Apple (AAPL) - Get Report continues to be one one of the most innovative forces in U.S retail today, but it isn't the only one thinking outside the traditional store box in an attempt to stand out in a volatile consumer-spending space.
The tech giant recently opened up a new flagship store in San Francisco that resembles more of a hangout for those toting iPhones and a Starbucks coffee than a place to shop for the latest pricey gadgets. There are tables and chairs for small businesses to host meetings and get advice from the Apple geniuses. Outside is a forum courtyard with a fountain, which will be open to the public 24 hours a day and can host events such as concerts.
And there are indoor trees in the "Genius Grove" and free WiFi, because hey, why not? To top it off, Apple finally took a page from Microsoft's (MSFT) - Get Report new stores and added a giant 6K-resolution video screen.
The San Francisco store, pictured below, was designed in partnership with Fosters + Partners, a firm known for such futuristic designs as the elephant house at the Copenhagan Zoo. It will reportedly serve as a model for new Apple stores worldwide.
TheStreet took a look at three other retailers that are innovating, either with store designs or new concepts, to attract consumers. To their credit, all three seem to be having success with their latest ventures. These experiences reinforce the hip-hop adage that "scared money don't make no money."
BHLDN launched as a wedding apparel concept, but has since expanded into party ensemble.
The parent company may be Urban Outfitters, but it's not the brand getting the most attention from Wall Street.
Enter BHLDN, a business focused on selling stylish, yet somewhat affordable, bride and bridesmaid dresses and wedding accessories. Urban Outfitters launched it in 2011. The brand has quietly expanded to eight locations in higher-end shopping districts in such places as Houston, Chicago, Beverly Hills and New York City. Same-store sales increased by a double-digit percentage in the first quarter as Urban Outfitters expanded offerings into dresses for proms and other special events. The performance followed up a double-digit percentage sales gain during the fourth quarter of last year.
Given the strength in the business and upbeat outlook for consumer spending related to weddings, it's no shocker that Urban Outfitters is looking to continue expanding the concept. According to IBISWorld, total wedding-industry sales will rise 2.2% a year through 2020. That growth may not look like a lot on the surface, but in a specialty-apparel industry being upended by fast-fashion retailers such as H&M and Forever 21, it's growth Urban Outfitters will certainly welcome.
Sorry, Victoria's Secret, but Aerie is killing it.
American Eagle's Aerie Intimates brand, which emphasizes the use of curvier models in its ads and doesn't retouch its photos of them, is quietly dominating in the female intimate-apparel market. Not too shabby for a brand that launched in 2006 and has seen its share of struggles through the years, as it tried to gain share from L Brands (LB) - Get Report Victoria's Secret, ultimately leading management to close a good number of stores in recent years.
Aerie notched an impressive 30% same-store-sales increase in the first quarter with its use of provocative advertising and a focus on novel styles in swimwear, underwear and bras that continue to resonate with female consumers. "We are just thrilled with the performance. We saw strength across all our businesses. This team is doing great, and we continue to stay in our lane and stay focused," said Aerie global-brand president Jen Foyle on a May 18 call with analysts.
Added American Eagle Outfitters Jay Schottenstein, "Aerie has a long runway ahead, and I believe this is one of the most exciting and emerging brands in retail today." The company plans to open 10 Aerie stores in North America this year and a number of international locations. At the end of 2015, Aerie operated 97 stand-alone stores and 67 stores attached to an American Eagle Outfitters store.
Victoria's Secret better watch out.
Unlike traditional jewelry stores, there is no inventory in Blue Nile's "webrooms."
Blue Nile (NILE)
Blue Nile has always been an online jeweler, allowing it to pass on the savings of not operating retail stores on to consumers. But recently the company has begun to dive into the land of bricks-and-mortar retailing as it seeks to connect with consumers who may have never heard of the brand, or are wary of buying high-priced jewelry online.
The company's first retail store, which it calls a webroom, opened in June of 2015 at Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island in New York. Unlike typical jewelry stores, Blue Nile's outlet, which it calls a "webroom," carries no inventory for people to buy, only to try on. Customers who do want to purchase are walked through an online order by a Blue Nile associate at its version of Apple's (AAPL) Genius Bar. By not carrying in-store inventory, Blue Nile can keep its store costs minimal and maintain cheaper product prices relative to competitors.
Explained Blue Nile CEO Harvey Kanter in a November 2015 interview with TheStreet, "The webroom is a bet we have made on the consumer that needs to see, touch and feel -- about 75% of the customers to the store are actually purchasing in the store, and we are also seeing a lift in the entire market as it creates greater awareness of Blue Nile." On a May 5 call with analysts, Kanter noted that "our first webroom in Roosevelt Field Mall in New York continues to exceed our expectations, and average weekly volume is accelerating."
Blue Nile is scheduled to open its next webrooms this summer in Westchester Mall in White Plains, N.Y., Tysons Corner in Virginia and Washington Square in Oregon. And the company is looking for additional locations to open in 2017.