Why Retail Goes Beyond Interior Design

By Amandine Rodrigues

I recently came across an interesting article about how Silicon Valley is helping spread the same aesthetic across the world. Wherever you go, you see the same minimalistic pieces of furniture, reclaimed wood, succulent plants, and copper elements of decoration. This article came at a moment when yet another client was asking for more industrial lamps in the brand-new flagship store they were about to open.

In an era where all stores tend to look — and even sometimes offer — the same, how can retailers be tempting enough to entice people back into their shops?

  1. Size Matters

One of the first things to consider when opening a store is its size. The purpose and experience a brand delivers in a large, flagship store is really different from the one of a small and ephemeral pop-up, and the same goes for a corner in a department store (shop-in-shop) versus an own-branded boutique. This may seem like common sense, but retailers often lose track of the main objective of the retail formats and their main functionalities:

  • Supply: distribution and sales of the brand’s products and/or services
  • Trial: education and information about products’ and/or services’ functionality
  • Community: quality of the space to facilitate the growth of a real community
  • Experience: ability and quality to draw people inside

A large branded store delivers its vision of a certain “lifestyle” through community and experience, whereas smaller formats should focus more on supply and trial. The ultimate objective being sales, there are different ways to meet it.

  1. Flexibility Within a Framework

In order to seduce and create appeal, it is important to offer clients renewal and surprise, and avoid copy/paste of a retail concept throughout the entire fleet. Adapting the product offer or proposing services tailor-made for local consumers is key, especially in a global and digital world. Also: keep in mind the booming number of travel spenders, who want to find exoticism when shopping abroad.

Brands are increasingly taking into account the environment they establish for their stores. Local environment, influences, specificities, and history are key in an era when people are seeking meaning and authenticity.

Aesop’s mission on establishing new stores: immersing in unfamiliar landscapes, investigating local materials, engaging with local culture and history, and develop fertile new relationships. Photo Credit: Aesop & Dezeen Magazine

  1. Breathe Life into Your Walls

A store is more than just an accumulation of shelves displaying products and price tags. It is your brand temple, where your culture truly comes to life. Therefore, it is crucial to hire people as passionate about your brand as you are, and foster their engagement. They are your brand’s spokespeople and your ultimate ambassadors! They will be able to create connections with your customers, human to human, by driving conversation, delivering your brand’s message, gathering input, and eventually creating a community of brand evangelists.

The lululemon lab in Vancouver is part store, part factory, and part yoga studio. Shoppers roam next to designers sketching future collections. In this idea incubator for the retailer, customers can test the products while designers collect their input. Lululemon also organizes yoga and running classes.

Photo Credit: Lululemon 

  1. Retail Is Rock Solid

Brick-and-mortar and online shopping are constantly fighting for consumers’ attention and money. But even though e-commerce and m-commerce are continuing to grow at an astounding rate — and expected to reach $414 billion by 2018 — the good old physical store still accounts for over 90 percent of retail sales. Some pure players have thus launched physical presences to forge closer customer relations and boost sales, such as Amazon, Birchbox, or Casper, to name a few. No need to choose between offline and online, especially when the lines between them are starting to blur. Digital could be an extremely helpful tool to strengthen the brand experience in-store and even increase sales.

Burberry pioneered the way to a unified experience of omnichannel with its revamped Regent Street flagship store. Its largest and most technologically advanced store resembles its website, and offers customers instant service and constant innovation through the smart use of tech tools.

Photo Credit: Retail Week 

  1. Participation over Decoration

Last but not least, to better engage consumers, do not hesitate to make them roll up their sleeves and participate in your brand experience. Participation and customization allow for an individualized experience, but they also to reveal the product journey and — sometimes — justify prices. Making the customers the hero of your story rather than your brand is a fantastic way to better engage them, and better for the long run. Workshops, co-creation, artisanal storytelling, and initiatives that make the product journey visible are being used to improve brand credibility, enhance engagement, and increase dwell time. Allowing consumers to not only witness the making process but also participate in it is a smart piece of brand strategy for any business operating now. If you want to engage consumers, find a way to truly interact with them.

Nike has launched women-only stores with fitness for groups or personal training sessions. It also enables customers to trial training and running footwear and apparel. Specialized services, weekly programming, and special events are designed to inspire and enable the community of active women in the area.

Photo Credit: Nike.com

Today more than ever, retail environments must speak to consumers both visually as well as physically. To differentiate from the competition, it is important that they develop individualized concepts, tools, and materials to strengthen their brand language in order to deliver a holistic brand experience. After a crisis that re-centred business objectives into sales, brands need to understand that design is not just about making shops look nice: it can drive business and create value.

Amandine Rodrigues is senior brand strategist at MetaDesign Geneva.

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