Retail Observations in Buenos Aires & Rio de Janeiro

To close out 2015, I headed south. I thought BsAs and Rio, particularly the former, would’ve had a greater variety of more interesting retail than they did. While a handful of brands and stores captured my attention, it was primarily more macro trends I noticed and found myself comparing to other cities around the world.

Buenos Aires:

If this city doesn’t have more shoe stores per square kilometer than anywhere else, please tell me what does! Especially with it being summer there, nearly all footwear was open. High, strappy platforms were the main offer. Quality and price seemed moderate and I was unfamiliar with most — presumably local — brands.

Candy stores also proliferated.

With all this real estate catering to shoe aficionados and the sweet tooth, there were a few categories less-represented.

First, the activewear trend hasn’t yet made its way to the “Paris of Latin America”. (As an aside, that comparison doesn’t resonate with me, although I can see how some would say it about the Palermo Soho neighborhood specifically).

Second, there were few beauty stores.

A nuance to note, though, was the prevalence of beauty salons. They were on the larger side and many had more square footage dedicated to retail than I typically see. A couple looked so inviting from the front that I walked in expecting to see a store or lounge. One in particular was receiving a delivery of assorted beverages and had a large community table covered with magazines.

Mall technology was nothing advanced and three screens I encountered didn’t work at all — not so different from the U.S.

I liked the windows at one optical store even though most of the view into the store was covered. One of the more compelling chain stores I saw was Jackie Smith.

Another, which felt unique in a mall, featured an amalgamation of what seemed to be local designers (their names nicely printed on the glass window). It had an independent feel and attractive merchandising across lifestyle categories.

In a lot of ways, the mall interiors felt fancier than most of the stores within them. It made the experience feel more elevated.

There was plenty of eye-catching design by way of furniture stores and subway stations, too.

I never tired of walking past flower kiosks on block after block in certain neighborhoods. They reminded me of how much I like it when stores use entry ways for this purpose.

My first observation upon leaving my hotel actually was on the restaurant front. Forget about a bank just providing the folio that holds the check a server brings -- some eateries have awning sponsorships for sale.

Rio de Janeiro:

Telecom-sponsored phone chargers installed in the cab were the first win upon leaving the airport.

Chocolate was everywhere. Tables on street corners sold packaged goods and finer chocolate stores were fairly frequent in the Leblon and Ipanema neighborhoods. My favorite was Aquim in the latter, where the one-on-one experience was like a private chocolate lesson (and tasting!). I’m not suggesting a connection, but orthodontia offices were prevalent and I noticed an above-average number of adults wearing braces.

Sandals were flats rather than platforms as in BsAs. And unlike the presence of shoe stores in BsAs, no one category dominated Rio.

That said, there were more bookstores than I had seen anywhere in a very long time.

If there was theme, it was white. White was nearly the only color featured in the majority of store windows. In general, women’s apparel was versatile and very much “beach to bar” — chic beach looks rather than anything overly casual, and barely any glitz (despite the pre- New Year’s Eve timing). I liked the Osklen brand in its own stores and at Animal Kingdom of Ipanema, which was a beautiful concept and perfectly exemplified the beach-to-bar lifestyle. I did spot a couple of different activewear/athleisure concepts, which was a change from BsAs.

At night, the Shopping Leblon mall was packed, but few seemed to be shopping. The only stores with crowds were MAC, lingerie and jewelry. What also struck me, both in the mall and on the street, was the lack of discounting being advertised — especially relative to the store windows and promotional e-mails we’re seeing from U.S. chains right now.