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One does not have to be a faithful Christian to enjoy a good Christmas market, and the Swiss markets in Zürich during the Advent period (22 November – 23 December) are very good indeed. Truly, those markets are useful and delightful for non-Christians just as well. As a market, it is a commercial event at its core. But much beyond its commercial function, the Christmas market has the flare of a festive fair, and this is well felt in Zürich.

Remarkably, the Christmas markets of Zurich do not have the appearance and feel of an over-commercialised event. A careful observer may find signs of event marketing and brand marketing, but they are woven cleverly and tastefully into the market happening so it should not disturb the visitors. Big brand names are not omnipresent or dominating the markets. Instead, stalls seem to be inhabited mostly by small and independent local traders, and much of the merchandise is made by handicraft. The magic of this organisation is in giving the sense of older-times retailing. These characteristics may signify, more broadly, a distinction between European and American approaches to commerce and marketing. Nevertheless, the Zurich Christmas markets seem to exhibit elements of a well-thought marketing design, yet without making them imposing or too apparent to celebrating visitors-shoppers.

Just to remove any doubt before continuing: These markets involve not only merchandise — food and drinks play a major role in them. More will be said about eating and drinking at a Christmas market later in the post.

Several Christmas markets operated this year (2018) in Zurich, the three major ones were in the main railway station (Hauptbahnhof); in front of the Opera House near the lake; and in the Niederdorf Quarter in the Old Town of Zurich (on the north bank of the Limmat river).

The Christkindlimarkt in the large hall of the Hauptbahnhof (i.e., it is located indoors) is the most immediately accessible to anyone arriving to Zurich by train. But furthermore the station is a major hub of travel and shopping for anyone passing through (note: the station lays over a large underground shopping centre). It is the central market of the city with 150 stalls. The Christmas market in the station is therefore said to be the most busy one in the city, and it can feel over-crowded at times.

The market is arranged in a squared block with two longitudinal ‘avenues’ running Swarovski Christmas Treethrough it with stalls on both sides, and some passes connecting between them. In the middle of the market features the main attraction: a 15-metre-high sparkling Christmas tree with glass decorations, courtesy of Swarovski. The tree is surrounded at its base by displays of glassware jewelleries, figurines and other decorations by the Swarovski retail brand, with a little hut-shop next to the tree (a Swarovski store is situated across the street from the railway station). The tree makes a very impressive attraction, nevertheless, and lures many visitors circling around it. Overall, the market looks and sounds cheerful and busy, and while the Swarovski-branded tree acts as a market’s anchor, it does not seem to distract visitors-shoppers from attending the many stalls in the Christkindlimarkt with their various gift-opportunity offerings and food delights.

A greater festivity takes place, nonetheless, at the Christmas village (‘Wienachstdorf’) in the large square in front of the Opera House (Sechselautenplatz) just next to the Zurich Lake promenade. This Christmas market-village entails around 100 stalls, arranged in free-form, curve-shaped areas. Not least, it seems to offer the best opportunities for Christmas Market Village near Operaeating and drinking in between looking for merchandise. A large place is dedicated in the centre of the village for sitting at long tables to eat some of the delicacies like Swiss raclette or a French crêpe. Since this market is open-air, and it can be freezing cold, a most popular hot drink at this time of year is Glühwein (mulled wine) — many people can be seen walking and warming up with cups of Glühwein. There are, however, some more protected areas to stay, eat or drink, particularly two indoors halls that resemble pubs in atmosphere. The market is plentiful with merchandise at the stalls, so much it is impossible to cover here its variety.  Most products can fit appropriately as gifts for family and friends, but they also suit shoppers wishing to spoil themselves for Christmas. One may find there winter accessories, decorations and toys of all sorts, woodcraft, and much more.

Two main attractions are especially noteworthy; each is of a different type, and either is hosted by an Alpine mountain resort site. The major leisure attraction is an ice skating rink, hosted by Arosa mountain resort (neighbouring Lenzerheide in the Graubünden Canton). Little children are welcome to join skating with the aid of ‘penguins’. Traditional Christmas songs (as back in time as from the 1940s) play in the background to complete the nice entertaining experience. A culinary attraction on site of the Christmas village is the Fondue Chalet hosted by Klosters, the Klosters Stübli (Klosters is a resort village neighbouring the more famed town of Davos). Inside the chalet, diners are seated at long wooden tables on benches with woolen covers, giving the place the atmosphere of a public dining house. Having a fine cheese fondue with a glass of cider makes a wonderful meal. True, the two resort sites make a promotion for themselves ahead of the winter vacation & skiing season, but in view of the pleasant benefits they provide to the visitors of the Zurich Christmas market, such a branded initiative appears legitimate and welcome. They fit well as event marketing attractions in the Wienachstdorf that add to the whole festive atmosphere, like one big street party.

The third key Christmas market is in the Niederdorf Quarter of the Old Town. It is centred at Niederdorfstrasse, but it has ‘satellite’ extensions along the streets, starting from the large cathedral of Gross Münster. The headline advantage of this market is the relaxing atmosphere that the Old Town architecture provides. It is relatively smaller as well as calmer than the two previous markets described.

Smaller concentrations of Christmas market stalls can be found in another part of the city centre, along and around the Bahnhofstrasse. One concentration, for instance, can be found in a pedestrian street running between the Jelmoli aChristmas Market near Globusnd Globus department stores, and continuing in front of the latter. It adds light and buzz to that area that is not available in other times of the year. Another Christmas market happening takes place not far from there, at Werdmühleplatz, next to the main shopping and business Bahnhofstrasse. There beside the stalls stands a large Singing Christmas Tree; in the evenings different choirs from the Zurich district stand on elevations around the tree and sing Christmas songs in various languages to the pleasure of a pedestrian audience. This gives a special celebrating atmosphere to the small market.

To complete the picture, add to the Christmas markets the sights of Christmas lights in different decorative forms and colours, hanging above streets and on the facades of buildings, especially those housing large stores, banks, and other prominent businesses. The Christmas lights will follow shoppers most of the way moving from one market to the other. A special tram for children runs between sites in the city in a round tour starting nearby the Wienachstdorf; the children are hosted by Christmas angles (Christkindli) on their trip, sponsored by Jelmoli department store.

A Stall in Christmas Market near Globus

It must be emphasised that stalls selling food and drinks are available for visitors-shoppers in each of the Christmas markets, including serving the Glühwein, a necessity when temperatures drop to zero degrees Celsius. Similar food delicacies may be found in most of the markets (e.g., raclette, sausages, crêpes, Berliner, mini mousses), yet the market in front of the Opera seems to be the culinary centre with a greater variety of foods (e.g., including also Asian cuisine). Lines may be found in front of every food stall at the Wienachstdorf, and the tables in the village centre are almost always fully occupied.


Notwithstanding the markets in Zurich, an experience of an even greater Christmas market is awaiting those willing to go farther along the Lake of Zurich (less than an hour journey by train) to Rapperswil-Jona, its lakeshore promenade and the Old Town. The Christkindlimärt spreads over the large place of the promenade and extends into theChristmas Market in Rapperswil-Jona streets of the Old Town going up to the castle. The market inhabits over 200 stalls of nearly anything one can ask for in gift merchandise for the holidays, foods and drinks. Notably, more handcrafted artifacts appear to be available in this market than in the city. Overall, there seems to be much greater variety of products in this market, if you include stalls on the promenade and within the town. Additionally, one may find there food produce to buy for home (e.g., varieties of cheese, salami). Musical performances are playing from a stage in the promenade to make the celebration merrier. As a note aside, no conspicuous brand marketing could be readily traced in this event, except perhaps for the event marketing of the whole market. In summary, the Christkindlimärt of Rapperswil-Jona offers a special and rich experience that feels more free, like a holiday in the countryside, to anyone willing to make the modest distance.


 

The Christmas markets of Zurich, as described above, are well organised and designed to create festive events — the markets are both commercial events and celebrating events for the seasonal holidays. There is a flourishing shopping activity that visitors are engaged in, but it is enveloped with leisure, culinary and entertainment activities and experiences. Visitors walking through the markets can mix between all these possibilities to create each his or her favourable experience. The style of these markets, not unexpectedly, is orientated more towards the traditional marketing and retailing rather than modern design. But it has to be well planned in our days to sustain those earlier characteristics. In that sense, the markets appear to manifest good practices of event marketing. The city of Zurich can be complimented for creating attractive festive markets for residents as well as tourists.

Merry Christmas to all Christian readers, and

A Happy New Year 2019 to everyone.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

 

 

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Over the past thirty years designer brands have gradually held ground in fashion stores and departments, thereby altering the experience of shopping for clothing in many stores. This phenomenon can be observed in department stores, fashion retail chains, and down to single independent stores. They range from stores that offer clothing items from a number ofFashion Store Front Window selected designer names to those dedicated to a specific designer brand name (e.g., Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Armani, Gap, Paul & Shark, Stella McCartney), either by direct control of the fashion house companies or by licensing. The key motive is the dominant emphasis put on brand names in a store’s scene. The changes that have taken place in the retail arena in the way merchandise display is organized are likely to have an impact on the order and structure of the purchase decision process of consumers as well as emotional aspects of their shopping experience in fashion stores.

There has been a remarkable shift in the layout of clothing departments and shops from product-orietnation to brand-orientation. It is easily felt, as you enter the floor, that the garments on display are clustered by designer brands. The shopper is implicitly guided to search for and choose items by a desired brand before making his or her mind what kind of item is needed or wanted (e.g., trousers, shirts, skirts, jackets etc.) Often the brand-logo signage mounted on tables, shelves or other fixtures, or posted on the walls, makes it fairly obvious that the shop is a brand theatre.

Fashion Designer Brands Store

There is a continuous competition for attention or focus between the designer brand names of clothing and accessories and the store name as a brand. In single-brand stores that carry the same name as that of their fashion products the conflict is essentially removed because the single brand corresponds to everything in the store — at the product level and at the retail level. It does demand, however, greater effort to ensure congruency between elements of brand image that are characteristic of the products and elements embedded in the store design and atmospherics. Yet in other types of fashion stores or departments such competition is omnipresent and valid. A strong reliance of the store on the clothing brands offerred to shoppers could enhance their perception of assortment in the store but it is in danger of eclipsing the store name in face of the designer brands. In other words, it suggests that the store is fully dependent on the designer brands it offers and downplays the retailer’s own competencies and other attributes of its store(s).

One method of tackling this challenge applied more frequently by department stores and fashion retail chains is to offer clothes under their own private label which is different from the name of the store but is strongly associated with it. In some cases, the retailers sign exclusive contracts with designers who will make garments solely for them, and thereby the designers get protected exposure of their creations at the retailer’s store(s). Thereon it is a question of striking a reasonable balance in display space, in-store signage and advertising assigned to the retailer’s own fashion brand(s) relative to other ‘imported’ designer brands.

  • Chains of “fast fashion” like ZARA and H&M constitute a special case: They act as single-brand retailers that assign the chain-store’s name to all their products but in fact their strategy is to mimic up-to-date trends of fashion by some of the better known designers and offer products of compatible designs at more affordable prices to shoppers from the middle-class.

But what about those mini-stores within a store assigned to particular designer brands? It means that an enclosed 3-walled section on the floor of a store’s department is dedicated singly to a given designer brand that offers a variety of its product items as if it were a stand-alone mini-store of the brand. The shopper can compose a whole set of dressing solely from that brand without ever considering similar items from the displays of other brands. Is that truly in the interest of a retailer? This is an extreme form of segregation of a designer brand from the rest of the display that sacrifices advantages of the retailer as a fashion seller to end-consumers for the benefit of the “guest” brand. If a brand orietntation is in order, it should be laid out flexibly and openly, keeping each brand-area easily visible from other brand-areas, as is already more common nowadays. The shopper should feel free to navigate between brands without setting artificial borders on the floor. It affords the shopper to mix items of different types of garment according to his or her judgement and taste — a choice of brands is available but is not constraining.

A separation by brand is still not always over-encompassing. For instance, a male shopper may step into a large section dedicated to men’s shirts, yet, where the rich assortment of shirts is sorted by brand. That is contrary to sorting shirts, for example, by style, size, leading colour, or design form (e.g., unicolour, stripes, squares). For a shopper who comes to purchase a particular type of shirt in mind, moreover if he wants to match it to a pair of trousers, sorting the shirts by brand can make this task more difficult and bothersome. Putting the brand before other attributes of clothing can often conflict with practical objectives of shoppers and force on them a structure of decision process that is unfitting their task. The disposition that shoppers are mainly looking for socially desired designer brands could be overweighted, especially with respect to shoppers in their thirties and above.

There is, furthermore, a price aspect to this emphasis on designer brands. Making it appear that nearly all merchandise is provided by fashion designers, appealling at least in name and logo, gives the impression that the merchandise is more expensive; this perception is not detached from reality of recent years (often supported by upgrade to more flashy and luxurious designs by fashion and department stores).

Another implication of brand-orientation in organising merchandise display is that finding the items shoppers look for takes them longer, and requires them to walk greater distances on a floor from one area to another to compose a set of dressing, particularly if they are not fixed on a single brand. This may sound like an excellent reasoning to the retailer because it extends the duration of a shopper’s visit in the store and gets her or him exposed to more merchandise, in expectation that the shopper will select more items and spend more money. This prediction is true just to a limit; it is likely to backfire if the longer search is accompanied by elevated angst or frustration hopelessly trying to find the kind of items sought for. It would probably not bother visitors who come for learning and exploration, but these are the less likely shoppers to spend money. It would be much less desirable to shoppers who come with a deliberate plan to buy.

The emphasis on brands can be met already at the entrance to a store on the front windows: in many stores a nice long vertical list of designer brands decorates the window and welcomes you to the store. The directory signage in front of the lifts and escalators is also frequently indicative: If in the 1990s there were details on the information boards of types of articles on each floMen's Fashion Front Window Sidelookor, now you are more likely to find the logos of brands available and very brief definitions in small letters of clothing and accessories. This may also on occasion add to the trouble of finding one’s way in the store. (Example of a store for men’s fashion in a European city that seems more original and attentive to shoppers: it takes a short time to discover that as you climb to higher floors in the store you move from casual to business to luxury dressing for men).

There could also be a lesson from implications of the brand orientation to sales personnel in fashion stores and departments. Sales team members are often less visible and less intervening, which is good especially in the early stage of the shopper’s visit as she or he studies the clothes on display; however, soon their guidance and advice should become helpful and appreciated, perhaps even more than in past decades. The sales team mission is after all to sell clothing articles that best fit and compliment their customers. Hence, the expertise and experience of sales team members in matching garments and composing aesthetic-looking outfits for customers across and within designer brands on their floor could and should still be much required and valued.

Retailers are said to have stronger leverage on manufacturers and are in better position to set conditions and terms for including their products in their stores’ displays. But on the ground, when it comes to fashion houses, retailers appear to have succumbed to their rule of designer brand names. Fashion retailers whose main business is retail seem too often to put all their pride and stake on the designer brand names they manage to introduce in their stores. Some retailers hold their own brands that provide a good answer to the designer brands they host. Yet it all revolves around brands. Fashion retailers must not stop developing and advancing additional competencies and attributes that would stand as their specialised sources of advantage, such as the friendliness of their store layout, its atmospherics, and the expertise and courtesy of their sales personnel.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

 

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