VILLA: Customer insight drives digital experience strategy
Jason Lutz had a grand vision for Sneaker Villa, the two-location shoe store in Reading, Pennsylvania, that his parents started in 1989. As the mid-‘90s fashion market exploded with athlete-endorsed shoes and hip hop celebrity clothing lines, there was little competition for stores with a wide breadth of products. Lutz figured that fashion-driven customers would shop much more often than once a month when they needed new shoes.
Fast forward 20 years and Lutz’s vision has paid off.
VILLA is at the heart of a movement to revitalize urban America, one neighborhood at a time. VILLA stores partner with neighborhood groups and individuals to improve the community with educational initiatives, anti-violence programs, community service, and economic investment.
VILLA gives everyone in the community a path to leadership and influence.
PK came on board to craft the brand experience strategy, identify digital elements, and support the overall experience, as well as to help with the strategic planning of the retail stores’ redesign and expansion. Companies like VILLA know that digital is a critical component in retail; the hard part is knowing exactly what to do with it. Our approach was to have the brand and customers inform where and how digital could make the value and experience better.
We partnered with VILLA’s retail design firm, Skylab Architecture, to devise the strategy and creative vision that would activate the VILLA brand through digital and elevate the customer experience across retail and social touchpoints.
Creating a digital experience strategy means starting with the customer. Going deeper than just demographics and the usual “always-on” millennial or sneakerhead descriptions, we synthesized primary and secondary customer research to define the relationship between Villa and their customer across the function, value and meaning they provide.
The VILLA customer needs to feed their obsession. They need validation and recognition. They long for structure and fairness, as well as a safe place. And they want mentors to help them grow and evolve and to help them make smart investments. Understanding this relationship helped us articulate the guiding experience principles for VILLA.
The customer journey with the brand and the associated experience principles became the North Star that informed the digital experience strategy and recommendations on brand expression, digital experience, and retail design. All decisions address at least one of these aspects of the customer’s needs.
We defined the guiding design language across retail and digital so that they support and inform one another. This not only ensures an integrated digital experience in the stores, but also efficiently extends the experience from store to personal to social and, more broadly, to the community as a whole.
Attributes of the design language, including descriptions like “regal touches,” “extreme proportion,” and “active symmetry,” provide direction for retail design options like space organization, color, finish, and materials. They also inform decisions on digital experiences, including functionality, motion design, and interactive gestures. Every customer touchpoint should feel personal, local, and luxurious.
“Release Day”—the day a new high profile sneaker is released in limited distribution—is a big day for VILLA and a very big day for VILLA customers. Limited distribution and the associated hype usually mean waiting in long lines—in some cases up to 24 hours—to potentially buy the new sneaker. Release Day in retail is exciting but can also be chaotic and anxiety-ridden for diehard sneaker customers. Even waiting in line at the store for hours doesn’t guarantee you can buy a pair of shoes; the store may sell out before you make it in the door.
Using the guiding experience principles and design language, we envisioned a new kind of VILLA Release Day. The concept of the “VILLA VIP” app aims to visualize a premium product release experience that replaces chaos and confusion with luxury and vitality. The app would combine calendaring and ticket reservation with loyalty points and exclusive content for the VIP, as well as social sharing to spread the word.
VILLA stores are safe places for urban youth to connect and listen to music by the live DJ, meet and greet celebrity musicians and athletes, or participate in a neighborhood rap contest. Dubbed “New Age Barbershops,” VILLA stores are hubs for fashion, music, sports, and other local topics that are important to the community.
As the organization grows, maintaining the community essence of the brand will be paramount to its success. The new experience principles will guide that evolution, including the rollout of new retail designs and digital offerings. Our proposed digital experience strategy contains four connected platforms, supporting each of the experience principles, and includes a multi-year implementation roadmap of practical steps forward to connect and improve user experience, content, and technology.