When retailers decide to take their brand abroad they know they must implement a strategy of brand identity that represents them at best and stays relevant in the very diverse world of global retail. For a while the formula has been to develop a scheme that prescribes a predefined look at point-of-sales and as many standardized guidelines as possible to assure consistency in the brand message wherever they would go to open a new store.
What we realized though after a few years of this practice is that the world of retail started turning into a dull and very uninspiring scenario: everywhere you would go, you would see the exact same carbon copies of store concepts. Merchandising and window displays were the same and consumers could not differentiate any longer if they were in a mall in China, the US, Brazil or the UK. On the other side the local markets felt like they were imposed a retail scheme that, while representing the brand at its best, did often not really click with local consumers.
What was missing was the integration of cultural context.
Today we are looking at international roll-out designs with a different perspective. We like to design retail scenarios that follow a strong brand concept, previously developed at the heart of the brand. However, the declinations throughout the world are developed with cultural relevance to the local markets. These sometimes small variations to the original concept are key elements to hit the love-mark with a customer. Consumers in foreign countries have different shopping habits. We all follow cultural rituals, we have learned from early on, influenced by our heritage and culture. So it is no surprise that things are done differently in Japan or in Saudi Arabia than in the US. It is more likely to create a successful retail environment by learning these behavioral variations and adapting them into the design concept.
When we took Mauboussin, the french jeweler from Place Vendome in Paris, to Casablanca such adaptation seemed necessary. Even though there is a long-lasting affinity between France and Morocco there is a strong difference in the cultural context as well as behavioral patterns. Led by tradition and religion the role of men and women are very different from the western model, hence the shopping rituals, especially for jewelry – often a prestige object to show affection between the two – had to be taken into consideration.
So for this store we made two major adaptations that I list here as example to support my theory above:
1. we included a women only tea salon. The idea was to encourage women to come on their own as we provided a “safe” environment for them. This unit is attached to the retail store, which enables women to meet with their friends and family without male company and combine that with a shopping experience, which otherwise would be less accessible.
2. we removed the cash desk from the sales floor. This creates a decent environment, where money transactions are being conducted in privacy, secluding the sensitive part from the communal shopping experience. A very important scenario for male customers in this cultural context, who do not want their shopping partners to see what they are spending.
In addition we adopted local materials and construction techniques in some areas into the design to create recognition to traditional crafts and therefore connect to local customers on an emotional level. For example the facade was covered in broken tiles, a technique found in many residences in Morocco, enriched with sparkling pieces here to make it look precious. Interior walls were covered with Tadelakt, a rich plaster and application method unique to this country. Further we created lace covered moldings on the wall reflecting on the rich local culture of embroidery. All of this did not distort the image of the brand but instead gave it a meaningful interpretation. Now, 2 years after the store opened, we can attest that our strategy was successful as the store has become a staple in its hometown.
Mauboussin, Boulevard Al Massira Al Khadra, Casablanca, Morocco
Indeed. Cultural relevance is a missing ingredient in the formulation of most retail establishments. The global strategy of most companies often discount this in the effort of streamlining costs, time and effort, while ignoring the potential upside of creating unique and more importantly cultural symmetry and harmony.