A Calvin Klein sports bra over some camouflage cargo pants; a black crop top paired with high-waisted tropical shorts; wide-leg gray trousers and a white tank top accessorized with black platform sneakers. All of these outfits float at varying levels above unfinished wooden podiums, which are decoupaged with black, newspaper-like print. You can't make out any of the words, but it doesn't matter — you know exactly where and what this is. It's an Urban Outfitters storefront, and it has 126 comments and more than 85,000 likes.

It is one of the most engaged-with posts on the brand's Instagram, and it's nothing new.

Taking a picture of a storefront might seem like a waste of the breadth social media offers. Why capture something that can be visited by anybody at any time? Perhaps because unlike seeing an outfit on a model, seeing a gaggle of headless, limbless figures sporting the perfect boho-athleisure look triggers a need to shop. Photos like this remind people just how lovely being in an Urban Outfitters or American Eagle is.

Keeping brick-and-mortar stores open is expensive. According to the annual Moody's watchlist, stores in danger of closing in 2019 include J.Crew, Claire's, Nine West, and Neiman Marcus. Just this month, Lord & Taylor announced it will shutter 10 of its 48 locations. And with 7,000 other brick-and-mortar shops closing just last year, it's hard to imagine that sustaining a traditional storefront is economical.

Anne Kong, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, attributes these closures partly to the shifting role shopping plays in our lives. Stores no longer need to be designed for optimal traffic flow, but instead to create an experience. This development has especially hurt department stores, whose extensive network of escalators and aisles now just seem burdensome.

The novelty of the gargantuan one-stop shop has worn off. Stores like Macy's and Sears are rapidly disappearing, along with the structures that house them, and brands, especially ones that were dependent on malls, are looking for ways to diversify the space in which they sell their products. "It's interesting because visual merchandisers mostly were expected to make stories beautiful, and beautiful isn't enough today," Kong says. "Now, areas need several layers — a place to hang out, plug in, maybe even a craft."

Much of this development has to do with the ability to constantly share what you're doing, and while Twitter and Facebook pepper your feeds with ads for online shops, Instagram has proven to be a uniquely useful tool for brick-and-mortar businesses fighting against the conveniences of online shopping.

An Instagram feed is an ever-flowing stream of manicured snapshots of aspirational living. Brands appropriated the IG format to showcase their products in the same way a person showcases their life, making stores feel like an interesting acquaintance who pops into your feed between the inexplicably always-traveling cousin and the eccentric college roommate.

And much like you suspect that your cousin's girlfriend ate a cricket in Mexico just to post it on her Story, stores have created experiences for the sole purpose of being Instagrammed, either by shoppers or by the brand itself. According to Instagram's data, 60 percent of IG users discover a product through the platform and 50 percent of users follow at least one business account. So if your storefront produces Instagrammable content, could opening or maintaining a physical location make sense, if only for the 'gram?

The phenomenon has been observed by many as an extension of visual merchandising and something that affects not only retail but food and tourism, as well. More and more, sculptures, parks, and desserts are being crafted for the purpose of Instagram. Kong notices it in academia as well. "I'm in a meeting with my institution this week, and we're trying to figure out what's the best Instagram moment for prospective students who are visiting campus," she says. "That's what colleges are actually thinking about right now. Education is a product nowadays. Where can those Instagram moments be?"

But unlike retail, campus-promoting murals and over-the-top milkshakes cannot be shipped to your house. Retail faces a unique hurdle in that it must make the experience of being in a store more valuable than the convenience of online shopping.

The common mall staple American Eagle is combating online shopping in a few ways. One of its new campaigns encourages shoppers to post photos in AE fitting room mirrors using the hashtag #AExME to get a chance at being featured in the store's 2019 spring campaign. The brand transformed what many consider a cringeworthy flashback to MySpace mirror pics into a social moment that can only happen in American Eagle locations. American Eagle also regrams some of these pictures, giving shoppers even more motivation to post.

American Eagle's chief marketing officer Kyle Andrew says that other than connecting with AE's community of shoppers, driving traffic to stores is a big consideration when tailoring the brand's Instagram. At the AE Studio in New York, he says they created windows to host live art installations by the kids in the #AExME campaign. Fitting rooms have positive messaging on each mirror. Every aspect of the store would look good in a square frame and asks to be photographed, whether by shoppers or by the brand itself. "We celebrate our customers by featuring user-generated content, highlighting real kids through our social campaigns, and providing inspiration for how they can make our jeans their own," Andrew says.

Another way American Eagle is battling millennial favoritism of smaller, photogenic spaces is by creating one. Don't Ask Why, the brand's smaller imprint in Soho, stands alone. Unlike the lingerie sub-brand Aerie, Don't Ask Why could be mistaken for an independent boutique. With a neon store sign, string lights, and geometric decor, the shop is essentially a more Instagrammable, timely American Eagle.

For brands like Urban Outfitters whose store designs have always been notably picturesque, Instagram was a no-brainer. Brand imagery director Lynn Kostelny says Instagramming store displays seemed like a natural way to extend the preexisting beauty of UO's visual merchandising to a wider audience. The Urban Outfitters social media team is composed of six people whose tasks range from engaging with the community to curating the brand's grid. "We are creating an Instagram like you would a Tumblr feed," Kostelny says. "It takes a really strong eye to make sure that they all tell the same story. It's is a seed of inspiration."

Though Kostelny can't say whether the photos of the physical locations directly lead to a bump in sales, she notes that these posts have some of the highest user engagement. "Our store environment is so part of our brand DNA," she says. "Once we started posting our store displays, we saw that a lot of the imagery that was most engaged with were these images. People would comment like, 'Oh, that's how you wear that dress,' and, 'I want those shoes.'"

Looking through UO's immaculately curated grid, you can see the contrast between a staged or editorial image and one of a storefront. A bedroom showcasing a floral tapestry and duvet cover in a sun-drenched room got 32,502 likes; a crocheted miniskirt/crop top set modeled by a lean torso got 26,735 likes. But scroll down to a snapshot of the UO Orange County display and you'll see it got a whopping 175,055 likes, and a shot of the exterior of the UO in Philadelphia with no products at all got 100,404 likes.

In Kostelny's eyes, Instagram just amplified the meticulous effort UO has always put into its stores, something that has long separated it from its competitors. "You don't see H&M or Forever 21 Instagramming their stores," she says. It could be assumed that neither of those brands wants to draw attention to their store windows, as they are more mocked than praised.

UO also started hosting in-store events that just add to the brand's attempts to foster community and remain relevant. American Eagle, too, has expanded its in-store structural elements, created new spaces, and started hosting live events. But if you don't have the reputation of beautifully hipster displays or funds to build them, is a physical location worth opening?

Direct-to-consumer stores that aggregated massive followings on Instagram have been exploring the physical location route in many ways, including through pop-ups and standard brick-and-mortars. Because the product is already selling without people needing to experience it in stores, it's important for the locations to offer something extra.

The direct-to-consumer activewear and lingerie brand Lively is currently doing a pop-up tour where it hosts three-day activations at various cities throughout the country. Founder and CEO Michelle Cordeiro Grant says that her approach was heavily influenced by Instagram. "It's, like, the consideration when we are building our pop-up," she says.

When designing its 1,500-square-foot Nashville pop-up, Lively included only four racks of products in the entire store. Instead, there was a living wall of succulents and space to host events specifically chosen for Nashville shoppers such as live music, a cooking class, and a hair-braiding bar.

Grant says the focus on experience is essential to building community and promoting brand awareness. "When they are doing things, that's when they are capturing content," she says. "People aren't putting content up when they are shopping." After hosting a pop-up in Nashville, Lively saw a 170 percent lift in online sales and a 75 percent lift of online customers in the city. This uptick in sales ended up earning back all the money it took to make the pop-up. In every city they have traveled to, Grant says they have seen a sizable boost in online sales, all while using minimal space for their actual product.

The athleisure company Outdoor Voices started online and now has four permanent locations and two pop-ups. Founder Tyler Haney opened the brand's first brick-and-mortar location in Austin in 2014 to let OV's online community experience the brand in a different way. With each physical location, Haney says she sees a big increase in e-commerce and general awareness of the brand.

But the focus of the Outdoor Voices stores is more on promoting the lifestyle portrayed in their Instagram than selling products. Just like how Urban Outfitters sells the experience of being in their store, Outdoor Voices sells an active lifestyle, something Haney wanted to materialize in stores. The shops host events like jogs, dog walks, hikes, and yoga classes. "Our biggest focus is on building community, and we think of our shops primarily as hubs to bring people together around activity," Haney says. For her, Instagram is a consideration, but the focus is on how to create a space that is a functional store where people can shop and, possibly, sweat.

For both brick-and-mortar and direct-to-consumer brands, Instagram is about building a community. It's not a stagnant advertisement as much as an interactive hub where a brand can influence and observe its followers. More importantly, the Instagram has to mirror the store. If a brand's Instagram encourages an active lifestyle, so should its physical location.

Kong says that as much as brands are motivated by Instagram, they are inspired by it as well. Designers can find ideas for color schemes or different architectural aesthetics that they may not have stumbled upon in years past.

Kostelny says that Urban Outfitters regularly uses images from their online community to enhance the store's look. In other words, in order to make a space more Instagrammable, it will install artwork found on Instagram to elevate the space. An inception of Instagrams where a shopper can post a photo that is then displayed in a store with the goal of making the store more photogenic for Instagram — it practically likes itself.

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