Why Timberland and others are using precious store space to support causes instead of showcasing products

When shoppers buy in, they may buy more.
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· 4 min read

This story is part of our weeklong series about key trends in store design. Click here to read more.

Enter the Timberland flagship store on Carnaby Street in London, and you may feel less like you’re shopping and more like you’ve stumbled into the new environmental exhibit, Our Future Planet, at London’s Science Museum a few Tube stops away: Potted trees grow nearly to the ceiling. There is a living green wall, and hung in front of it is a sign that reads, “Nature Needs Heroes,” the name of a Timberland campaign that includes a pledge to plant 50 million trees all over the world by 2025.

Large glass-topped exhibit cases feature items such as soles made from recycled rubber, to highlight the environmental priorities of the brand, which has committed to having a net- positive impact on the planet by 2030.

And recently, like Timberland stores throughout the world, the flagship added receptacles for consumers to drop off used Timberland footwear, clothing, and accessories as part of its Timberloop program. As text on the floor and the receptacle reveals, the program vows to keep the items from landfills by either repairing them (if needed) for resale, or breaking them down into their component parts for recycling.

The store, which was designed by London-based brand innovation studio Dalziel & Pow, has 2,594 square feet, and yes, plenty is dedicated to shodding the feet of customers. But it also highlights a conclusion that retailers are increasingly drawing: Stores aren’t just for displaying products.

They’re also for displaying values.

Boots on the ground

“Whether we talk to our consumers in Europe or in New York or Tokyo, they come to the store with the need to not only buy products,” Drieke Leenknegt, VP of global marketing and CMO at Timberland, told Retail Brew. “They come to the store to engage in your brand beyond product.”

Leenknegt said that Timberland has “always been and will always be purpose-led,” but added that trumpeting its values is paramount today.

  • A January survey by the IBM Institute for Business Value and NRF found 62% of respondents would be willing to change their purchasing habits to reduce environmental impact, up from 57% two years ago.
  • The survey also found that 50% of respondents were willing to pay a premium for sustainability—an average of 70% more, double the premium of two years ago.
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Scott Denton-Cardew, principal and executive creative director of Denton Cardew Design, a creative consultancy that’s done retail-design projects for brands including Levi’s and Nike, said he recently read about the Timberloop in-store receptacle program—and was impressed.

“No pun intended, but there’s going to be a dedicated footprint for that,” Denton-Cardew told us. “They’re going to commit to putting this [receptacle in] and saying, ‘We’re not selling you anything. This is just who we are.’”

Shopping for solutions

Many brands are similarly saying who they are in their stores.

In 2019, beauty brand Lush launched its Naked concept store in Manchester, England, following rollouts of the same concept in Milan and Berlin. To address plastic packaging waste, most items in the store, like bar soap, solid shampoo, and bath bombs, are sold completely unpackaged. Prominent signage and in-store displays highlight the plastic issue.

  • An REI in Boulder, Colorado, has a 2,000-square-foot “community center” in the middle of the store, with the purpose of instructing consumers about environmental protection, hosting events, and more.

Melissa Gonzalez, CEO and founder of The Lionesque Group, a New York-based experiential retail agency that has designed pop-up stores for brands including Sally Hansen and Purple, told us that it’s essential for brands to be “utilizing the store as an opportunity” to represent “the things that brand stands behind.”

“We sell everybody a product once,” she continued. “But what is creating that stickiness of, ‘This is a brand I stand behind. This is a brand I want to be an evangelist for?’…We’ve seen evidence of how powerful that could be.”

  • Consumers who think a company has a strong purpose are four times more likely to purchase from it, and four and a half times more likely to “champion the company” and recommend it to friends and family, according to a Zeno Group study from 2020.

It’s an encouraging development that “instead of trying to push product” some companies are dedicating floor space to “do good and really improve that community,” Lara Marrero, principal and global retail practice leader at Gensler, told us.

“We’re seeing a lot more brands that are starting to move into this space, which makes me really excited for our communities and humanity in general,” Marrero said.

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.