As the e-commerce model continues to flourish and back-end technology simplifies supply chain operations, a seismic shift in the way retail spaces can function is approaching.
With mobile devices quickly becoming our “first screen,” the online world is woven into our real-time shopping experiences. And shopping is becoming just that — an experience. Instead of focusing on how consumers are going to access the product, I’m creating spaces that allow the customer to connect with a brand in ways that aren’t possible online. I’m directing my clients towards architecture that can support their needs for greater flexibility, and advising how we can best weave technology and art together while still remaining authentic.
We’re using store design to better personalize the consumer experience. Simply put, it involves reinventing the retail model to engage with consumers offline.
Are You Experienced?
Stores of the future must create multiple stories in order to compel customers to walk through the front door. From a store-design perspective, it means adding spaces into stores that aren’t directly related to the products yet have a believable relationship to the brand. Some are obvious additions, such as coffee bars or tea counters, but others may be more tied to the local community such as housing space to showcase art from a local nonprofit. This allows us to create a significant distinction between the online experience and the physical world.
The stores of the future will only be successful if they incorporate technology to support the fulfillment of the customer’s desires in a speedy and seamless way. Retailers with “real-time” information on product availability and delivery options will allow those customers who are fixated on mobile shopping to have a reason to experience the physical space of the brand. Digital platforms are often viewed as a barrier for the physical retail space, but there are ways that technology can live within and enhance a store. As an example, the Burberry flagship store in London embeds digital tags in its coats and bags that, when scanned by your mobile device, trigger a short film showing the consumer how the item was made. High-tech tactics like this allow the shopper to form a deeper connection with the brand in a very familiar, immediate and tactile way.
Showroom vs. Store
Treating a store like a small warehouse is a thing of the past. By using technology effectively, retailers will have significant freedom to design spaces that function as “showrooms,” creating the ability to have a space that can change more often and become a pure expression of the brand’s message.
Retailers should embrace their locales in order to create an individual and rich expression for the brand in each store. Utilizing elements such as a curated selection of locally sourced art, objects and products (whether for sale or as a design element) adds a sense of authenticity to the space. This allows a brand to build a sense of community and regional resonance.
Beyond the incorporation of new technologies, experiences, etc., retailers should not lose sight of the need to create a comfortable space where a customer is made to feel like they can stay as long as they’d like. The beauty and comfort of a space is critical to this objective. Customers should be able to relax, check their email and even charge their phones, even if they do not intend to make a purchase. Retailers who make this a priority will win the loyalty of both current and future customers.
This is an exciting time to be a retailer. Shoppers now have multiple connection points (online, mobile and in-store), giving brands more opportunities for storytelling and more ways to connect with consumers than ever before. We can both anticipate the desires of the real-time retail consumer as well offer up novel solutions that meet them where they want to be met: delighting them, building community and romancing product.
Jeffrey Hutchison is founder of fashion retail architecture and design firm Jeffrey Hutchison & Associates, with clients that include Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York, Donna Karan, Theory, Ralph Lauren, Loewe, Narciso Rodriguez, Ann Taylor, Nautica, Girbaud, Façonnable, Dooney & Bourke, HMX and Bloomingdale’s.