In an endless wave of brick-and-mortar store closings, one unexpected new entrant is swimming against the retail industry tide: McKinsey & Co.
The white shoe consulting firm said on Thursday it was opening its first ever retail store, called the Modern Retail Collective, this week at the Mall of America in Minneapolis.
It won’t be a place to buy McKinsey’s signature corporate reports or pop in to get consulting services. In fact, shoppers visiting will have no inkling that McKinsey is behind the space at all.
Instead, shoppers will explore a 3,000 square-foot living retail lab (in a space once occupied by an Abercrombie & Fitch kids store) that will feature a regular rotation of different brands using an array of new retail tech. The goal is to allow McKinsey clients to see which technology compels customers to enter a store, shell out more money when they do shop, and stay longer. The space will also investigate which technologies flop, and may include trendy tools like smart mirrors or so-called hotspots, which offer digital services in specific locations within a store. It will accept cryptocurrency as payment, too.
The store’s first cohort includes up-and-coming brands like jeweler Kendra Scott, bra-maker ThirdLove, Type:A deodorant and Elevé Cosmetics. In the case of Kendra Scott, one technology under evaluation would allow a customer to use different stones to assemble a personalized bracelet and virtually “see” what the product would look like in various configurations.
The first group of tech providers that intend to use McKinsey’s store to build test cases include RetailNext, Zebra Technologies, and Microsoft.
Many brands test technology in labs before rolling it out to the public. The idea behind McKinsey’s store is to sooner see how tech works in a real-life setting—a particular boon for smaller, digitally native brands that are considering physical stores or pop-ups but don’t yet have them.
“Clients wanted more customer facing information. A lot of technology, you can’t simulate,” Tiffany Burns, a partner in McKinsey’s Atlanta office, tells Fortune. While McKinsey’s brand will be invisible in the store, the company will gather data that it hopes will help it advise clients.
McKinsey, which plans to operate the store for at least a year, expects to rotate each cohort of brands and tech providers every few months. The company hopes that cadence will allow it to evaluate a spectrum of technology that promises to fortify retailers in the Amazon era and, McKinsey’s clients hope, turn browsers into buyers.
“It’s a way to have every product become a smart product,” says McKinsey partner Praveen Adhi. “They can understand: Does the customer care about that? And does that drive the conversion?”