Puma Social Club

7 February 2013

Puma’s ‘Social Club’ store in Prague, designed by architects edit!, is a bar/café/retail experience. A brand experience. Visitors can admire and discuss the products over drinks. Brand conversation, as well as consumption is the aim of this store, and I must say it works quite well. To be honest, it must have worked very well, since I’m writing this article on it.

However, discussing the best trainers or bag on display is not my aim here. For me, the store brought up questions of brand experience and the affects of this on the high street.

The government expects high street sales to contract to 40% of all retail spending by 2014 (The Portas Review). This trend towards internet shopping certainly has it’s advantages, but with my recent research into urban design, the regeneration of the high street also needs to be considered on a micro level. So, as well as creating an urban design for improving the street level experience, we should consider the types of retail and commercial outlets that are appropriate for the local area and the experience within each individual outlet.

If the internet is taking away custom from the high street, the high street needs to offer an experience that the internet can’t. Websites already offer personal recommendations, suggestions, style guides, etc. Even social media allows for brands to communicate with consumers well. The high street can do all this – it could even do it better.

Given that the high street is within the realms of the physical world, the interaction with the product is immediate and tangible. However, the design of the Puma Social Club does not just benefit from the physical products on display, it is the retail experience that surrounds the products that produce this part of the brand experience.

Allowing visitors to discuss the products in the café area gets people interested. Hey, they even make a few bob from the drink sales as well! Staff are welcoming and knowledgeable. Polaroid shots are posted on a noticeboard. There is a sense of community. I found this experience really satisfying and engaging. This is not to say that customer service on the high street in the UK is bad, in fact, I even used to be a Customer Service Assistant myself back in the day. I just found that giving consumers areas to discuss the products, as well as creating a community around a local store gives consumers a reason to visit the physical store, rather than the online version.

The issue I’ve noticed is that brands seem to rely on social media as the only way of getting consumers to communicate about the products. For example, Urban Outfitters allow visitors to take Instagram pictures in the changing rooms and hashtag it with #UrbanOutfitters. This creates a digital space for people to discuss and share products with friends and followers online. However, even though this is a great marketing tool, why not go further and bring this discussion out from behind the glass of a phone screen and give consumers the opportunity to discuss brands and their products within the physical world – bring people back to the high street. Creating a real-world community and place for discussion first, then overlaying a digital community second, could engage people more in the products, brands and retail stores on the high street. This is what I see was successfully achieved at the Puma Social Club store in Prague.

By no means is this solution perfect, and it is certainly easier said than done given the huge amount of factors involved and the assumptions I’ve made, but the solution has to be appropriated for the brand – every brand has different aims, objectives and visual identities. It is also important to consider that this solution is one of many. The same idea cannot be propagated across every high street. The solution has to be appropriate to local context: people, affluence, geographical location, etc. of which I will revisit in future blog posts.