My Visit to a Payment-optional, Selfie-friendly Store

The “Drug Store” open last week to coverage from The New York Times and Adweek, among other outlets. It doesn’t look like a drug store, except maybe (maybe?) for some black-and-white semi-vintage tiling. And it doesn’t sell anything a drug store is known to sell.


What it does sell - and all it sells - is Dirty Lemon, an assortment of about 6 chilled, bottled beverages that cost $11.79 for 16 ounces and pitch everything from energy (ginseng) to relaxation (cbd) to better skin (collagen). The strategically shaped and colored bottles are lined up as Instagram bait in refrigerator cases along the wall.

The Instagram worthiness of the environment is just one trend covered by the press. Another is that you don’t pay when you visit. No, not even with an Amazon Go-style app that lets you in and tallies your purchases.

Payment here is initiated by a semi-ambivalent earbud-wearing employee who asks you to text the phone number on the bottle to pay. Few words are offered so exactly what you’re to text is unclear, but it’s okay because she says an actual person will text back (this intel came via her warning it could take 5-10 minutes for a reply, so not to hang out in the store and wait).

The text that eventually comes may as well just be a bot, as s/he asked for my e-mail address and then provided a link to pay. Not so much of the “chat commerce” that I believe in (despite the companies I covered here, here, and here not being success stories).

The store is the opposite of an experience so it’s clear why one wouldn’t wait there. There’s really nothing there except the refrigerators, the tile, street-level windows that let in some nice light, and a full-length mirror well-positioned for those selfies. Notably absent is product information about the purported benefits of each bottle. This, along with an press references to a Soho House-like programming calendar for VIP customers, positions the concept less as an acquisition play than a retention one — unless random passersby are very curious and resort to Google.

The third trend covered by the press and the one that’s the most interesting to me comes in a statement from Dirty Lemon’s CEO, who says he’s redirecting almost all digital ad spend to invest in a physical retail presence, with more stores to come. Given the increasing cost of customer acquisition online and the difficulty of building a brand that way, it makes sense. 

To recap, trends hit:

  • Instagrammable

  • New CPG sales channel

  • Small format

  • Self-checkout

  • Shift in ad dollars from digital to stores

And those missed:

  • Experience

  • Service

  • Product education

  • Brand immersion

  • The “chat” in chat commerce

To be clear, I don’t dislike Dirty Lemon and I’m not saying they tried and missed on the latter building blocks. But they’re many of the most important ones as I think about the real future of retail.

In the meantime, I guess Dirty Lemon is still buying ads because, since I used their checkout link, I’ve been re-targeted on Instagram and Facebook. It makes sense, as I’m sure someone who visits the store and samples the product is easier to retain than a random user is to acquire.