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The Phygital Lab: Discussing the Changing Retail Landscape with Coach’s Giovanni Zaccariello

29 February 2024 • 10 min read

“Retail spaces are no longer just about commerce, but about courage, the courage of creatives to push boundaries, to explore uncharted sensory dimensions [.] Retail itself is reimagined not as a destination, but as a journey where every touchpoint, every moment of truth, is an opportunity to make a statement, to engage, to inspire.”’ This opening statement from Tony Madden, the head of The Phygital Lab is every bit as insightful as the episode itself, outlining the brave new world of retail marketing within the realm of Phygital technology, a new, immersive and inspiring playground for creatives to make magic for their consumers.

Kicking off the Phygital Lab podcast series with the first episode, ‘Reimagining Retail’, together with Giovanni Zaccariello, SVP of Global Visual Experience at Coach, they deep dive into the power of customer-centric design, immersive technology and the new reality of brand consumption that is driving the need for brands to rethink how they present themselves to their customer-base.

The Customer Journey

The traditional journey of the customer has been in overhaul in recent times, thanks to the advent of new technologies that take brand storytelling to new heights. Giovanni says ‘For me, the consumer journey [supersedes] the brand journey. If you think about ‘how is the brand going to come to life’ but [instead] think about ‘how is the consumer actually going to experience the brand’, so kind of flipping it on its head, believe it or not before we even start designing anything, we talk about what are the touchpoints, which kind of changes the design process at its core[.]”

This approach of focusing the brand experience solely on the consumer, designing around their sensory approach to retail shopping, is a new kind of design-thinking that immediately appeals to consumers in a drastic and powerful way. It’s all about rich engagement and allows creatives and experience designers to utilise customer insights, data and the journey they want to offer in an entirely new way to get customers from point A to point B.

Making it Memorable

[The] experience, and how you make [the customer] feel is the thing that has much more longevity’ explains Giovanni, and he is not wrong. Creating immersive, phygital spaces for customers to lose themselves in, to bring new and exciting sensory brand experiences that take the customer from just another shipping trip, to an event in and of itself is where retail innovators are heading. Rather than just inserting immersive experiences into a space without consideration for how it will enhance the consumer’s interactions with the brand, innovation takes the form of taking time to consider the emotional engagement that comes before the gratification of purchase.

You can see this approach in action with Giovanni and his team’s work within the Coach Play stores, where they have turned the entire store into an instagrammable moment; ‘[instead of] ‘can we add an instagram moment to the store?’, the entire Coach Play location is an instagrammable moment[,] so people literally come in, they get their phone out [.] That’s like insane, they start telling their friends, they do TikToks in the fitting rooms [,] it’s just so interactive without anyone even approaching you [.]” Creating such vividly memorable experiences is a powerful brand tool that creates repeat purchasing and customer advocacy almost as an afterthought. By using such a consumer-centric approach to retail design, they’re creating unforgettable moments that will stay with their customers for years to come. 

Magic & Logic

Coach use the term ‘Magic & Logic’ to describe their approach to measuring their marketing – before they create the magic they want to showcase to consumers, they first set in place the logic side of measurable KPIs to ensure that what they’re doing is bringing them the results they want to see. 

This cultural blend of right and left brain thinking has allowed Giovanni and his team to accept the learnings they see from each project and ask themselves questions like “we knew that looked great, but did it really work?”. Enabling his team to start with looking at the KPIs and at the problems they’re trying to solve is paramount to building holistic and well-thought out experiences that remain with their consumers for much longer than the novelty of their purchases will.

Cultural Differences

Adapting your brands storytelling through visual merchandising to different regions is crucial to ensuring a seamless brand experience across the world. Giovanni and his team ensure this visual language remains consistent across their locations through colour palette and material choices, but they also in turn work closely with each region to localise these elements which is a huge part of the Coach culture as well. He says “I have very strong teams in each region, and they look at the idea and they say ‘oh maybe in Singapore we can do this, because this is what works here’”. 

From the Coach Play Cafe experience in Singapore to the Harajuku project in Japan, “everything was through this [one] colour palette, [it] was consistent throughout all of them so if you put all of them side by side, they look like they’re part of the same family[,] but they have different dimensions because we incredibly localise things, whether it’s through hospitality[,] playlists[,] artists[,] or even furniture that we locally source[.]” It all comes down to the details and the Coach epithet of creative expression, which these installations and stores embody beautifully across the globe.

Soho Success

Coach partnered with Zero10, a successful AR experience company for a project in Soho, NYC where for the very first time, they installed an AR screen in a window display which captured people’s attention quickly and effectively as they walked by on the street. Their lead KPI was simply to increase the traffic into the store, and this addition to the window setup created huge lines outside of the store with people trying to play with the AR bag (Tabby bag). This project was such a huge success that they designed and rolled out 5 further instances of this window display, as they noted that the AR screen they placed inside the store didn’t perform half as well. Giovanni says ”We always [make sure to] proof test, pressure test, test and learn, experiment, see what works and then [try] to roll it out in more locations. We never expected a window [display] to be [such] a success story’. For Coach, this project was “a huge PR and consumer transaction success”, showcasing the team and brand’s desire to innovate and deliver exceptional experiences to their customers using real world data and detailed customer feedback.

Retail innovation with phygital technology is the future of encapsulating customer attention and advocacy with powerfully creative and sensory initiatives. Designing around the customer creates stronger brand associations, more intense brand experiences and long-lasting affinity that goes beyond their purchase. Creatives like Giovanni are taking brands like Coach to greater heights with their out-of-the-box thinking and technological mindset – the landscape of Retail and Visual Merchandising within the Phygital space will never be the same again.

Catch The Phygital Lab podcast and the full episode over on our YouTube channel. For those of you who prefer audio, feel free to listen on your podcast platform of choice.


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