When Eslite (誠品) opened its first store on Dunhua South Road in 1989, I rapidly became a loyal customer not just because of its great selection of books (many of which were unavailable anywhere else on the island) but also its great ambiance.
Even in its early years, Eslite was much more than a bookstore, and whether by luck or foresight, has managed to evolve beyond its original core market much more successfully than similar retailers in other countries such as Borders and Barnes and Noble to become a trendsetter for the whole retail industry.
Opened last year in the Songshan Cultural Park (松山文創園區), the Eslite Spectrum Songyan (誠品生活松菸店) embodies the company’s unique approach to promoting a sophisticated consumer lifestyle based around boutique brands offering distinctive, high-quality products from Taiwan and the rest of the world.
True to its heritage, Eslite still sells books but almost as an opener for a more extensive cultural conversation. This carefully coordinated display promoting a “New Taiwan” provides a good example of this approach.
Design, craftsmanship, and customization are becoming increasingly important elements of this conversation as well, with a number of stores providing consumers with the opportunity to make and their own jewelry and other goods. There’s even a glass-blowing workshop offering bespoke product design services.
Technology products hardly feature at all in the store, perhaps because they don’t fit in with the overall Eslite vision (or, whisper it quietly, because they don’t command the same margins). The only exception is the smart scooter company Gogoro with its crisp and colorful space that neatly encapsulates its product story with the help of a video wall and kiosk.
By harking back to a romanticized artisanal past, Eslite Spectrum Songyan provides a fascinating picture of the path that retail will follow in the future. As new technologies such as 3D printing, beacon, and virtual reality get woven into the mix, we’ll see stores like this offering even more customized products and services to provide demanding consumers with ever more unique and memorable experiences.