Levi’s tested its next generation of stores across Europe and Asia before finally bringing them to the United States in late September. Designed to give consumers an authentic, compelling, and consistent expression of the Levi’s brand, the stores leverage emerging technologies across fit and personalization. I spoke with Brady Stewart, Senior Vice President & Managing Director, U.S. Direct-to-Consumer at Levi Strauss & Company, to learn more about the company’s futuristic retail vision.
Levi’s and jeans. Jeans and Levi’s. Founded in 1853 by German immigrant Levi Strauss in San Francisco, 157 years on the two are inseparable. The brand and its flagship product have become part of American folklore, visible at pivotal moments in pop culture history from the televised Vietnam protests to Bruce Springsteen’s iconic cover art for the 1980 album Born in the USA.
In the last 30 years alone, Levi’s has zig-zagged, criss-crossed, and leap-frogged generational boundaries, defining the disaffected aesthetics of Gen X in the ‘90s as well as the cutting-edge of style in 2020 with globally influential creatives like Kanye West doubling down on the cultural value of Levi’s denim.
A brand like Levi’s could coast on its heritage, forever cementing itself as an American pastime right up there with baseball and apple pie. But Levi’s hasn’t gotten where it is today by taking this route. Instead, it’s continued to deliver its potent mix of heritage-meets-pioneer by fostering authentic connections with consumers regardless of age, income, location, or any other number of demographic factors.
As the year comes to a close, Levi’s is looking toward technology to enhance and expand the consumer experience even further, building a deeper connection with the brand on familiar ground: its own stores. Dubbed NextGen, Levi’s, well, next generation of stores are a long time in the making.
First piloted in Europe and Asia, Levi’s brought its NextGen stores to North America in late September as part of a retail shift to become more direct-to-consumer and less wholesale. Designed to be the ultimate expression of the Levi’s brand, each store offers an inventory assortment curated using local customer data, a tailoring service featuring a smaller format direct-to-garment printer and interactive Tailor Shop app, alongside larger fitting rooms and digital in-store tools that educate customers on the various fits offered.
The first U.S. NextGen store opened in California, followed by additional openings in Texas and New York with plans to roll out over 100 more stores across the country in just the next two years. In order to learn more about the Levi’s store of the future, I spoke with Brady Stewart, Senior Vice President & Managing Director, U.S. Direct-to-Consumer at Levi Strauss & Company, over email.
Levi’s is among the world’s most legendary heritage brands. How do you introduce new touchpoints and ensure a true omnichannel experience without losing the history of the brand?
We may be a 167-year-old brand, but innovation is in our DNA. Levi’s was founded on a consumer innovation: the rivet that kept miners jeans strong and durable. We continue to be driven by innovation—in our product, our marketing, and in our focus on building a seamless experience for our consumers where, when, and how they want to shop.
Our focus in our stores is to build a seamless, elevated, brand-driven experience that allows us to build 1:1 relationships with our consumers. When we think about our omnichannel and innovation roadmaps, we keep our brand and our consumers front and center.
How does the consumer factor into this equation exactly? What is the consumer looking for when interacting with a brand like Levi’s across physical and digital spaces?
One of the things that is so unique and powerful about the Levi’s brand is that everyone has a favorite memory of a time they Lived in Levi’s. Our brand is an inclusive and democratic brand.
We know that our consumers are looking for an experience that is uniquely Levi’s, whether that’s finding their perfect pair of 501s, building a custom trucker jacket that is all their own, or ordering one of our great collaboration products like a Peanuts T-shirt online and picking it up in-store.
Consumers, particularly at this moment, want to build an authentic connection with our brands and we’re doing that wherever they choose to Live in Levi’s, whether that’s online, on our app, in our stores, or on social media.
“Our NextGen stores are destinations where our consumers can find our most elevated brand expression and personalized experience. ”
Levi’s is known for its denim and denim itself is such a personal garment. How is the experience of finding the perfect pair of jeans elevated in NextGen stores?
We know that consumers’ biggest concerns with buying jeans are fit and style i.e. will these jeans fit me and make me look and feel great? Our goal is to help our consumers be their most confident, authentic selves when they wear our clothes. Our NextGen stores are destinations where our consumers can find our most elevated brand expression and personalized experience.
Generally, our NextGen stores are smaller-footprint, local stores that are powered with digital and omnichannel capabilities including our RedTab loyalty program, endless aisle and showrooming technology, Buy Online Pick Up In Store (BOPIS) and curbside pick-up.
Additionally, our NextGen stores’ assortments are curated for the local markets and consumers so that we are getting the right product to the right consumers at the right time. We also have Tailor Shops in our NextGen stores so that consumers can truly make the product their own through chain stitching, pins, patches, embroidery, and hemming.
Let’s talk about the Tailor Shops for a second. Where did this idea come from and what role does it play in delivering the goal of the NextGen experience?
The idea for Tailor Shops came from our desire as a brand to help our consumers truly make our product their own and to build deep, creative connections with them.
Overall, customization is key to our strategy because it’s the ultimate in self-expression and the ultimate way that we can build 1:1 relationships with our consumers. We have customization capabilities in our stores and online, from customized printing on tees and sweatshirts online and in stores, to customized denim finishing capabilities online to our Tailor Shop experience in our stores.
Our Tailor Shops allow us to help customers make their Levi’s their own by adding pins and patches, embroidery, and more traditional customization such as hemming. We also offer exclusive customization products and services to consumers on our app and through our Loyalty program.
What about the endless aisle and showrooming technology?
Because our NextGen stores are smaller footprint stores, they have our most localized and curated assortments. In other words, they have the best products for each location.
However, it’s important to us that everyone who walks into our stores can find a product that’s right for them. That’s why we offer an endless aisle experience where consumers can try on and order products that are not available in store through our associate order system and get it shipped to them for free.
As an inclusive brand, it’s important to us that we offer everyone an opportunity to find Levi’s products they love and feel great in.
Today’s customer, particularly Gen Z, switches from physical to digital and back seamlessly. In what ways do the NextGen stores reflect this shifting reality?
It’s true that consumers, particularly Gen Z consumers, live both online and offline and expect brands to offer a seamless experience everywhere they interact with brands.
Our NextGen stores are built with a digital backbone that supports our omnichannel platform (ship from store, BOPIS, curbside pick-up, and same-day delivery) as well as the ways that we build a personal connection with our consumers such as our RedTab loyalty program, all within an elevated brand experience. We also connect with Gen Z consumers across emerging platforms (such as Hero!) and social media.
Lastly, our company is also deeply committed to sustainability. We recently launched a recommerce platform called Levi’s SecondHand and have had a tremendous consumer engagement and positive response to it.
“Covid accelerated our innovation and omnichannel roadmap by at least six months and our goal is to continue to innovate and evolve at this pace.”
You’ve opened NextGen stores in California, NYC, and Austin. Do these locations carry any special significance for launching the future of Levi’s retail experience?
As you note, we just opened one in California, one in NYC, and we opened one in Austin on October 31. Our plan is to open 100 more NextGen stores in the next two years. It has been no small feat to open these doors in the middle of the pandemic and doing so is a huge vote of confidence in the NextGen concept and in the strength of the brand.
These locations are representative of where we want to be and how we want to show up: smaller format, more local, digitally enabled, elevated doors. We are excited to keep growing this concept and reaching more consumers and more markets across the U.S. with it.
Lastly, what other products or technologies are you tapping to create a true omnichannel experience?
In this moment, the most successful brands and companies are continuing to evolve rapidly and create authentic connections with their consumers. A great example of that is the Instagram Live concert series that we put on at the beginning of the lockdown in the U.S. We brought some of our favorite artists onto our Instagram Live channel and connected with our consumers in that moment.
Covid likely accelerated our innovation and omnichannel roadmap by at least six months and our goal is to continue to innovate and evolve at this pace. Towards that end, we have new capabilities coming out to support us through holiday and into 2021 including our virtual stylist program, visual search innovation, and appointment scheduling. We are working to push our omnichannel experiences to make it easy and inspiring to buy products from Levi’s.
All images courtesy of Levi’s.
Brock Cardiner is the Content Director of HERO® and the Editor-in-Chief of Elsewhere. Previously Brock was the Editorial Director of Highsnobiety.