This story is part of our week-long series on top trends in store design. Click here to read more.
As consumers who have been shopping primarily online for a few years are increasingly returning to stores, retailers are hunched over their Ouija boards, asking how those shoppers’ expectations have changed. How will the convenience of click-to-order shape what shoppers expect to see in physical stores? How can flexibility be engineered into stores for whatever public health disaster – or technological triumph – that might occur next?
No offense to Ouija boards, or any of the dark arts, we decided to take a less paranormal approach. We spoke with representatives from some major store design firms to identify what they see as the most important priorities in store design today and tomorrow.
One foot in the door
When Eobuwie, an online shoe retailer in Poland, decided to open its first physical store, it made a choice that seemed more than a little counterintuitive.
He didn’t put any shoes in it.
You enter the store and encounter rectangular tables equipped with shelves. Sleek modern sofas line the walls, which have LED screens stretching across them. The vibe is Apple Store-meets-WeWork, but not even a hint of DSW.
Shoppers – who, before the store opened in Zielona Góra, Poland, in 2019, clicked to buy – continued to do what they would do at home, which is to choose from Eobuwie’s wide selection of shoes. on a screen. But here’s the catch: A store associate brings shoppers their picks to try. It turns out that the reserve in the back looks more like a warehouse.
- The back room has around 110,000 pairs of shoes from 450 brands and an ingenious shelving system.
- Thanks to vending shelves and digitized conveyor belts, a shopper clicking on a pair of sneakers can try them on in just 30 seconds.
“You have all the choice and ease of clicking on different things and not having to walk around the store missing things,” said Alastair Kean, group development director at Dalziel & Pow, the studio of London-based brand innovation who designed the store. Retail brewing. “You can do it from home if you want, but the store gives you the benefit of trying on that pair of shoes right away. Are they comfortable? Are they the right size?”
Home Away From Home: One way for retailers to entice customers is to incorporate some of the best elements of online shopping into their stores and, like Eobuwie, maybe even add a few canapes.
Kean, whose agency has also done projects for brands like Lululemon and Johnnie Walker, said that when it comes to e-commerce and in-store channels, “what we’re trying to do is somehow [align] these worlds a little more evenly so that you have the convenience of the online transaction and… there’s a reason to buy in-store because it’s a richer experience than what you get online, but this is no less convenient.
Retailers often think of “omnichannel” as being flexible to transact with consumers in whatever way they choose. But Lara Marrero, principal and global head of retail practices at Gensler, the global architecture and design firm that has worked with clients from A (Adidas) to Z (Zara), said retailers should stop to be binary.
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Over the past two decades, Marrero has told us, “We compared this physical place to e-commerce and realized, in fact, that it’s not a vsit’s a and. It really is [about] allowing the customer to have the brand where it needs to be, when it needs to be.
The elephant in the (fitting) room: Amazon’s announcement that it will open its first brick-and-mortar clothing store, Amazon Style, later this year (yes, they just announced they’ll be closing a bunch of other stores as well) is what that many obsess over when it comes to how e-comm will affect physical stores.
The Amazon Style shopping area will only have one or two samples of an item, and to try it on, customers will use an app to select the size they want, which will in turn be pulled from the vast inventory stored in an invisible area to a locker room, where he will be waiting for them.
- Shoppers will also be able to scan QR codes for additional information such as reviews and, when something doesn’t fit, use the app to have an associate bring another size.
Mark Landini, creative director of Landini Associates, a Sydney-based design studio that has worked with brands such as McDonald’s and Aldi, said retailers and store designers would otherwise have to emulate Amazon’s strategy.
“I think Amazon Style will soon see the department stores groaning from their shallow graves,” Landini told us.
Gensler’s Marrero pointed out that while it’s important to bring the convenience of e-commerce to stores, it’s equally important to bring the service, human touch, and general experiential elements of physical stores to e-commerce.
Marrero, who is based in London, said she is a fan of Burberry, which allows her to schedule video chats with store associates who are actually in the store. They show her the clothes she’s interested in, giving her not only a better idea of what the items really look like and if they fit her, but also the indirect pleasure of being in a well-stocked store, even if she’s just see it on his phone.
“And I can either have it sent home or pick it up and know it’s a worthwhile trip,” Marrero said. “And the cool thing about it is that I’m helping them by not buying it and returning it, which costs them the shipping.”
Collect: Scott Denton-Cardew, chief and executive creative director of Denton Cardew Design, a creative consultancy that has done retail design projects for companies like Levi’s and Nike, says he expects he designs less and less for stores – thanks to technology originally developed for e-commerce – are banks than cash registers.
“I’ve seen it mostly at Nike in Nike stores where… if you have the app you can scan the barcode and it’s linked to your Nike account where the credit card is already on file,” he told us. Denton-Cardew. “Personally, I think cash wrap is a huge problem” and “a thing of the past,” he said.