Published on: May 9, 2013
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Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
While out in the Pacific Northwest recently, I ventured north from Portland to visit Seattle. For one thing, I owed Morgan a visit. Longtime MNB readers will know that Morgan is the incomparable bartender at Etta's, a wonderful restaurant across the street from the Pike Place Market where the crab cakes are sublime, the wines are excellent, and Morgan always knows what to say and what to pour. I've aid it often - when in Seattle, make sure you stop at Etta's. Ask for Morgan. And tell him that Kevin sent you.
But I also had another item on my agenda. I wanted to check out Hointer.
You may recall that we've written about Hointer before on MNB. It is a jeans store, selling primarily men's jeans. But unlike most jeans stores, where there are stacks and stacks of various styles in a wide range of sizes, Hointer simply hangs one pair of each style from metal rods, with a description and a QR code easily available. You download the Hointer app to your smartphone, and then use it to identify the jeans you'd like to try on, and in what size. The app tells you which dressing room to go into, and once you're there a magical robotic and computerized system delivers them to you via a slot so you can try them on. Once you are done, you put the ones you don't want into another slot, where they are taken away by the system. You then can use a self-checkout system to pay, and it is all seamless because the computer knows which jeans it delivered, which ones you kept and which ones you sent back. You can then leave ... and never talk to a salesperson. Ever.
At least, I think this is how it all works. They say that computers and robots are doing all the work, but the whole system is behind a big white wall so you can't see what is happening. I asked the one employee who was there, a very friendly fellow, but he basically said that what happens in the back room has to stay in the back room.
Now, I get that this is the secret sauce of what makes Hointer unique. But for all I know, they could have had leprechauns and elves behind the wall, scurrying about collecting and distributing the jeans. Which, when you think about it, would actually be a much better story.
What this tells me is that Hointer, which was created by former Amazon supply-chain Vice President Nadia Shouraboura, isn't really about experiential retailing. At least not how I define it. I like seeing how the machinery works. I like going to Stew Leonard's, for example, and seeing the milk bottling line. I like going to a restaurant and seeing an open kitchen. I like supermarkets that have open back rooms. It inspires confidence, and brings me into the process.
Sure, Hointer is an experience ... but I could not shake the feeling that the real audience is not the guy going in to buy jeans, but the venture capital group that might think about investing in the technology and using it in other categories. Or the folks from Amazon or Google or eBay, who would love to find a way to reinvent the physical shopping experience is a way that would be in synch with their e-commerce roots. It isn't a coincidence that Hointer opened a second store in Palo Alto, and has another store planned for downtown Seattle.
I don't want to undersell the experience. There is something very cool, very "Star Trek" about the experience; since I can't see behind the wall, maybe they're using a replicator to materialize the jeans out of energy.
Now, I'm probably not Hointer's ideal customer. I've been wearing the same style of LL Bean jeans for something like 25 or 30 years. Not the same size, but the same style.
That said, I have a confession.
I bought two pair of jeans.
Maybe the retailing experience is more than I give it credit for.
That's what I'm thinking this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what you're thinking.
- KC's View: