The rush of e-commerce and the arrival of the Millennials has retailers of all stripes rethinking their four walls, trying to get the most out of their stores to connect with an increasingly distracted customer.
A good place to start is to remember the simple fact that stores are meant for people.
That was the jumping-off point for Elana Gorbatyuk, senior vice president strategy and partner at creative agency Sid Lee, who offered up three principles to design retail that matters.
Sid Lee has 80 in-house architects, plus cultural anthropologists, branding designers, creative technologists and more, approaching retail from a number of different angles to push it into the future. The result can be seen at the Adidas X Cnpcts Sanctuary boutique on Newbury Street in Boston, where limited-edition sneakers get the full treatment.
Gorbatyuk used the 1,400-square-foot store as a case study for what’s possible in a small space.
Here, her take on how to make stores shine.
* Embrace people and their environment.
“Something beautiful tends to happen for us when we mix cultural anthropology together with architects,” she said. “We’ve become increasingly conscious about people not as consumers, but people as people. People as human beings that have different motivations that are marked by also space and time.”
Bringing together the two disciplines pushes retail in a new direction. “You cease to design where you want people to go and you start to create for what matters to them,” she said.
The Adidas X Cncpts collab is for true believers in sneaker culture.
“What you’ll notice is that people who collect kicks, they don’t shop, you covet, you revere the gear,” Gorbatyuk said. “You’ll find a justification point for why a size 10 fits you when you’re a woman and they’re men’s shoes. You’ll find a way because there’s something about that object that is really elevated for you.”
* Leverage a cultural theme to program against.
Gorbatyuk described Boston as split into a creative class and a service and working class and that the Newbury store sits one and edge between the two. Adidas too is very German and refined, while Cncpts is very raw.
The store is in a basement on one of the toniest streets in the city, mixing high-low to match the Boston demographic. It also offers limited-edition styles that sell out quickly, but they are in the back of the store, which is divided by mirrored separators that help make it look bigger than it really is and provide places to stop and shop more accessible looks.
* Make technology artful and embrace it in a way that makes sense for your design.
While so much of retail today is about tech and capturing data on each customer and each sale to build future business, Gorbatyuk said sometimes discretion is more important.
“It’s a hard thing to get right because we all want data,” she said. “In this case the concept really just asked for us to pull back and it was really important that we respected that in order to be authentic to the needs of the people who were going or be enjoying the experience.”
The store does have screens that can display images, like a ghostly streetwear figure behind shoes that at first glance are suspended in midair.
“Using technology with art creates a certain kind of ambience,” Gorbatyuk said.
She also encouraged brands to “break some rules along the way.”
And when store’s design is brought to a fresh location, she suggested brands mix established approaches with touches drawn from their new home.
“Keep the key recognizable pieces recognizable and allow for the things that most naturally create relevance with environment to stick out because then you’re doing recognition, distinction, but you’re also being quite relevant,” she said.