Five ways design is changing the way we shop

For today’s demanding and tech-savvy consumer, stores need to make shopping easy and enjoyable at every touchpoint. Stimulating the senses and engaging the emotions becomes increasingly important and putting design at the heart of the retail experience allows the best brands to make the most of digital and physical audiences.

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Ted Bakers’ ‘geo smart’ windows allow customers to ‘click and buy’.

Interactive Design

Retailers are now operating in the era of the so-called ‘digital native’, which presents a significant opportunity for brands executing interactive digital design as part of the shopping experience. See here for a recent Design Week/IBM exploration on How to Execute the Perfect Interactive Experience within retail.

The store window is the first point of contact between the brand and its customer and has always been a place to generate interest. Adding a sophisticated use of digital technology into the mix arguably elevates the potential for immersion and creative disruption. Key strands of digital-based interactive media at the store front include innovative video walls (as demonstrated through the three-year ‘Benetton Live Windows’ project) and ‘shoppable’ interactive windows (as seen at House of Fraser for Black Friday last year), and combining them with the values of play and fun.
Through a secret-agent themed mini movie hosted online by the fashion brand Ted Baker, consumer’s browse product and can simultaneously click on it and buy it. Another interactive element of this current campaign is the use of ‘geo-smart’ shop windows to promote the fashion brand’s Autumn/Winter 16/17 collection. An interactive window in selected London and New York stores works with geo-fencing location technology and Google App’s Voice Search tool. Consumers activating the tool on their smartphones use coded phrases displayed in windows and get the chance to win prizes and receive vouchers redeemable in store.

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Grabble is a fashion app that allows the user to ‘grab’ items of interest from around the internet.

Personalisation and Curation

Technology that makes shopping more targeted, relevant and fun is attractive to a growing base of consumers, in particular the millennial generation for whom mobile and slick user experience are a must. Personalisation coupled with curation is one way that retailers and brands are building a meaningful relationship with the customer.

Retailers investing in making sure their products and services match the needs of the individual customer are discovering that there is significant mileage in building an experience around a shopper’s tastes.

Grabble is a fashion app that allows the user to ‘grab’ items of interest from around the internet and compile them all in one place like a virtual shopping bag. The app combines personalisation technology with an editorial curation element that inspires users with shopping ideas. It is designed for what Grabble’s co-founder Daniel Murray calls the ‘busy or bored’ generation of millennials.

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Sainsbury’s trial for a new ‘micro store’ format convenience store in central London.

Customer Convenience

Consumers today are demanding a personal, seamless experience on and offline. Designing in a greater level of customer convenience and removing mundane, frustrating aspects of the shopping experience is a key way to put the pleasure back into shopping. At the Westfield Shopping Centre in London, for example, consumers can forgo the inconvenience of getting a parking ticket and settling the fee when they leave. RFID technology is used to seamlessly debit the money from their account.

Meanwhile, Starbucks rolled out its mobile pre-ordering service to 300 UK stores earlier this year. The Starbucks Order and Pay app allows customers to order ahead from the Starbucks menu and collect from a nearby store.

“Convenience is all about a list: whether long-term, something you need for the evening or a distress purchase,” comments Aaron Shields, strategy director for EMEA, at retail specialist Fitch. “The split between shops that help you save time and shops that help you spend time well is getting bigger and bigger,” he adds. “However, they can exist in the same space and grocery is one of the most advanced in handling this widening gap.”

Sainsbury’s has been experimenting with supermarket design recently and last year began a trial for a new format convenience store. Located in central London and at just under 1,000sq ft, the ‘micro store’ is designed to meet the needs of people working in the area and sells only essential items for quick meals, known as ‘shopping missions for today’. The design responds to the challenge of delivering that convenient experience in a tiny format through denser ranging, with shelves placed closer together and use of half-bay chillers, as well as careful selection of the range. “It’s about customers knowing they can get in and out of our stores quickly and still get all the essentials,” says chief executive Mike Coupe: “The majority of people still do most of their shopping in supermarkets and that’s a trend that will continue, but we need to make sure our stores are more convenient for people who visit often to do a smaller shop.”

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The Fragrance Lab at Selfridges

Retail Theatre

The value of experience is widely acknowledged as a key pillar of bricks and mortar retail. And, in the age of digital, retailers are confronted with a range of challenges for connecting with a consumer spoilt for choice. More and more, retailers are required to be educators and entertainers and are responding to the demand by creating exciting, engaging experiences in physical stores.

Selfridges department store has a long history of enticing shoppers through its doors for more than just products. As part of its Body Craze brand marketing campaign in 2003, Selfridges staged a human installation orchestrated and captured by artist-photographer Spencer Tunnick, which consisted of hundreds of naked people on Selfridges’ escalators. In 2014, The Fragrance Lab at Selfridges took the form of an audio guided journey through a series of spaces designed to heighten the senses and help shoppers discover their perfect scent. Toying with the term ‘retail theatre’ further, as part of a store-wide initiative celebrating the 400th anniversary year of Shakespeare’s death this summer, it introduced a 100-seat ‘ReFASHIONed Theatre’ space with a full production of Much Ado About Nothing.

Retail theatre also importantly allows the consumer to become immersed in the product’s purpose. Natural cosmetics company Lush has designed its Oxford Street flagship to facilitate hands-on experimentation with its vibrant, kooky brand, ultimately allowing consumers to have fun. Meanwhile, others draw attention with cutting-edge technology such as virtual reality. Marks and Spencer, for example, used Oculus Rift headsets last year for the launch of Loft homeware, helping customers imagine their perfect living space with items from the new range.

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Target Open House is part retail space, part lab, part meeting venue.

Experimental Innovation Labs

Target Open House,in switched-on San Francisco, is part retail space, part lab, part meeting venue that allows consumers to explore the world of connected home living. A 3,500 square-foot ode to the ever-pervasive internet of things features a transparent, acrylic “house”. This house-style store design incorporates a range of acrylic furniture that demonstrates how multiple connected devices can work together.

As well as engaging consumers in the product through tactile interaction, Target is seeking to learn from the store. “From a strategic perspective, we see internet of things as a megatrend on the horizon. We know it’s going to generate huge value,” said Casey Carl, Target’s chief strategy and innovation officer. “We’re using Open House to test the trend, both for us and for guests.”

Innovation labs in the form of physical stores are an emerging method for brands to gain valuable customer feedback. Another retailer incorporating this test concept into its retail strategy is McDonalds, with its Customer Learning Lab in Sydney. This hip version of the chain’s format is a sharp contrast to the norm and is geared towards gauging customer feedback on offerings such as healthy rice salads and ‘build your own burger’ initiatives. Other aspects of a store design responsive to customers wants and needs include table service and digital menu boards with the ability to make food recommendations based on the weather outside.

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