In this “Ask the Experts” post, we discuss key strategies, innovations, and trends emerging from the United States’ west coast which are influencing retail across the country and throughout the globe. Parker Avery panel members providing their insights for this discussion include Partner The Parker Avery Group and Manager The Parker Avery Group. Sonia and Michele (who incidentally are sisters) have several decades of experience in retail – both within the industry and as trusted advisors to leading retail companies. Both contributors reside on the west coast.

Q1. It used to be a common occurrence that most trends in U.S. retail and fashion originated from the west coast. With the infiltration of digital retail and the world becoming so much smaller and closer, how has this theme changed and how does it impact retail throughout the rest of the country?
Sonia: Digital retail infiltration certainly makes getting trends from around the world much easier for all of us across the country. With retailers quickly expanding internationally, the trends of west coast are easily accessible to all. However, lifestyle and weather are still drivers of what consumers want to wear and use—essentially shopping preferences are strongly influenced based on where they live.

Q2. What innovative merchandising trends are developing or originating from the west coast? Are these trends being fostered by newer retailers only or are you seeing traditional retailers changing course and taking newer and bolder approaches?

Sonia: We are seeing innovation from many retailers in sportswear and active wear originating from the west coast. Every retailer we know now seems to have added these categories one way or another to the store assortment or lines they carry. As a driver of fashion, digital media, and fitness, the west coast (most notably California) continues to lead the market in surf and skate categories and in many other outdoor lifestyle areas.

Q3. Are there trends, practices or even pitfalls that are innate to the west coast? (e.g., sourcing, distribution)

Sonia: The west coast also proudly boasts the culture of entrepreneurial attitude and a has significant presence of innovative technology companies driving the economy – Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Costco, and Starbucks. Further, the west coast is the gatekeeper for international trade. California, Oregon, and Washington have the major ports for trade between the US and Asia that support the exchange of goods. As Asian economies continue to develop and participate more in the global economy, these ports have become increasingly integral to the world economy. The impacts felt by the 2014 west coast slowdown caused a significant disruption to the many retailers across the states, not just the west coast.

Q4. We see retailers increasingly focus on “experiential” shopping. How are west coast retailers embracing this type of consumer engagement trend in their stores?

Michele: Many brick-and-mortar store shopping experiences are being enhanced by alternative channels within the space by using square footage for media as well as both digital and physical entertainment, work and fun space (e.g. Starbucks). Others are creating the experiential shopping experience online, providing a similar level of excitement and experiences that are just as emotionally rewarding as to going into physical stores. Some of the first retailers were credited with creating online shopping experiences due to allowing product reviews and generous return policies. Now many are taking it a step further by allowing customers to test out products at home, engage personal style preferences by delivering outfits for shoppers to try on before committing to the purchase (like the in-store personal shopper approach), and offering subscription programs that provide consumers with favorite products at reduced price points (often via membership). Examples of these retailers are: Dollar Shave Club, Stitch Fix, Inc., Fabletics, Zappos, and (yes) Amazon. I’ve seen this quote and really think it applies here, but not just for west coast companies “Good companies create products, great companies create identities.”

Q5. West coast retail is sometimes described as destination shopping experience. What strategies or unique experiences could you share?
Michele: Many of the top shopping malls on the west coast offer a unique experience when entering their malls, both indoors and outdoors. Not only can consumers “shop till you drop” at both luxury and bargain brand stores, they can also be entertained by special shows and events. Examples include music entertainment, up-and-coming local bands, community talent shows, ice skating rinks, movie theatres, and more. And to round out the day, shoppers typically have a plethora of dining options with style and flare heavily marketed as “the place to be/try.” High-end malls on the west coast are typically frequented by both famous people and reality stars, and the backdrop for popular TV shows is drawing even more crowds. The days of “running in for a pair of shoes” and then leaving are gone…in the west coast, shopping has truly become an outing.

If you have any questions about how your company could capitalize on these west coast trends or any other retail challenges, please don’t hesitate to contact Parker Avery.