After a tough year for the retail sector, Inside Retail has unveiled its 20 coolest retailers of the year, and the criteria to make the grade is very different to years gone by.
This year the 20 Coolest Retailers in Australia report is a “celebration of those Australian retailers that have weathered the unpredictability of 2020 and come out stronger – and better – than ever”.
“Brands have had to step up and take bold action in response to this change: they have invested when others withdrew; they have advertised when others cut media budgets; they have doubled down on innovation when others cut R&D budgets; they have advertised positive messages when other companies went silent; they continue to redefine and defend their value propositions when others panicked and drop prices,” the report notes.
“They have done this while creating a truly unique and engaging experience for their customers.”
What makes a retailer cool in a year of disruption?
Inside Retail managing editor, Jo-Anne Hui-Miller explains last year’s criteria was all about retailers offering something fun, fresh, unexpected and new.
“We were mostly looking at innovative products, awesome in-store experiences, excellent customer service and cult brands with that inexplicable ‘wow’ factor,” she said.
This year, of course, priorities have shifted in the wake of bushfires, Black Lives Matter, and Covid-19.
“In this year’s list, most of these retailers have also been chosen for their sustainability and community efforts, as well as how they responded to these horrific events and listened to their customers,” Ms Hui-Miller said.
“Where some tone-deaf retailers continued to push irrelevant products during the peak of the pandemic or simply posted black social media tiles to show their performative solidarity with the Black community, others had genuine empathy and re-considered how their businesses operate.”
Who made the grade?
The 20 Coolest Retailers list reads like a who’s who of the retail sector, including some big-name brands along with smaller boutiques.
Making the grade this year are: Adore Beauty, Bassike, Burger Urge, BBQ Galore, Clothing the Gap, Coco Republic, Country Road, Everyhuman, Four Pillars, Glam Corner, Good Day Girl, Hype DC, The Iconic, Le Specs, Modibodi, Nobody Denim, Outland Denim, Rebel, Upparel, and Who Gives a Crap.
Meanwhile, the following brands received honourable mentions: ABCH, Culture Kings, Rationale, and Zeroco.
So, let’s take a look at three very different retailers and how they came to feature on the list.
As one of Australia’s premier heritage brands, Country Road could be forgiven for resting on its laurels and riding on its reputation.
But this year the brand went above and beyond to re-imagine their meaning in contemporary Australian culture, asking themselves whether they could do more.
“We realised pretty quickly that what people wanted and what we felt aligned to was supporting the local communities,” Country Road’s managing director, Elle Roseby, told Inside Retail.
Among the initiatives, Country Road began sourcing more wool and cotton from Australian farmers, supported Indigenous arts, and shot its spring campaign in a Blue Mountains community that was impacted by the bushfires.
More recently, they announced a partnership with Landcare, with judges noting: “Embracing Australia and all of its beauty has seen Country Road bring a wonderful array of diversity to its communications and presentation”.
In a year when things were highly uncertain, Barbeques Galore proved unafraid to take risks, investing heavily in marketing and even trialling new products.
“At the height of the pandemic, the retailer released a bold campaign addressing government restrictions on outdoor gathering and barbeques head-on. And was highly praised for it,” the Coolest Retailers report notes.
They also partnered up with meat suppliers to sell products in the form of BBQ Box. Initially trialled in-store, BBQ Box now caters to the at-home dining trend, allowing customers to order tailored boxes and have them delivered directly to their door.
“The stars really aligned for this business in 2020,” Coolest Retailers judges noted.
“They’ve really moved towards owning what is essentially an iconic Australian activity through the ‘edutainment’ element built into their new store concept and some fun new ads.”
Rebel’s commitment to the in-store experience was a major reason the sportswear brand received a big nod from Coolest Retailers judges this year.
Over the past couple of years, the brand has worked with Nike to create a new world-class store concept, where customers immerse themselves in the brand, test their new sneakers in an indoor basketball court or football pitch, check out the latest products at the innovation zone or play in the e-gaming area, the Inside Retail report notes.
“Little did the Rebel team know that when they would eventually unveil its new RCX concept in Doncaster, Melbourne, it would be in mid-March at the very peak of a pandemic.”
Rebel concedes they couldn’t have picked a worse time, but it wasn’t the doom and gloom they expected.
While foot traffic was down, conversion rates were up, and average transaction volume surged as people looked to combat lockdown and improve their fitness at home.
“Rebel’s ‘Sport Is Calling’ social media campaign featuring athletes and everyday Aussies performing athletic feats in their backyards was one of the coolest things I saw during lockdown – it was the perfect balance of inspiring and entertaining when we were all being urged to ‘play at home’,” judges noted.