Stalking its prey
When Australian e-commerce darling, Shoes of Prey, launched back in 2010, it didn’t take long before people were talking about the unique and sophisticated user experience the customised footwear brand provided.
Three years on and Shoes of Prey is continuing to dazzle, with the launch of a one of a kind bricks and mortar presence.
Opened in late January as a 28sqm concession on the women’s shoes floor of David Jones’ Sydney flagship on Elizabeth St, the store is the manifestation of all the online store represents brought to life.
Designed by retail strategy newcomer, The General Store, the project, which has been almost 12 months in the making, saw The General Store bring together a team comprising retail experts, a theatre set designer, architect, interior designer, musician and scent designer.
The physical presence extends the brand’s use of sophisticated technology that allows women to design their perfect shoe by choosing their own style, leathers, and colours.
In line with the e-store, once a shoe is designed and paid for, it is sent to the company’s factory in China to be made, before delivery to the customer’s chosen address.
Michael Fox, CEO of Shoes of Prey, says that while some customers are happy to shop online, the brand is approached by many who want to be able to see and touch the leathers, try on the shoes, and have a more tactile experience before they purchase.
“Seeing something we’ve created in the flesh as a retail experience is very exciting.
“Our brand and product stands out from the other shoe retailers because we do quite a few things different with the customisation, and The General Store has taken the elements of that and made a retail experience that really stands out from the others.”
One of the core issues in designing the store was that although Shoes of Prey is widely known by industry types, the concept and brand is new to most consumers.
This is where the centrepiece of the store – a 2.4m ‘flower of prey’ sculpture – comes into play.
Created by theatre set designer, Tobhiyah Feller, the sculpture bursts from the centre of the design table and is made entirely from Shoes of Prey product.
Matt Newell, strategy partner at The General Store, told Inside Retail Magazine the store is designed to celebrate the product, with most of it finished in Shoes of Prey materials.
“Shoes of Prey is a unique concept so we wanted to create an immersive experience that would foster high levels of dwell time, as well as social buzz,” said Newell.
“We needed to create a store that would attract shoppers from a distance and explain the concept in an inspiring way.
“The striking two metre high flower sculpture is made entirely of shoes. It celebrates the beauty of the product as well as the creative potential of the design tool. The table is finished in Shoes of Prey’s soft black leather, all the chairs are a different fabric, and even the shoe gallery wall features leathers.”
One of the key challenges for Shoes of Prey and The General Store was holding the attention of a customer long enough to complete the design process.
“It takes customers between 40 minutes and 60 minutes to design and buy a pair of shoes, but you are in this open plan retail space, it becomes about how you make them feel comfortable enough to shop properly in that space,” says Newell.
“We created a controlled environment to reduce people’s stress levels and heart rate so that they are comfortable and will stay there for a long period of time.”
To do this, The General Store called on musician Neal Sutherland to compose a custom soundtrack for the store punctuated by sounds of animals, as well as development of a the signature Shoes of Prey scent which is released within the space and in the future will be featured inside the products’ box on delivery.
“We made sure that when people rest their arms on the table its a very tactile experience, the leather feels beautiful, and the soft table gives the right amount.
“We’re trying to engulf them in an experience so they don’t notice time passing and get caught up in the design experience.”
Another highlight of the store is the shoe gallery featured on the back wall, which uses leather samples alongside framed shoes designed by customers to provide inspiration.
“One of the interesting insights is that while some people want to design a shoe from scratch, others may want to customise an existing design. The gallery wall is going to be key in the process and will inspire and give people ideas.”
Each shoe features a plaque, stating the name and location of the person who designed it. Celebrities will also be included in the mix, giving shoppers the feeling that Shoes of Prey is a brand for everyone.
Once a customer has designed and purchased their shoe, the next challenge was addressing the issue of leaving empty handed.
“We were really conscious of that purchase remorse that can happen if you walk out empty handed, so we’ve created a gift which can be made on the spot and taken away with them.”
Each purchaser instore receives a leather keyring handbag ornament made from the leathers they’ve selected for their shoes.
This serves the dual purpose of having something tangible when they leave the store, and also ties the handbag to the shoes once they’ve arrived.
“The whole experience is linked, from seeing the store across the floor to what happens when you hit buy, get the gift and when the product arrives – it’s all integrated.”
The store will initially be staffed by two Shoes of Prey assistants, although this may be scaled back to one as time progresses, with pricepoints identical both online and instore.
Said Fox: “It is interesting that we’ve got a traditional 175 year old retailer partnering up with a three and a half year old start up in Shoes of Prey, which is two extremes at opposite ends of the spectrum.”
While the David Jones store is Shoes of Prey’s first Australian physical presence, it has already established a smaller presence within the Marui department store in Japan, as well as hosting pop ups at Japan’s Daimaru.
More stores locations are planned for the bricks and mortar concept, but for now, the Elizabeth St concession serves as a trial.
“More stores are definitely the plan, but this is a trial. It’s the closest David Jones store to our office, so we can spend a lot of time learning,” says Fox.
“It’s a totally different set of issues than what we have online. We have to talk to customers and have a different pitch to what we have on our homepage, and there’s the logistical issues of staffing, and a lot of process things around operating instore.
“As we learn how we can best maximise the sales in the store and if we can make it profitable, then we can roll it out over other DJs department stores and potentially across other department stores globally too.”
This story originally appeared in Inside Retail Magazine. The August/September issue, featuring exclusive coverage of the 2013 Westfield World Retail Study Tour is available now. For more information, click here.