Are non-shoppable showrooms a viable concept for brands?
Home and design publisher Hunker opened a house to showcase products from its brand partners and host discussions, but visitors can't shop the collection, raising questions about the model.
While showrooms themselves aren't a new concept — automotive and mattress companies have used them for years to display their products — they are gaining more attention from other retailers. In recent years, online startups have leveraged the formats to showcase products that consumers otherwise wouldn't be able to try before purchasing.
For a media brand, taking the leap into a physical showroom is a unique one. Yet Hunker, a home design website, last month unveiled a showroom featuring products from its brand partners, named Hunker House. But as with most showrooms, guests won't leave the house with purchases in hand, a company spokesperson told Retail Dive. The space is curated by Hunker's editorial team and will display select products from Hunker's partners, including Blu Dot, Dims, Society6 and Sonos, according to a company press release.
"If the Hunker brand were a home, it would be this house," Eve Epstein, editor-in-chief of Hunker, said in a statement. "We wanted to create a physical embodiment of the Hunker identity: a headquarters where the helpful meets the inspirational for real people designing real spaces. Hunker House isn't a pop-up, but a permanent platform for telling culturally relevant stories and working with like-minded partners."
The concept is similar to that of Macy's-owned Story, an experiential store that executives have previously compared to a "magazine," which reimagines itself every four to eight weeks. Nordstrom dipped its toes into showrooms with its "Local" stores and direct-to-consumer company Outer is pushing the boundaries of showrooming by letting consumers be the "hosts" for potential customers. Recently Walmart's Allswell launched a "Tiny Home" pop-up truck tour that features the brand's online mattress and bedding products in a customized showroom-on-wheels.
Hunker House will feature both public and private events, panel discussions, mixers and dinners, among other things. The publication will also invite digital influencers to the house "while they immerse themselves in Hunker's curated space to capture their own IRL moments."
The discussion forum on RetailWire asked its BrainTrust panel of retail experts the following questions:
Is the Hunker House concept a model for how brands will get their products in front of interested audiences in the years to come?
Do you think experiential showcases like this should also include a sales opportunity for brands?
Here are eight of the most insightful comments from the discussion. Comments have been edited by Retail Dive for length and clarity.
1. Visitors should have the option to purchase items
Min-Jee Hwang, Director of Marketing, Wiser Solutions: Visitors to the Hunker House should absolutely have the opportunity to buy the brands that are on display. This is relatively easy to do with mobile technology, as products can be scanned and purchased directly on a phone or tablet. Being able to see items in action throughout the home would help buyers visualize uses and be more confident in their purchasing decisions.
2. An ideal model for e-tailers
Charles Dimov, Vice President of Marketing, OrderDynamics: Great example of showrooming. Specifically, this might be an ideal model for e-tailers with large or complex products. Perfect example, using home furnishings and goods. The first step is to create these kinds of showrooms. However, I honestly feel that the next step from here is to have the ability to buy the goods right then and there… and either arrange for shipping, or to load it into your own car/truck. Ultimately, this is definitely the blending and blurring of channels … the omnichannel vision.
3. Greater convenience for purchasing items is essential
Georganne Bender, Consumer Anthropologist, KIZER & BENDER Speaking: One of the highlights of visiting a model home is being surrounded by beautiful decor, one of the frustrations is not knowing where it can be purchased. What's the point of getting visitors excited about a new brand or product if they are not able to buy it? And how many times will Hunker House's brand partners want to participate without a payback? It makes no sense to get visitors excited about a product without sharing where to buy it.
4. The major challenge is scale
Chris Petersen, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions: Nothing beats the customer experience of a showroom, especially for home products. The Hunker House is literally the STORY for home furnishings. A major challenge is scale. How does a physical space that does not sell products pay for the space and staff? Will the featured brands pay the bill? In today's omnichannel world, Hunker House may conceivably have a business model IF customers can place a real time order to get what they want, in two days or less, delivered to their home, for free, and preferably installed. To achieve financial success that scales, the model will have to have exceptional, end-to-end, seamless service. That's a tall order for any retailer, but exceptionally difficult for a startup without infrastructure.
5. Deeply reflective of the Hunker brand
Cynthia Holcomb, Founder and CEO, Prefeye - Preference Science Technologies.: Aspiration, inspiration, full psyche immersion into the world of Hunker. Hunker House is the physicality of the Hunker vision. A real-world foil of all things Hunker. A physically immersive experience for those whose consciousness is exhilarated by the Hunker taste, style, and simple utility. Commercialization, the act of selling products, defeats the immersion experience. Brilliant venue, deeply reflective of the digital Hunker.
6. Remembering Hunk is a publisher, not a retailer
Gabriela Baiter, Founder, Whereabout Studio: It's important to note that Hunker is a publisher, not a retailer, so what they offer brands is very different compared to a traditional showroom relationship. In this case, Hunker is offering brands exposure to their design savvy audience in the form of published content generated from the house. If you compare this to other multi-brand showrooms (Showfields in NYC), the guaranteed reach is a unique benefit that is likely to generate sales among their digital savvy readers when they are ready.
7. Continues a trend for content companies to move into retail
Cate Trotter, Head of Trends, Insider Trends: The products on display are presumably not available to buy directly from Hunker House, but of course will be from the brands themselves. It's an interesting concept that continues a trend for content companies and curators to move into retail, but it's key that customers can buy what they're inspired by. After all that's how the advertiser/publisher relationship has always worked.
Customers will be looking to Hunker House for its trusted opinion and eye for design. If the brand gets this right, then it's only natural that people will want to buy what's being recommended to them. I think if Hunker House doesn't want to handle the sales elements itself, but to focus more on the experience and the content, then they need to find ways to clearly signpost customers to ways to buy — such as brand websites or the ability to quickly find a product on your smartphone (via visual search, QR code etc) and complete the purchase online.
8. Difficult to see as a mainstream model
Ananda Chakravarty, Director, Retail Omnichannel Solutions Strategy at Oracle: It's one design and the concept is not new. Almost all retailers in design and home goods from TJX to Ikea have a format that showcases designs — including Home Depot and Lowe's. The key difference is the storeroom in the back and the POS out front that lets customers take the products home. There may be certain opportunities for highly specialized or rare goods, but it's difficult to see it as a mainstream model. At best, it will replace or supplement the circular.