‘It’s the way of the future’: Express debuts a new store concept for the modern worker

Today, Express launched a new store concept in NYC dedicated to the modern worker. It’s a testing ground for a number of experiential activations the 38-year-old retailer could roll out to its 600-plus stores.

Located on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, the longstanding store has been revamped to feature product “stories” dedicated to a variety of work styles — for example, there’s a space for the office worker and one for the more creative type. There’s also a lounge-style workspace, equipped with charging stations and WiFi. Kornberg expects that shoppers will browse, work, stay a while. The fact that updates mirror American malls’ buzzy transition to lifestyle centers was no mistake. 

“It’s an evolution of where we are today,” said David Kornberg, Express, Inc. CEO and president, noting the brand’s reputation as a workwear source. “Nine-to-five doesn’t exist anymore; it’s 9-to-night. So we’ve curated a space with product that’s focused on the flexibility and versatility of the new definition of work.”

The concept, from event programming to product, was based on a consumer study Express conducted with millennial intelligence firm The Levo Institute on how customers are reshaping their priorities around work. Findings revealed they’re increasingly merging work and play, thanks in large part to a desire to keep purpose and passion at the center of all they do.

An in-store happy-hour series, including fireside chats with inspiring professionals, kicks off tonight with a panel discussion hosted by career coach Maxie McCoy and featuring executives like Diane Chang-Wardi, head of growth at Workplace by Facebook. And an upcoming event focused on office style tips will be hosted by Tan France from Netflix’s “Queer Eye.” All events will be promoted in geo-targeted emails and Express’s other NYC locations, as well as on social media and the Express app.

Inside Express’s Madison Avenue location

The app, which was recently redesigned with use in stores in mind, will be an important tool in accessing the store’s new technology and features. Personal styling services — the result of an enhanced training program for associates — are available by mobile bookings, and RSVPs to events will happen on the app.

In addition, interactive mirrors in kiosks are featured throughout the store, featuring editorial content created in house. They’re intended to show shoppers how to maximize the versatility of pieces and, of course, suggest available complementary styles.

“We’re constantly looking for ways in which we can merge cutting-edge technology with our in-store shopping experience,” said Kornberg — though he stressed that, throughout the company’s evolution, product has remained the focus. “Technology is the enabler, but the product is central to everything we do; if the product’s not right, nothing else matters.”

For the past couple of years, Express — a fixture in American malls, specializing in trend-driven casual to corporate apparel for men and women — has been focused on tightening its speed to market for products in categories across the board. Goals for 2018 will be centered on delivering timely, compelling product; growing the customer base and brand awareness; optimizing the store footprint; and expanding omnichannel capabilities.

With its new concept store, the retailer is moving in the right direction, said David Naumann, vp of marketing at consulting firm Boston Retail Partners.“Stores must now encompass both worlds — the sensory experience generally available in the physical world, and the unique and personalized shopping experience common in the digital world,” he said. “To meet consumer expectations and survive in today’s challenging retail climate, most retailers will need to transform their retail and customer engagement models to be successful.”

Kornberg sees the new store as a learning opportunity and plans to apply the key takeaways to other stores, likely launching interactive experiences suited to their local markets. Despite cautionary tales of a pending retail apocalypse, and Express’s “struggling” state by analysts’ standards (though its 2017 earnings report revealed total net sales of $2.1 billion, beating estimates), he remains hopeful and focused on growth.

“The state of brick-and-mortar retailing is way exaggerated. People still like to go out and enjoy the social experience of shopping,” he said. “But shopping online is so easy and convenient, you need a superior and enhanced experience. Events and technological advancements are crucial at this point.”

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