At a time when many retailers are shrinking their bricks-and-mortar store networks and shifting their focus to e-commerce, designer fashion brand Sass & Bide is putting a spotlight on its stores – literally. The retailer last month installed a new projector system in its flagship location on Oxford Street in Paddington that enables it to play footage from runway shows, product shoots and other digital content on its windows. Unlike LED television screens, which appear in some shop wi
hop windows, Sass & Bide’s storefront is covered in a special transparent film that uses nanotechnology to make videos and images visible, without blocking the customer’s line of sight into the store. This was an important factor in Sass & Bide’s decision to invest in the technology, according to the company’s COO Adrian Gribbin. “We’ve always really wanted the brand’s customers to be able to see into stores and the gorgeous product in there,” Gribbin told Inside Retail. So was the ‘wow’ factor of seeing a runway show projected onto glass, something no other retailer on Oxford Street – or actually anywhere in the world, the technology is brand new – can claim. “Retailers complain about their stores being a liability and being very costly,” Gribbin said. “We agree that they are very costly, but they can also be used in a way, and technology allows them to be used in a way, that showcases some of their strengths and assets.” Making the case for investing in stores Gribbin believes it’s important for retailers to continue to invest in their stores, even in difficult times like right now. “Just because we’re going through a pandemic doesn’t mean Sass & Bide shouldn’t be continually investing in its brand, trying to refresh the brand and trying to maintain the strong attachment we do have with our VIP customer base,” he said. “It’s a mistake a lot of retailers make, but when they fail to invest in the business across all the different areas they could invest in, then they are really on a spiral of death. Watching Australia over the last five to 10 years, that has been the case of some brands, whether it’s on technology, or in people, or in stores, there has been a lack of investment.” Sass & Bide, which was purchased by Myer in 2013, has 33 stores in Australia, including 18 boutiques, 14 Myer concessions and three outlets. It also has two stores in New Zealand and a global e-commerce site that ships internationally. While the brand is committed to maintaining its physical store network, Gribbin said he is “acutely aware” of the high cost of rent in some of the main malls. “For all retailers it’s a balancing act. How well was the deal struck in the store? How long are you in that store? This pandemic has really brought things to a head. It’s [taken] stores that were considered to be slightly underperforming and put them into the loss making bucket,” he said. “Certainly, the gold rush days of trying to open as many stores in as many locations as you possibly can, for the time being, is over.” Keeping the environmental cost down Sass & Bide had been planning to relaunch the brand in the US and Europe this year, following the successful opening of a new flagship in Westfield Newmarket in Auckland last year, but then Covid-19 happened. Being forced to focus on ANZ has given the brand time to think about the service it currently provides to customers and how it can better meet their needs, Gribbin said. The brand is currently working to make three key changes: reduce its environmental footprint by moving to more sustainable materials, eliminating plastic from packaging and launching locally made collections; investing in digital to better parallel the high standard of personalised service it is known for in boutiques to its online offering; and remap how it delivers collections to be less reliant on the seasons and more on customers’ needs at that specific moment in time. These topics are high on the agenda of many fashion brands at the moment, and some are finding that it’s easier said than done. But Gribbin pointed out that the new projector system at Sass & Bide’s Oxford Street store could help the brand reduce its environmental footprint, since it’s no longer using disposable signage in its windows. “The environmental costs of continually printing more store VM” was one of the reasons he said the technology was appealing. A global first, but not for long According to Adrian Jones, the executive director of PopUp OnDemand, which has an exclusive licence to sell the projector system globally except for China, an estimated 150,000 tonnes of retail equipment goes to landfill every year. While the transparent film that has to be applied to the window for it to work is not recyclable, Jones noted that it is longer lasting than signage, which gets replaced every season if not more frequently. “At the moment, just by the fact that there’s less churn of the film, it has less environmental impact than decals or cardboard,” he said. In addition, PopUp OnDemand uses refurbished projectors. While Sass & Bide is the first retailer to use the technology globally, Jones said that he and the founders of the business, Kim and Taryn Hoang, are in talks with a handful of retailers in Australia and Europe.