Retail watchers go shopping

This spring, Old Navy entered Southern Ontario with a splash. Opening day at several of the 12 warehouse-style locations resembled the chaos at an Eminem concert, as the curious gathered en masse and long lineups quickly formed. According to experts, part...

This spring, Old Navy entered Southern Ontario with a splash. Opening day at several of the 12 warehouse-style locations resembled the chaos at an Eminem concert, as the curious gathered en masse and long lineups quickly formed. According to experts, part of the chain’s allure derives from its cheerful in-store ambience, where cinema-style signage spotlights the feature-of-the-week and toys and trinkets are piled high all around. So how do other retailers’ merchandising efforts stack up against those of the U.S.-based chain? Strategy polled four industry observers to find out.

Pascale LeBlanc, president

YOUTHOPIA Communications, Toronto

Le Chateau

Le Chateau’s branding is strong and true to its customer needs. The retailer has done a great job setting the tone via the store entrance. It has successfully created a club-like, funky ambiance with the combination of clothing displays and choice of music. The staff’s choice of outfits and their personalities also reflect the merchandising and customer taste. To better serve their customers, they could create more efficient displays by combining clothes, accessories, and shoes that would reflect what kids are looking for. Kids appreciate having everything handy to make their shopping experience more fun and effective. By creating space that allows the customer to put together a complete look, Le Chateau could increase sales, especially in their junior sections, where younger girls do need assistance and advice to create a look.

Smart Set

While Old Navy has a fun, warm and comfortable environment that enhances the shopping experience,…Smart Set has a clean, sophisticated, spacious and very white space that is almost stark. What is missing? Some warmth and colour on the walls. A warmer ambiance with a fun touch would welcome customers. The lighting and merchandising displays are colourful, well-organized and maintained. But, they give the impression that no-one has touched anything. The customer service staff is too shy.

Greg Skinner, principal

Mina, Toronto

La Senza Girl

La Senza Girl’s in-store environment is similar to that of Old Navy. You walk in and you are encouraged to touch things, unfold things, and mess things up, which is in direct contrast to a high-end clothing store where you feel you shouldn’t do that, and where the salespeople scowl at you. Right away you feel more comfortable and welcome. It’s more like your own bedroom, messy yet organized at the same time. Like at Old Navy, the logos and colors at La Senza Girl are acidic and bright, such as hyper blues, yellows and oranges. It conveys fun.

Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters has super-high ceilings. The environment is bright, airy, and highly inviting. You get a sense of space and it is very welcoming. Like Old Navy and La Senza Girl, Urban Outfitters has tons of accessories for you to pick up and play with. It’s more social. You’re with people, and you say, ‘Hey, check this out.’ It’s far more interactive than just shopping, and it keeps you there longer. The retailer wants the consumer to ‘mill’ about the store versus shop. All the Urban Outfitters are gigantic. Same thing with Old Navy – they are so big that the signage helps and it’s more of a directory. But Urban Outfitters doesn’t rely on signage like Old Navy. Depending on the size of a store, signs can provide customers with a mental map.

Richard Talbot, president

Talbot Consultants, Unionville, Ont.

Eatons and The Bay

Eatons now sells and advertises higher-end quality brand names, but the displays simply don’t match that. The fashion floors look dowdy. On the other hand, The Bay’s suburban ‘experience’ stores are more exciting and fun because of the design. They have well-lit freestanding displays in aisles that offer enticing items. It looks more like a fashion boutique.

But these department stores don’t have anywhere near the sizzle of Old Navy. Old Navy has a very simplistic in-store environment that they can learn from. It’s a basic warehouse style, with stacked shelving and banners, and merchandise grouped into categories, including dog products, which is clever. It’s all done at a relatively low cost.

Both Eatons and The Bay need youth departments that are more exciting and focused. They need to mix merchandise together. It’s mind-boggling how they put clothing in one area and shoes in another. If you’re buying an outfit, you don’t want to walk up and down stairs. They should make the department a one-stop shop for youth, by adding CDs, videos, electronic games and other toys.

John Lee, president

Holmes & Lee, Toronto


Roots stands the best chance of holding its own and even doing well against Old Navy. I think it clearly understands what attracts the customer. Roots has stood for great design over the last 20 years. There’s an innate sense of that in the way it lays out its merchandise and stores. It’s an attractive presentation of product. When you pair that with quality product, it’s a pretty effective combination. The retailer allows the customer to have exposure to other kinds of merchandise. For instance, in the Toronto Bloor Street store, I know what’s available in terms of leather product, but I get traded to T-shirts, sweatshirts and luggage. It’s done quite seamlessly.