Are we past the age of ‘customers’?

We’ll kick of this retail forecast by diving straight into the latest news from Netflix. Originating as a DVD rental service, this globally recognised brand has become the go-to for media streaming and has earned huge success for its original series & films. And while they’re not pivoting back to their origins in DVDs, they are planning to launch into the physical realm in a different way.

The video streamer is set to launch experiential retail destinations – billed as Netflix House – that will alter and adapt to the hottest trends on Netflix. Josh Simon, Netflix’s VP of consumer products told Bloomberg that the brand had been witness to “how much fans love to immerse themselves in the world of our movies and TV shows, and we’ve been thinking a lot about how we take that to the next level.”

And it’s not the first time the video streamers have created a destination for their avid fans. Earlier this year, they revealed their pop-up restaurant – NETFLIX BITES – in the heart of LA. From the likes of The Menu through to the craziest (but addictive) shows such as Is It Cake, Netflix are quite clearly a destination for food programming and so it felt more than fitting for their teams to create an in-person experienced centred on food. By collaborating with incredible chefs, they drew an audience of both foodies & Netflix obsessed fans alike.

But in true pop-up fashion, Netflix Bites came and went, with anyone unable to visit left with a sense of FOMO. In a different fashion, Netflix House would mark the first permanent location. There aren’t specifics for Netflix House just yet, although it is rumoured the first may launch in the US in 2025, but it got us thinking about the concept of the “brand house”.

Take any retail article over the past 3 years or so and you’ll find at least one comment referring to “bringing customers into the world of INSERT BRAND HERE”. No longer content with selling their story, brands are inviting us to enter the home of the brand, both literally & figuratively. Not just a glimpse, but a true immersion into the core pillars of the brand and ultimately: the reason they continue to exist.

When Glossier opened their New York flagship at the beginning of 2023, their retail design manager quite literally explained that “if Glossier had a house, this would be our home. It’s a blend of brand history, inspiration from our city, scaling up details from our products” (Julia Montean via Wallpaper Magazine). Echoing core Glossier themes such as subtle plaster pinks, pops of red accents and untouched lifestyle imagery, there is no doubting that you’re entering a Glossier space. While there are also strong connections to the local city – raw & utilitarian elements to mimic NYC vibes – the overarching design is a Glossier homestead.

Products are nestled within dining-inspired tables, a wet room mimics our own bathrooms for trialling their body care & a giant curved sofa makes up the lounge area. Glossier may say it’s the physical embodiment of their own house, but this concept is blended with the idea of bringing our own homes to life. A home from home, visually realised by the brand. The true definition of a brand house? And perhaps what we’re hoping to see from Netflix…

And we cannot discuss the concept of the brand house without a quick reference to Niketown. It would be natural to question how a store which originated in 1999 still features in so many retail design articles and remains relevant on social media. But the answer is relatively simple. They weren’t content with a brand house – they had to create a whole town. And it’s a town which adapts to the hottest trends, trends we can easily become obsessed with. It’s 4 storeys of products, from our premium sporting attire to our weekend athleisure kit. But it’s more than product. Nike also use the space for broadcasting interviews with sporting elites, holding competitions during the biggest sporting events of the season and community-driven experiences in the heart of London. It’s explicitly Nike’s house (well, town) but it has invited us to live there for over two decades and doesn’t show any signs of becoming less relevant.

When we think of ‘The Brand House’, our thoughts step away from the notion of consumers and into the realms of brand ‘inhabitants’. To become a consumer or customer, we ideally must have made a payment, a statement of proof that we’ve shopped here. Whereas inhabitants become a part of the brand story, particularly in the world of physical retail. We can immerse themselves in the ‘house’, scour the e-commerce platform and quite easily become obsessed with a brands social media presence. Through these retail & social mediums, we allow ourselves to become brand inhabitants.

What do you think of the concept of brand inhabitants, especially when considering store design?

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