Storefront at the forefront: shaping the future of retail



Not too long ago, ownership was the main marker of wealth and a goal in and of itself. The more and bigger the land, cars, collection of albums and books we owned, the higher we stood on the social ladder.


Yet, with nomadic lifestyles on the rise, every song and book at our fingertips and more knowledge than ever available to us in less than a second, nowadays millennials are in pursuit of minimalism. With digitalisation and global community building projects that centre around sharing, it is less about possession and more about access.


In line with this development, a range of sharing economies have emerged and they have set the world ablaze. Of course, the concept of a sharing economy is nothing new. It goes back thousands of years to when cavemen and women developed their first economies around sharing.


Yet, mind-boggling data usage innovations and completely new ways of thinking about services in the last few decades have given rise to a new and highly evolved breed of sharing economies such as Uber, Work Away, Rent the Runway, Wikipedia and Airbnb.


Terms such as talent-sharing, coworking, ridesharing and home lending have become commonplace and are redefining the way in which we work, learn, socialise, trade and travel.


Storefront belongs to this innovative family of sharing economies. As the Airbnb of retail, it aims to make retail as accessible and easy as booking a hotel room and thereby confidently lead the rapidly changing industry into the future.


Changing retail industry

As Storefront’s CEO for Asia, Benoît Clement-Bollee explained in The Renaissance of Physical Stores: when consumer migration to online shopping went mainstream on a massive scale, brands around the world started to heavily invest in perfecting their digital channels at detriment to traditional retail channels.


The popularity of online shopping proved fatal for some businesses and for a large portion of those who did survive, the quality of the in-store experience they offered was under threat. Cluttered stores, understaffing, less experienced salespeople and lower foot traffic at local hotspots seemed to herald the death of brick-and-mortar stores.


However, what we were really experiencing were the birth pangs of a new tradition of retail, a renaissance of physical stores so to speak.


Physical stores continue to be of great importance as they offer a better and irreplaceable purchasing experience and enable brands to foster trust and build customer relationships in ways that virtual stores cannot.


Following this recognition, both traditional retailers and large e-commerce businesses have been fiercely engaged in redesigning the industry through adopting omnichannel strategies, micro retailing and reaching out to new demographics by launching pop-up stores.


The pop-up phenomenon

Proving to be more than a mere trend, the pop-up phenomenon in particular has taken the industry by storm. Pop-up stores are cost-effective, minimise the risks for start-ups, allow brands to test the waters in new localities and enable businesses to be where they need to be during key commercial moments.


Furthermore, because of the temporary, limited-time only nature of pop-ups, through them brands can generate considerable buzz around new product lines, drive brand exposure, engage in surprising collaborations and in the process of devising a unique in-store experience they are challenged to reach higher levels of creativity.


In fact, as became clear from a conversation with Storefront’s co-founder and COO, Adrien Kerbrat, the pop-up has effective applicability throughout the five stages of a product’s life time.


Storefront leading the way

In just a few years, Storefront has rapidly grown into a global company with offices in New York, London, Paris, Amsterdam and Hong Kong. Typical of a sharing economy business, it does not constitute an intermediary but rather a platform providing short-term retail spaces for rent to companies looking to launch a pop-up store.


Describing it as an “Airbnb, eBay and Uber rolled into one,” Professor David Bell of the Wharton School of Business explains that “Storefront matched excess capacity with the demand for capacity in an efficient and scalable way.”


At once capitalising on societies’ shift towards a culture of sharing, developments in the retail industry and the opportunities pop-up retailing has given rise to, Storefront’s online platform is remarkable because of the way in which it connects various stakeholders and forges a community:

  • Mall operators, landlords and developers are enabled to quickly and sustainably solve vacancy problems, diversify what can otherwise be a static retail-mix, generate foot traffic and kindle life into neighbourhoods and towns.

  • Start-ups and established brands are facilitated in reaching new demographics, venture into new markets in a cost-effective manner and generate revenue.

  • Consumers, in turn, benefit from an enhanced shopping experience.

To further improve the level of transparency in terms of pricing and availability and to develop mere transactional encounters into productive relationships between tenants and listing owners, at the start of 2018 Storefront launched a set of new messaging and booking features enabling direct communication. This is unique for online retail marketplaces.


In addition to facilitating the community in terms of qualitative and frictionless commercial estate liquidity, Storefront has been keen to develop a culture of learning through participating in seminars and with its magazine that publishes stories behind creative projects and shares insights.


Yet, it doesn’t stop there. Co-founder and CEO Mohamed Haouache has expressed the hope that Storefront will eventually lose its Airbnb label and move towards a model which achieves rent-free pop-ups everywhere.


Anyone should have access to the tools to open a retail space. By commoditising retail, landlords could in time adopt a different commission-driven business model where a brand’s success becomes a landlord’s success. In the end, it is about freeing up creativity and giving every designer and entrepreneur opportunities to flourish.


Based on this, we would therefore say that Storefront’s root purpose is to connect the community to share the future of retail.

Storefront at the forefront

Business growth is about so much more than just expanding. It is equally about consolidating. It is about acquisition and retention. This is especially relevant in the case of Storefront.


In providing a platform for various stakeholders in the retail industry to capitalise on the opportunities provided by pop-up retailing, Storefront is a key player transforming the industry. Central to its endeavour is the notion of community, qualified by creativity and fast-track adaptability.


Looking ahead, as Storefront ventures into new markets and potentially widens its embrace to include different retail sectors and reach into other industries such as hospitality, service and education, we are curious to see how it will keep a culture of sharing alive and how it will continue to foster that sense of community.

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