The role of the store is changing. With online doing a great job of serving customers who know exactly what they want, stores are increasingly assuming a role that is part entertainment and part relationship-building.
Customers go in-store for an experience they can’t get online – for many people shopping is a pleasurable leisure activity, as well as a means to buy things. Physical stores are tapping into this by revamping key functions, such as layout and product display to create spaces people want to spend time in. It’s about customer interaction and discovery rather than selling.
Through our retail trend tours, which take us inside some of the best retail spaces in the world, we see that innovative retailers are responding to these changes in a number of ways. Here are three of the most exciting trends emerging around the world that you should be paying attention to.
1. Traditional store design is fading
Store design is a key part of the shift in the purpose of physical stores.
If they’re no longer there just to sell then they no longer have to adopt all of the conventions of a traditional store – shelves of products, queues, till points, bags etc. The physical retail world has long understood the value of a good window display to draw people in – now whole stores are taking on this approach.
Fragrance company Illuminum’s retail space could arguably be described as a gallery, as opposed to a store. Glass vessels hang from the ceiling in a room that is otherwise empty except for its textured walls. Customers can sample the fragrance contained in each by removing a cork from the bottom of each vessel. With no bottles or packaging or clutter to distract, the customer is solely focused on the fragrance itself.
Sportswear seller Pro:Direct’s store is by comparison a busy space, full of wall-to-wall digital screens that often display a riot of colour. It’s equally about showcasing products though, with the focus on the customer experience. Those digital screens let the company change its in-store aesthetic or advertising in a matter of moments. This keeps the store feeling fresh in a way that traditional shop spaces can’t emulate.
Other stores are becoming real-life almost liveable showrooms, such as Bless in Berlin. This apartment space is furnished with Bless products, giving customers a chance to experience them in-situ. With the option to sit in the hammock, read on the balcony or have a cup of tea, customers can tap into the mindset of actually living in the space and this encourages them to buy something to recreate it at home. Of course all of the products used in the apartment can be ordered to buy.
2. Brand communities are on the rise
Some retailers are even integrating themselves more closely into our lifestyles.
Concept stores are a great example of this as they are built around the idea of selling a lifestyle in the form of different products and additional services. Customer communities are another way that retailers are becoming brands that we interact with on a day-to-day basis.
Nike is going this to great effect with its Run Club offering. Customers now not only go to a Nike store to buy new products, they go to take part in runs, test new products and talk about Nike with like-minded people. By being in its customers’ lives beyond just sales, Nike keeps itself front of mind for when they want to purchase something new.
Over in New York music company Rough Trade has created a purpose-built gig space at the back of its record store. This is the perfect accompaniment to the company’s main business as many record buyers are also regular gig attendees. As well as an additional revenue stream in its own right, the gig space can help draw in new customers who may go on to buy other things.
In a similar fashion, athletic apparel company Lululemon is complimenting its clothing sales business with spaces for classes and other events. Like Rough Trade and Nike, this helps it build a greater affinity with its customer base. Rather than just being the store where they can get their workout gear, it’s now a space where they also workout or get information on local classes and instructors. This can help keep customers returning again and again.
3. In-store technology
More and more stores are using technology to improve their service.
During the busy Christmas period Target experimented with RFID technology that enabled customers to add items to a digital list by swiping a personal lanyard on product specific RFID chips. With the products then paid for and collected at the tills stock could be kept out back, which freed up space on the shop floor for more experiential elements.
The best in-store tech isn’t there for the sake of it, it solves a particular issue or helps smooth the customer journey. One example is Starbucks’ mobile app, which takes away the pain of queuing by letting customer pre-order their drinks and then notifying them when they are ready to pick up.
Fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff has been experimenting with in-store tech for some time and its newest LA flagship store nails the customer experience aspect. As they enter the space customers can tap a smart wall for a free drink or pick some suggested products to try. When a fitting room is ready they can then use the interactive mirror to order a different colour or size, or get suggestions of complimentary products to be delivered to the room. Products can also be saved and emailed to them in case they’re unsure about a purchase, which gives Rebecca Minkoff a chance to follow up and build a rapport with them.
It’s quite a feat to make a large store, and even large brand, feel personal to each and every customer, but these trends go some way to making that happen. As the role of the store continues to evolve, the importance of this experience can only become more important.
By Cate Trotter, Head of Trends at Insider Trends.