By Alasdair Lennox
Everything we have learned about retailing previously, is now wrong. The old rules of retail do not apply. Keep in mind that this is a provocation from a person who loves physical spaces and shopping. However, “Build it and they will come” is no longer a truism. Consumers are at home on their comfy sofas.
So, to design for the future of shopping we must do two things: First, we must decode ourselves from the past and everything we believed in. If you think you know the answer, then turn 180 degrees in the other direction and you will probably be right. Secondly, we must start to use reverse logic to re-engineer retail.
As we prepare for 2019, here are 10 rules to help us think differently in the new year.
1. Checking in is “in,” checking out is “out.” Having used Chicago’s Amazon Go when it first opened, it’s not difficult to imagine how popular and widespread the store’s “Just Walk Out” technology could become. Retailers should be looking at ways to adopt the ultra convenience that frictionless shopping can provide, and begin laying a foundation to make it a future reality. Just beware of disengagement—something which can result from a totally engagement-free experience. Don’t endeavor to merely reduce friction; instead consider how a convenient experience can still remain human.
2. Designing for consumers who desire blended experiences. It’s important for retailers to create spaces at the intersection of leisure, service and hospitality. Simply put, with customers becoming increasingly couch-bound, retailers need to provide more compelling reasons for people to visit a store, which means brands need to strive for an optimal mix. Keep in mind that the most successful designs will conjure excitement and exhilaration that tap into each of the senses.
3. Less rigidity, more agility. Create physical environments with flexibility in mind. Rather than signing five or 10-year leases (or gasp, 15), retailers should ensure they can be as agile and get as creative as they need to. The company BrandBox has discovered ‘the third way of retail’ by creating innovative physical stores that sit, from a life-span perspective, between temporary pop-ups and permanent retail.
4. Transparency is a good thing. The need for openness around sourcing and pricing has been thrust into the spotlight of late. Consumers are so smart they can smell a marketing trick a mile away. We need to be honest and transparent in retail. For example, a luxury brand trying to come across as value or a fast fashion brand trying to be perceived as luxury is quickly discovered as inauthentic.
5. News flash: the future of shopping isn’t selling, it’s service. Which means designing spaces with the sole aim of moving inventory is outdated. With practically any product just a few thumb-taps away, customers expect much more than just a purchase from a trip to the store. Rather than “what can I buy with you?” consumers are instead asking, “what can I achieve with you?” Brands that can answer this call on the store floor will succeed in creating greater empathy, connection, and ultimately joy.
6. Don’t sell, help people buy. In an age where some customers possess more knowledge than staff members, the role of the salesperson must change to that of a coach, guide, or mentor. Lynk & Co’s showrooms, a recent disruptor to the auto category, don’t feature a single car, but instead act as a learning space for visitors to get acquainted with the brand and transportation concept.
7. Bigger is not better. Having to search for items in a large, sprawling store is inconvenient and overwhelming, which means square footage is no longer king. Time is the new currency, and the metric designers and brands must obsess over it. It’s about zeroing in on how to give customers the best 20 minutes, or sometimes even 20 seconds, of their day.
8. Build for now, not the future. Even though it may seem appealing to predict the next trend, it’s simply impossible and given the phenomenal rate at which the industry, and consumer expectations, are evolving, the amount of time a store design can manage to remain relevant is shrinking. Instead, design environments for the next 10 months, not 10 years.
9. From ROI to ROE, invest in the lasting effect of an experience. In order to completely change our approach to retail, the old metrics for success have to also completely change. Instead of analyzing return on each square foot, step back and think about the return on the overall experience. Starbucks has created the Starbucks Reserve concept, which encourages customers to get to know the brand at a deeper level. In stark contrast to the normal time it takes to pick up a cup of coffee, loyalists and newcomers alike walk away with an emotional connection to the Starbucks brand.
10. Utilize data and perfect personalization. Customers don’t want to walk into the same store over the course of several days and still be treated like a stranger—so the store of the future will be one that gets smarter with age. In particular, Nike by Melrose is a glimpse of what will likely become commonplace over the next few years. With product and design initiatives fueled by a wealth of local data collected both online and in-store, the concept is a prime example of the integrated, responsive, and dynamic environment customers will soon come to expect from brand encounters.
Alasdair Lennox is executive creative director for FITCH.