Shinola Store Experience

Last week, I finally went to the Shinola store in Tribeca.  For those who are unfamiliar, Shinola is a luxury watch brand based in Detroit, Michigan. They embrace U.S. based manufacturing and are helping to revitalize the Detroit economy, while providing an exceptional product to customers.  They are getting quite a bit of press and attention recently.  My brother, Michael, now works at their corporate HQ, so I am definitely biased and have personal ties to the company, but I think they are doing some impressive work!

Currently they operate Shinola stores in NY and Detroit and are slated to open a bunch more this year.  Their products are also carried by a number of retailers like Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Nordstrom and many many more smaller retailers, boutiques and jewelers.  They also have their own e-commerce site,

So as I mentioned I finally made it to check out the Shinola store in Tribeca last week. I had such a positive store experience that I wanted to share a bit about my visit…

The store itself is a VERY cool space.  Located on Franklin street, in a hip area of Tribeca, when you first walk in there’s a coffee bar operated by The Smile. I’ve been to The Smile’s Soho location multiple times and it’s a very cool cafe/restaurant, known for being very “in” — so automatically there’s some unique cache to the experience, not to mention the opportunity to caffeinate or get a treat when you set foot in the store…

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Then, the store itself has super high ceilings and feels very open, like a lofty space. They have NY corporate offices that are actually upstairs from the store.  It conveys a feeling of hipness, yet in a warm and not offputting way. There are bikes hanging in various spots and interesting displays of both Shinola merchandise as well as other brands that are curated — all are items manufactured in the U.S.A. with a similar aesthetic and sensibility.  The store kind of felt like being a museum with interesting things to discover and explore around each bend.

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I was greeted very quickly upon entry by two of the sales associates who spotted me wearing my “Mini Runwell” watch and struck up conversation right away. Jocelyn was incredibly charming, warm and nice and spent a lot of time with me, showing me around the store and sharing the back-story of various products and tips about the watches and bands. She showed me the women’s watches along the back wall and helped me try on a bunch of colors of The Birdy, which I am eying as my next Shinola purchase.

I then wandered the store myself and decided to purchase a few journals.  I went to check out — which is also nice they just use an iphone type set-up and don’t have a monstrous check-out kiosk/counter. Instead it felt really seamless and pleasant. Jocelyn then asked me if I wanted the journals monogrammed (a complimentary service) and I was so excited and thought this was super unique!

So, I then watched her put them through a huge machine, akin to a letterpress machine. She did two for my husband (RSF) and two for me (TLF). I got to choose whether I wanted gold vs. silver and the size/placement of the lettering. It was a really unique process to watch and to be part of the “making” of these products, staying true to the Shinola spirit.

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Overall, my visit was much more of an ‘experience’ than just ‘transactional’ focused. I left feeling so intrigued by the brand, and re-energized that physical retail stores really CAN have value-add and create interesting experiences rather than just be a nuisance…  (I so often prefer to shop online that I often dread setting foot into a real store – too often the sales people and environment can be a turnoff or let-down).

A few other random reflections —

– Without my new “friend” Jocelyn to show me the ropes, I may have missed the women’s watches myself, particularly if I was doing a quick pass-through the store. At first, I only saw the men’s watches on the center table. This may be intentional on their part — I am guessing a much larger % of their business is Men’s watches, or perhaps they think that women troll the perimeter of a store more and uncover items more easily. But personally I almost didn’t see these!
– Speaking of mens vs. women’s, I thought the whole store has more of a Men’s vibe to it. (This isn’t a bad thing). Just interesting to me to observe how a store that appeals/sells both genders skews male in feeling (darker colors, bold boxy letters, more mens merchandise, etc).  Probably more important to attract rather than turn off men, while women who wear Shinola are more “downtown” in aesthetic and comfortable in these types of environments / don’t need super feminine touches.
– I thought the monogram services are actually a big draw and could be promoted to encourage the purchase of journals (or other items too)! I think there’s opportunity to visually display journals with initials on them near the blank ones so customers can see this is possible to have done. (Right now, the salespeople just told me about it, or I wouldn’t have known). I think this tactic may be intentional so they don’t get over-run and can control when they offer the service (not mention it if they are too busy at the moment, and make it seem like more of a “secret” giving you a feeling of being an insider when you are offered this service)… but I think it would be excite people by showcasing it more prominently and possibly result in more journal sales.
– Speaking of the personalization, after getting my monograms applied to the journals, the next day I interestingly received a promoted Facebook post from Madewell (brand owned by J.Crew) about their monogram services. I thought this was ironic timing — maybe it’s a new trend to offer this type of thing in store…  (See below)
– Lastly, Shinola has the bones of a great e-commerce site. Pretty easy to navigate, clear descriptions, vivid imagery and is a great start. However, I do think there’s opportunity to do even more storytelling and weave in more editorial on the site. When you click “our story” for instance, you can watch a video, but it would be nice to have a written story too if you aren’t in the mood for watching a clip. Some of the great press stories would be nice to include and highlight. I could also see opportunity to showcase how real people (customers) are wearing their Shinolas — so others can get styling ideas from their photos. Shinola includes this regularly on Instagram, but it would be cool to incorporate this imagery on the site itself. Lastly, featuring some of the amazing work and partnerships they are doing in the city of Detroit, like the clocks they have around the city.
All in all though , a fantastic and impressive store experience and I was excited to share!

Zulily generates smiles

I got this email from Zulily today about a huge toy sale, and it totally caught my attention due to the adorable and recognizable “Very Hungry Caterpillar” that moved across the screen.  Here’s a close-up of him inching his way along.


This happened directly under the words “Give Playtime” in the below screenshot of the overall email: Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 7.05.54 PM

I’ve written about clever animation before; I find it to be a very effective method of capturing user attention, particularly when done in a creative way that elicits a smile, like this.  They did a good job of just animating one small portion of the email so it didn’t become overwhelming. This small treatment packed a lot of punch!

After scrolling further down through this email, I was also intrigued by the “Coming Soon” section where users are encouraged to click the hearts next to any brands you want to be notified about specifically:

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I think Zulily did a great job of making this email very easy and straightforward to take action on. Immediately after clicking a heart, you are taken to a page about that brand, letting you know that you now “love” that brand.  No extra steps required; just one click on the email itself.  I thought this was a strong implementation of encouraging users to set advanced preferences in a very simplistic and compelling way. My only suggestion was to make the list of brands shown even more well-known, as I was only familiar with about half of these. takes a layout cue from Pinterest

I was just on and noticed that they’ve made their product pages similar to Pinterest in the look and feel. They’ve walked away from a standard grid format, and the default styling is now a staggered approach more encouraging of constant scrolling and discovery.

Here’s what happened when I clicked on the “Dresses” in the standard left-navigation menu:

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They give consumers the option to revert to a standard grid format in the top-right corner. I wonder if they are A/B testing each layout as the default to see which results in more clicks and purchases.  If not, I’d encourage them to do so!  I would be so curious as to the results.

As you scroll down, you see a “back to top” arrow similar to Pinterest as well:

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I’ve seen lots of aggregator sites mimicking the Pinterest approach (Lyst, Styleseek, etc), but I haven’t seen individual retailers employ this technique on their site. I wonder how effective it is.

Stand-out sites in their response to Hurricane Sandy

This has obviously been a week turned upside down for many in the New York area, including several friends/family who are still without power. While I personally am in a neighborhood that was not impacted, and led life in a fairly normal sense this week, not everyone was so fortunate.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it was interesting to see how various NYC-based companies were affected and how they mobilized to relay this information to their customers, despite challenging circumstances to pull this together.

A few in particular stood out: – I first saw this posting on Facebook and thought this was a creative effort. With the subways largely out of commission, yesterday, buses started running from Brooklyn to Manhattan, but with lines of over an hour in some cases, due to exceptional demand. reacted quickly and took this opportunity to hand out coffee and morning breakfast to people standing in line in hopes of easing their commute.  I thought this was a smart move and demonstrated their agility and ability to respond quickly. – This was the first communication I received (on Tues 10/30), kudos to Jason Goldberg and team. It was a straightforward and basic text explanatory email highlighting how the team was impacted and how the storm may also impact customers.  I am continually impressed with their team for being incredibly proactive, transparent, and the way Jason has established a personal reputation/visibility with the customers.  I did not receive most other email communications from companies until two days later, 11/1. – AirBNB waived fees on listings that would help those evacuated/without power in the NY-area to find alternate lodging.  While not free (the renters still can make money and set their price), it seemed that AirBNB encouraged people to discount these listings and is not making any profit themselves on this type of usage.

airbnb, I first got wind of this on Twitter, but these media sites dropped their paywall for the week, allowing all users to access the content on these sites so they could stay up to date on the latest in NYC.  I think this was the appropriate action from these media companies. – GiltCity NYC is donating 30% of profits from this week through Sunday to the Red Cross disaster relief.  They were the first company I noticed to take this action, although I am guessing this is a more widespread effort at this point.

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Additionally, I received a slew of emails revealing how the hurricane affected orders placed online, impacted various companies warehouses, corporate HQ and employees, and expressing the companies’ concern and well-wishes. This information was helpful in some cases where I had placed orders, but also felt routine/standard after a while.  These included communication from J.Crew/Madewell, Tory Burch,, Rent The Runway,, ideeli, Botkier, Learnvest, Uncommon Goods, Amex, Chase, Bank of America, and I’m sure others that I neglected to mention here.

Online retailers go offline to capture attention

Today’s mail contained a promotional piece that caught my attention – from  The direct mail piece was a tri-fold that opened and highlighted five of their upcoming flash sales, showcasing products and listing out the dates the sales will be live. It didn’t feel particularly relevant or personalized (I am not a pet person and explicitly opted out of their “Pets” editions), but I am guessing they are targeting their existing mail file. Rather than the messaging being explanatory about what is (targeting new members), it seems they are going after re-activating members who have made past purchases but whose activity has lessened recently, trying to intrigue them by reminding them of’s existence and array of product offerings.


I was intrigued that this online start-up is testing or experimenting with direct mail, and am curious what their return on investment for a piece like this is.  I’ve been impressed with throughout the year, particularly with the operational focus and gains they have made in reducing their delivery times.  While I didn’t expect to see a direct mail piece like this from them, it did catch my eye and stand out, felt true to the essence of quirkiness and sleek design, and likely achieved their goal of making them more top-of-mind for me as a shopper.

Seems that a handful of online-only sites are taking holiday season efforts to reach customers through non-online ways. One Kings Lane debuted television advertisements two weeks ago, and Piperlime and Shopbop have each had major print ads in fashion magazines like Vogue and InStyle recently.  All of these strike me as engagement plays trying to remind their current customers of their existence, rather than user acquisition moves.

I’ll be paying attention throughout the holiday season at who else in the online world is taking offline efforts to capture consumer attention.


Rise of the Fall Preview Sale?

I excitedly paged through the Nordstrom Anniversary catalog mailer that arrived last week, promoting their Anniversary sale which begins July 20.  Beginning that day, lots of fall merchandise is marked down, and will then return to regular price on August 6th.  Each year, it’s a great opportunity to buy boots, bags, jackets, and other fall necessities.  While it can be challenging to get in the fall spirit when it’s 90 degree+ weather outside here in NYC, something about shopping for the upcoming season is always emotionally thrilling.  I already have my eyes on the Botkier Valentina satchel and some Coach boots.


I noticed that Nordstrom isn’t alone this year in holding a fall preview sale. Piperlime held an early Fall shoe preview sale last week, following a similar model – mark fall items down to build excitement, and then bring them back to regular price for the core of the shopping season.  Early bird gets the worm!


Has anyone seen other retailers holding early fall preview sales?  A quick Google search looks like it’s mostly physical malls and outlet centers holding in-person preview events. I’m wondering if fall preview sales will become a trend, and if baking markdowns into the calendar early makes financial sense, or whether the shoppers who buy ahead of season are less price-sensitive and this isn’t worthwhile.

Funny enough, after writing this entry and having it ready to post today, I also received an email this morning from Timehop, a service I use that emails you your tweets/status updates from one year ago.  On July 18th last year, I tweeted the below:


I guess it’s that time of year!