heard of.

Either way, you have to decide what you want to do: ignore your inner snob or engage it; or perhaps ignore the cred that buying Bey’s or Tom Ford’s latest might give you and instead let yourself fall for that no-name perfume artisan from Tel Aviv? You are in control of what you do with that insight. You engage differently with the entire process of consumption.

…by getting people in touch with their senses. It puts the focus on what you’re smelling, and what it does for you, which is the essence of perfume. As a society, I’m feeling that we’re so affected by brand, by story, hype, that we’ve LOST the ability to make decisions about what we really like. What moves our senses? That is the start of all things. Meaning matters, of course. But it comes later.

It teaches great retail lessons…

…Elevate the product. There is a process for evaluation, a ceremony of sorts, that you are led through. The practice of treating the product with respect through ritual seems to be a dying one these days: this is a welcome change. Of course, over-ritualizing is the stuff of parody and customer flight. But done right, it can be wonderful thing.

…Put learning at the center of what you’re delivering. Shoppers learn and engage, and even if they walk away not having found the fragrance of their dreams, they’re transformed: they have learned something new and will probably tell all their friends about it. This ticks a whole host of boxes in experiential marketing: memorable, shareable, personal, relatable, etc.

…Get people to value the complete experience. Obviously, experiences are valuable in and of themselves, so why shouldn’t people pay? The customer will be more engaged, and the retailer will presumably pay attention to deliver the experience extremely well. Sounds like a virtuous circle to me.

…Nurture tribes. Not having been to one of the “reveals” I have no idea if this is true, but it creates the possibility of creating new connections, whether over a shared love (or loathing) of a fragrance, stories about unexpected findings, or simply a love of fragrance. People need to connect.

…Add mystery, make it a game. People also love to compete. The guessing game is a fun one, as is the reveal. Another big, big box in experiential marketing.

…Add a feedback loop to your suppliers. Instead of treating suppliers as mere vendors to be (barely) tolerated, Perfumariē provides feedback on product.  Obvious but often overlooked.

Anyone been? What’s it really like? Do tell. And in the meantime, I’m keeping an eye out for other concepts like this. They feel like the future of retail.

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