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The Montreal-based retailer Ssense has been in the news lately for not-so-amazing reasons (acquiring Polyvore’s user data just as the collaging tool was shut down for good, thereby angering droves of fans), but this week, it’s starting things off with a more positive announcement: the opening, on Thursday, of a massive new store in its hometown.
Though Ssense has had a brick-and-mortar presence for the better part of a decade — its first and only boutique, now closed, opened in Montreal in 2010 — it mostly lives online. So like any good concept shop, its new location is packed with services that give shoppers a reason to leave their homes, including a cafe and space for events and art installations. (Also clothes that you can buy.)
Ssense goes long on labels that can be intimidatingly weird to the general population but are catnip to hardcore fashion fans (Vetements, Comme des Garçons), and in keeping with that vibe, the space is all concrete and chrome, like an industrial gallery space or an upscale bunker.
On top of that, Ssense has dedicated two of the building’s five floors (and eight “spacious” fitting rooms) to personal shopping appointments. This represents a significant investment not just in square footage but in technology and operations: Customers book their appointments online, and they can request to try on any of the more than 20,000 products on Ssense’s site.
This isn’t by itself notable because retailers employing personal shoppers is something new. Plenty of clothing stores run personal styling programs, including J. Crew, Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, Macy’s, and even Topshop. In recent years, digital startups have launched styling services to varying degrees of success. The shift is relevant because in the era of “experiential retail,” personal shopping takes on a new function. It’s not just about building loyalty or getting people to buy more stuff, but about getting them out to stores in the first place.
Is the market for personal shopping really that big? Maybe. Stitch Fix, a box service powered by one-on-one styling, went public in October. For Ssense, offering an in-depth service like this may not be such a risky move because it already caters to an exceptionally fashion-conscious crowd who are probably excited to see the goods in person.
More to the point, it fits into a bigger framework, that of retailer as all-encompassing lifestyle. Ssense has a beefy editorial wing online, where you go to read as well as shop. Now it’s also where you eat and look at art. You could browse for clothing on your own, but since styling services are available, why not let it dress you too?