10 rules for retail’s new age
By Alasdair Lennox
“Build it and they will come” is no longer true of retail. Consumers are at home on their comfy sofas. So to design for the future of shopping, we must first decode ourselves from everything we believed in. If you think you know the answer, turn 180 degrees in the other direction and you will probably be right. And we must start to use reverse logic to re-engineer retail.
Here are 10 rules to help us think differently for the current age of retail.
1. Checking in is “in,” checking out is “out.”
As Chicago’s Amazon Go demonstrates, “just walk out” technology could become popular and widespread. 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, 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. Consumers desire blended experiences.
It’s important for retailers to create spaces at the intersection of leisure, service, and hospitality. With customers becoming increasingly couch-bound, retailers need to provide more compelling reasons for people to visit a store, and brands need to strive for an optimal mix. The most successful designs will conjure excitement and exhilaration that tap into each sense.
3. Retail needs less rigidity, more agility.
Create physical environments with flexibility in mind. Rather than signing five- or 10-year (or gasp!, 15-year) leases, retailers should ensure that they can be as agile and creative as needed. The company BrandBox has discovered “the third way of retail” by creating innovative physical stores that sit, from a life-span perspective, between temporary popups 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 can smell a marketing trick a mile away. We need to be honest and transparent in retail. 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.
Designing spaces with the sole aim of moving inventory is outdated. With practically any product just a few thumb-taps away, customers expect more than just a purchase from a trip to the store. Rather than “what can I buy with you?” consumers are 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 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, so square footage is no longer king. Time is the new currency, the metric over which designers and brands must obsess. 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 for the future.
Even though it may seem appealing to predict the next trend, it’s simply impossible. Given the phenomenal rate at which the industry, and consumer expectations, are evolving, the amount of time a store design can remain relevant is shrinking. Design environments for the next 10 months, not 10 years.
9. From ROI to ROE, invest in the lasting effect of an experience.
To completely change our approach to retail, the old metrics for success must change. Instead of analyzing return on each square foot, think about the return on the overall experience. The Starbucks Reserve concept encourages customers to get to know the brand at a deeper level. In stark contrast to a quick coffee pickup, this in-store experience prompts loyalists and newcomers alike to emotionally connect with 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 get smarter with age. Nike by Melrose offers 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, dynamic environment customers will soon come to expect from brand encounters.
Alasdair Lennox is executive creative director for FITCH.