Simon Mitchell, cofounder of Sybarite Architects, doesn’t agree with the narrative that retail is dead. Instead, he believes that now more than ever, people are looking for spaces that encourage shared experiences and that stores should meet this demand by focusing on “transcendent retail.”
“People will come if the offer is right and the experience is good. I believe that design and buildings have a soul,” said Mitchell.
“People naturally gravitate toward buildings: It could be to pray, for a concert, a football match, and this is why retail will never die. People love congregating to have great experiences,” he added, pointing to buildings ranging from the Pantheon in Rome to the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
According to Mitchell, creating a successful transcendent retail space relies on a few core ideas: Being inclusive, having a sense of self and being authentic.
Brands such as Joseph and Marni, with which Sybarite has worked, take into consideration their locale and incorporate cultural details. “We intentionally implemented design coding that relates to Marni’s location and their consumer,” Mitchell said. “For their London store, there was a red and white color theme like the St. George flag and the London bus.”
Brands also need to project a sense of self in their physical spaces. “My daughter chooses H&M over Zara, even though she prefers the designs of Zara, because of their Conscious Campaign and their recycling initiative. Not only that, but they will offer you a voucher for your next purchase,” he said.
For larger retail spaces like SKP’s Shin Kong Place in Beijing and Xi’an, for which Sybarite was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Innovation and Export, the firm said it’s driving experience through consistent design coding that caters to every touch point in the customer journey.
“From the logo, the weight of the door handle, the button you push on the lift, it all makes the customer feel wrapped up and immersed by the depth of detail and curation of the brand,” Mitchell said. To create another layer of experience for the customer, pop-up spaces have been placed in high-traffic areas or meeting points so that brands can heighten their own narratives and provide continual newness for customers.
“We must not forget the fundamentals of retail: The transactional social experience, the choices, the services have to be amazing and the quality of products has to be sublime. And it all needs to be convenient,” he said.