True confession: I love Gilly Hicks. In case you don't know her, she's a store in the mall. Trafficking in fun clothes, mostly underwear for teenagers and 20-somethings, some call her the cheeky cousin of Abercrombie & Fitch.
Although the clothes are fun – bright, minimal underwear, shorts, sweatshirts, yoga pants, etc. – I love Gilly Hicks because of the multilayered shopping experience I can share with my daughter. It's another instance of relevance lifting a brand from the clutter.
Some genius I want to hire designed the store's interior to look like that of a weathered colonial home, all barn-board floors with well-aged chests and bureaus, each corner of the store resembling a separate room of the house. It's the kind of home I grew up in minus the lack of light and Pitt Bull on the stereo system, and it evokes an experience I haven't felt for decades. It's also the kind of home a teen-age girl would just die to live in or have a slumber party in at the very least.
Cheerful clerks greet you at the door with coupons (let's get this spending party started!). To activate the coupon, you provide social media contact information. If you're lucky, as so many of its young customers turn out to be, you'll get a personal invite to one of their Friday night sales events. Shopping, hanging out, meeting friends, and maybe getting sushi after – for a teen-age girl, what could be better?
Gilly Hicks is parent-friendly, too. The stores go light on the sexy and heavier on the cute. For dads, there's a faux front porch with rocking chairs. It's like a bygone America, when home and values mattered, only with iPod-draped mall traffic passing by.
Gilly Hicks' powerful formula dovetails with some new research we just conducted into what constitutes the ideal shopping experience. Our firm asked 2,000 American consumers to think of their favorite place to shop and tell us what was relevant to their choice.
We found that people see themselves, or yearn to, in their favorite stores. After nods to value and dependability, the trait that scored the highest, and far ahead of the rest, was that the store was “for people like me.” It scored 30% higher than the next, which was “I find it interesting”.
This finding speaks to the tremendous power of self-identification in retail. My daughter sees herself surrounded by her friends. I see my childhood. The dads see themselves kicking back for a minute after a hard work week. As our research affirms, the self-identification phenomenon is constant across generations.
And I know of no store that works it like Gilly Hicks.
Now, like I said, they sell yoga pants. My daughter likes yoga pants, and so do I. But I get mine where the other 40-something moms get theirs, Lululemon. If Gilly Hicks wanted to sell their yoga pants to me, they'd probably need a direct mail catalog and positive reviews in lifestyle magazines.
For a kid who has a perfect home in the mall, nothing could be less relevant.
Andrea “Andy” Coville is CEO of Brodeur.