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Year in Review: Most Epic Retail Collaborations of 2019

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As brands vie for relevance in this rapidly-changing retail climate, they are discovering a key to success: forming collaborations to stay competitive. The best brand partnerships allow businesses to leverage each other’s strengths to reach more consumers and drive sales. Furthermore, such alliances help each retailer reap more insight into new markets and demographics. According to the most epic retail collaborations of 2019, even brands that appear to be the strangest bedfellows can join forces to attract customers and boost profits.

 

Macy’s Outdoor STORY x Dick’s Sporting Goods

An iconic department store and an outdoor retail giant are not the most likely coupling, but a recent campaign between Macy’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods has helped both brands form one of the best brand partnerships of the year.

This summer, Macy’s Outdoor STORY concept used space in its stores to feature an outdoor-inspired playground with merchandise from Dick’s. The section displayed grass-covered furniture, horticulture and outdoor activities from barbecue to cornhole. The collaboration also showcased products from Scotts Miracle-Gro and offered customers classes on how to make a terrarium, plant an herb garden, and use hydroponics to enhance their homes and gardens.

The unusual partnership between two retail behemoths  allowed each one to reach customers who would not have considered shopping in its stores before. The Outdoor STORY concept helped Macy’s test new categories while providing Dick’s with greater exposure for its private labels. In a world where experiential retail is becoming increasingly important, Macy’s seized the opportunity to add interactive features beyond the kitchen tutorials and holiday events it typically offers in its stores.  

 

“The One Where They Wore Ralph Lauren”

Who doesn’t remember Rachel Green, the famous fashionista on the hit show Friends?  Her attire inspired women’s fashion for a decade. Everyone wanted to dress like Rachel.    

To celebrate Friends’ 25th anniversary, Ralph Lauren is paying tribute to this 90s icon with a workwear line inspired by Green’s character, an aspiring retail executive in her own right. Entitled “The One Where They Wore Ralph Lauren,” the collection capitalizes on the show’s revival to sell updated office attire to the modern woman. That includes modern takes on Green’s 90s staples such as leather pants, velvet turtlenecks and plaid skirts from the retailer’s Polo and LAUREN Ralph Lauren lines.

Retailers from H&M to Pottery Barn have hoped to profit from widespread fan nostalgia by selling Friends-themed merchandise–but this fashion collaboration is a wink and a nod to the sitcom’s 10-season arc. Friends diehards will note that the line is sold exclusively at Bloomingdales, where Green worked for five years, and designed by Ralph Lauren, where she accepted a job in Paris at the show’s finale.

 

Markerad (IKEA x. Virgil Abloh) 

In one of the year’s most anticipated collaborations, furniture giant IKEA and rock star designer Virgil Abloh teamed up on a home furnishings collection intended to appeal to a growing customer demographic: millennial homeowners.

Abloh, the creative director for Louis Vuitton’s menswear, who has collaborated with entertainers including Kanye West, merges his bold aesthetic with IKEA’s minimalist style. The 15-piece Markerad collection (“marked“ in Swedish) aspires to elevate everyday objects into art. The line includes a wall light that serves as a framed image of the Mona Lisa, a rug shaped like an IKEA receipt, and a chair whose leg doubles as a doorstop.

Best of all, the Markerad collection, which launched on November 1 after two years of buzz, allows IKEA customers to experience Abloh’s designs at an accessible price point and underscores IKEA’s enduring cultural relevance. The furniture retailer built anticipation for the launch with online sneak-peeks and limited edition items. It smartly raised the partnership into a retail event by allowing customers to line up outside the store hours before the launch.

 

UGG + Eckhaus Latta

Rooted in last century’s California surf culture, UGG is known for its comfortable footwear and loungewear made of sheepskin and suede. Eckhaus Latta is a youthful, in-the-know fashion label known for its gender-neutral streetwear. Together, they created one of the best brand partnerships of 2019.

The unlikely partnership between the mainstream and the niche marries Eckhaus Latta’s modern look and UGG’s signature sheepskin.

The collection, which debuted on the runway at New York Fashion Week this fall, meshes UGG’s iconic aesthetic with Eckhaus Latta’s bold lines. The collection consists of five footwear styles – including heels, boots, and mules – and four outerwear pieces ranging in price between $295 and $5,995. Pieces are sold online and at brick-and-mortar retailers including Nordstrom.

We’ll be watching to see whether the partnership signals an evolution for UGG.  Is it possible that edgier styles and an expanded product line are what the future holds for the otherwise practical, wholesome brand?

 

Disney Store at Target

A retailer doesn’t need to be a high fashion house or an avant-garde artist to create a meaningful collaboration. The Disney store is expanding its footprint to more than two dozen Target stores nationwide to feature experiential spaces for customers to interact with its characters. Another 40 locations are expected to open next year. But the partnership is about more than selling Mickey Mouse T-shirts; it’s about creating a destination where consumers can buy exclusive, in-demand merchandise from franchises such as the latest Frozen and Star Wars movies. The Disney assortment, which numbers more than 100 items previously available only at Disney stores, marks the company’s first dual global product rollout for two theatre blockbusters.

Strategically located near Target’s kids’ clothing and toy departments, the in-store Disney concepts average 750 square feet and feature music, interactive displays, games, photo opportunities and a seating area for families to watch movie clips. Both retailers hope the partnership will increase the number of times customers visit the store and the amount of time they spend there.

This partnership is noteworthy primarily because its of two brands who are both on a hot streak. Disney has managed to thrive even as the country’s largest toy retailer, Toys R Us, filed for bankruptcy. Their just-in-time for the holidays launch of Disney+ streaming service was received with big buzz and major accolades. The collaboration with Target, whose numbers are surging, will solidify the dominance of these two retail giants in the hearts of consumers.

 

Conclusion

The best brand partnerships move retail collaborations from novelty to necessity. Old or new, mainstream or niche, brands angling to stay competitive can leverage one another’s strengths to create a memorable customer experience. The year’s best brand partnerships show that collaborations can come from the unlikeliest places. Retailers from any segment can form effective, attention-grabbing alliances to connect with customers on a deeper level and drive awareness back to their brands.


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