According to Apple, Polaroid, Microsoft, and now Canon, the next big thing is going to be retail. Jump on board everyone! Opening stores where customers can actually touch things is the new internet! Wait, what? Just when the analysts were proselytizing the death of brick-and-mortar stores, now we see a slew of tech companies embracing them.
Apple popularized this madness with their glass and steel spaceship stores, and has been quite successful at it too. Soon Microsoft followed suit (to slow results), Polaroid is jumping in with a photo studio concept, and now Canon has just opened their “Image Square.” Even more vexing, this is not actually a store as nothing is for sale. If you’re interested in purchasing something while you are there the employees will helpfully direct you to one of Canon’s retail partners. That IS helpful. The camera maker is no-doubt protecting its retail clients through this arrangement, but it seems odd that this “store” is designed to get me all jazzed-up about some particular product then I have to go find a place to go purchase it. Online no doubt.
We have tried this before of course. In the beginning (not the biblical one, the 1920′s), a brand WAS its one or two stores. If you wanted an Uncle Hank’s wool suit, by George you had to go to Uncle Hank’s. Then we saw the rise of department stores because who wants to make 5 stops when they can make just one? Parking was bad back then too… Then these department stores moved nationwide because every city should have equal access to ladies undergarments and mustache combs. But still, your hipster forefathers had to put on pants to do their shopping. Finally the internet came along and enabled shopping in your underwear (or worse). This was better, and the sales charts showed it.
So why, pray tell, are we starting the cycle all over again, especially with Canon’s example where I can’t actually exchange money for goods? Well, brands want their own space to market their goods with consistent branding and knowledgeable staff. Ok, fine enough. They also no doubt hope to pick up new customers by luring them in with beautiful locations. Got it. Lastly, Apple’s done it , so they should too. Not so much.
No one is discovering a new market through these stores, nor are they finding some latent demand. These stores attract your pre-existing fans, not new ones. A futuristic glass storefront will never save your sales once they have begun to decline (looking at you Polaroid). These are vanity projects meant to look and smell nice in the hopes that you’ll believe that the whole company looks and smells just as lavendar-y (-ish?) So by all means, go to Canon’s new store and check out some lenses. Just don’t expect to be able to buy anything.