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Urban Outfitters expanding services with coffee and phone charging

Urban Outfitters' store in London's Marble Arch opened a Black Sheep Coffee bar last week as the fashion retailer introduced a new way of attracting and retaining customers in a physical shopping space.

The youth fashion retailer and alternative coffee company have obviously identified a common target market, but the move is also representative of a growing trend among retail businesses to expand the services they offer and become more experiential.

An example of this includes the introduction of juice bars in some Waitrose supermarkets, while Dixons Retail CEO Seb James recently suggested that high street stores will increasingly become locations for customers to "have a conversation" about products, as eCommerce continues to take a larger share of revenues.

US-based Urban Outfitters, meanwhile, is also reportedly considering scaling in-store phone charging points – another service it currently offers customers in its home country – to destinations across Europe.

Similar to coffee chain Starbucks, which last week reported that it will be rolling out wireless phone charging points to the majority of its US properties over the course of 2014, Urban Outfitters has phone charging units in 20 of its stores – primarily around the Manhattan area of New York.

The secure phone-charging points, supplied by ChargeItSpot, help increase customer dwell time and can provide an incentive to visit a store in the first place, according to ChargeItSpot founder Douglas Baldasare.

"As consumers' devices become increasingly essential to their daily lives, the prospect of being caught without power is a high anxiety scenario," he told Essential Retail.

"Retailers like Urban Outfitters are offering consumers a lifeline amenity – secure phone charging lockers in their stores. The service is free for consumers. We also support clients like Whole Foods, Belk Stores, and other retailers."

Research firm GfK conducted an audit to determine what impact the phone charger points had on shopping behaviour at Urban Outfitters, with the results indicating that people who used the facility spend more than double the amount of time in-store.

Baldasare added: "What's more is that we prompt users to download the ChargeItSpot mobile app. Once they do, the next time their phone drops below 30% battery and they are close to a ChargeItSpot, we notify them of the nearest location where they can charge."

The company is planning to scale the offering to further Urban Outfitters stores in the US, as well to its international locations – and the founder revealed there is already a significant amount of interest among the French retail community for this type of service.

With retailers now increasingly investigating ways to communicate with customers via mobile in-store – be it a welcome message, promotional pushes or aisle mapping – it is clear the smartphone is becoming a key retailing tool.

According to research from e-tail trade body IMRG and consultancy Capgemini, mobile accounted for 34% of UK e-retail sales in the first quarter of 2014 – up from 32% in the previous quarter. In addition, 48% of visits to e-retail websites were via smartphones and tablets, highlighting the importance consumers now attach to their mobile devices.

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