Lessons for the High Street: Trending Store at Westfield with Nextatlas

Welcome to our series of articles on retailers that are operating in ways that provide some interesting and valuable lessons to the wider industry.

Name: Trending Store from Nextatlas

Location: Westfield Shopping Centre, London W12

In a nutshell: This concept pop-up, which has just finished its run in Westfield, aimed to only sell the top 100 items of clothing as trending globally according to 400,000 social media ‘innovators’ who were tracked by the Nextatlas platform.

Its purpose was to alert both consumers and retailers to the revolutionising impact of AI and to show how the traditional store – usually the place used to gather data from customers – can increasingly be the place that data is brought to them instead.

Retail Insider was taken around the Trending Store by Benedicte Cormier of Nextatlas. She explained that Unibail-Adamco-Westfield approached Nextatlas to set up the store as it is keen to help its retailers adapt to the new demands of consumers and alert them to the possibilities opened up by online data.

It is Nextatlas’ first venture into a physical store and for the purposes of this week-long experiment all proceeds from the shop went to charity partner Save The Children which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. To that end only 100 items were on sale in the shop, all donated by Westfield retailers based on the trends that Nextatlas identified.

But how does it identify these trends? Cormier explained that a sample of 400,000 of what she is careful not to call ‘influencers’ but ‘insiders’ is monitored to produce the trend data. And what’s wrong with influencers? According to Nextatlas by the time trends have been picked up by paid-for influencers it’s too late already. The curve has probably moved on somewhere else.

The Nextatlas platform tracks an incredible three billion data points from its crowd of global informers while it tracks their social media comments, inputs, likes, blog posts, even the emojis they use. – Basically anything they utter either visually or orally on any of their channels is picked up. Tellingly Charmier notes that Facebook is the one platform that is not monitored because it is considered too mainstream.

Instead, the focus turns on platforms like Tumblr, Reddit, Pinterest, Twitter where Nextatlas believes the more edgy early adopters are talking to each other and forming their opinions. The people being tracked have not actively opted in to this ‘insider’ process but as all the material is in the public domain anyway, permission is not needed. In this way Nextatlas feels it can avoid the scourge of paid-for reviews and keep the material fresh and independent.

In the Westfield store, Nextatlas defined five fashion trends from its latest data (including Romantic Heroines, Dystopian Fashionistas, and Design Therapy) and then used stylists to obtain clothes from the retailers in the shopping centre which corresponded to the central colours, designs and ideas around that trend.

In addition, a daily rack used absolutely real-time data to stock trending items from that day – themes included Neon, Counter Culture and Pastel. (NB All the clothes for the store were donated by the outlets to maximise the money made for Save The Children).

Nextatlas claims that the main attraction for retailers is the fashion-forward aspect of the data. “It is a shift in emphasis” says Charmier. Instead of the fashion world telling consumers what they would like for the next season, “consumers will tell retailers what they want”. In the Trending Store glossy brochures were placed at each station explaining the trend and how it came about – with detailed information on the global reach of the trend, key images illustrating exactly what it is, a colour palette, the trending  hotspots, the different ‘tribes’ within the trend and even the top hashtags and emojis being used.

Everything, in other words, a clothes designer could need to begin work on a range. Data points are collated together with any cluster having to hit a certain threshold of both quantity and quality before it can be designed as a definite trend.

Charmier hopes that this very deep-mined information will attract retailers away from Google Trends which she believes leaves retailers constantly running after already established trends and paying influencers for coverage.

“This identifies the things that are just bubbling under” she says. However, as she fully admits there will be occasions when seemingly contradictory trends emerge for the retailer and its products. “We are not judgemental – we just pass on the data as it is with a note that this is what they should be considering”. Adding that their findings often disgruntle marketing departments as it may well not be what they were planning or wanting to hear.

On entering the hi-tech store, shoppers were greeted by Ultra HD screens which acted as a kind of mood board showcasing live trend data and visual inspiration, from the colours to shop in that trend, right through to the hashtags which accompany the trend on social media.

But how might this immediate consumption (it’s trending, I want it. Now it’s not trending, now I don’t want it) pattern fit into concerns over sustainability and fast fashion? Charmier strongly believes that the right information can stop the over-production, and subsequent over-stocking, of the wrong clothes that the consumer is not looking for. “It will alleviate the ‘finger in the air’ method of predicting demand. Retailers always ask us “tell us where the noise is” and we can” she claims.In terms of consumers, a place to actually touch, feel and try the trending items that they want to buy could stop the wastage involved in transporting and then returning goods bought on spec and without much thought online.

This particular Trending Store in Westfield is concerned only with clothes and accessories but these types of insights could, of course, be used for most forms of retail, for example, Charmier says that the company has been doing a lot of work with coffee companies and craft beer brands. How retailers ultimately choose to present or use the mined information in store will vary enormously but Information can be segmented by geography or any other factor required for a specific shop or chain of shops.

She sees the potential of this consumer data within mini-malls, in-store personalisation, data screens to reverse the decline of the High Street but also believes that online retailers are beginning to lose a bit of ground which will drive them to experiment with this kind of store. “It needs less space but only stocks high-demand items”.

Overall this prototype, possibly a global first, gave a good indication of how the smart trending intel of online shopping and fashion influence could combine with the human interaction of traditional shopping. Consumers were possibly more curious about the concept than anything else but Myf Ryan, CMO Europe and Group Director of Brand and Strategic Marketing for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield was full of praise for the pop up concluding “bringing our shoppers products that are trending in real time is a true reflection of social conversation brought to life in a physical space. We believe The Trending Store represents the way we will all be shopping in the future.”