Retrofitting Experience Into Retail / Part 2: Designing for Adaptability

September 14, 2021

The retail industry has persevered through an especially difficult 18 months, and as a result, they’ve had to respond with a new set of tools. By having to adapt quicker than ever before, retailers have been forced to think more strategically about how to transform their physical retail experiences for future success. In this two-part series, our Director of Strategic Partnerships, Tom Kowalski, and Communications Director, Rebecca Dersh, share what retailers can do moving forward to retrofit experience into their retail spaces.

From Prototypes to Platforms

We know from Part 1 of this series that when it comes to making deep connections with customers, physical retail is the most capable, multi-sensory, immersive touchpoint that a brand has in its ecosystem. We also know that now, more than ever, consumers are craving unique in-person experiences.  It’s critical now for retailers to acknowledge and embrace that the retail store is not just a static physical “outlet” for products but the central hub of their brand platform.

The recent popularity of lifestyle centers, food halls and “eater-tainment” concepts further illustrates how people crave multi-experience venues. And given rapid advances in technology like Augmented Reality, VR and artificial intelligence, it’s a certainty that retail stores will need to incorporate the latest experiential elements to keep pace with consumer demand and their competition.

As retail brands evolve, those leading the design of the retail experience need to strategize which elements of their physical store should be permanent, longer-term features and which ones can be effectively modularized, to allow the experience to flex. More frequent evolutions and even transformations are to be expected and retail spaces must now be designed for adaptability, as opposed to the “old-school” static prototype that remained the same for 10 years.

As we’ve said before, retrofitting experience into retail does not need to be overly complex. We’ve compiled a few go-to design moves that are simple, high-impact ways to elevate the experience and set the tone for your retail space:

Look for the unexpected

Can a mundane element in a store be transformed into a brand hallmark? Whether it’s a new ceiling treatment, a hand-painted mural or a giant message that takes over a wall, retailers must think about what features can literally and figuratively move their customers. For instance, a bold graphic statement can inspire with its content and aesthetic impact, but also pull customers through a space, inviting them to enjoy the experience or learn more about the company. Are there opportunities to be bold or add differentiating design elements that will draw customers in and inspire them?

This new Soho Google store is just one recent example. The space looks like a modern-day library, with friendly twisting and turning design elements that feel like metaphors for fun and connectivity. 

Paul Warchol

Light the stage

An often overlooked design tool is lighting. Whether you create a set of custom-designed light fixtures or simply put strategic thought to the placement of typical luminaires, lighting is critical and can make or break the ambiance of any space. In fact, lighting can be the hero element of the design concept transforming an otherwise dull space, into something engaging and unique. While great lighting can be an expensive investment, it can often enhance a space and be the prime focal point. Lighting can also immediately create a warm and inviting experience and establish the type of ambiance that’s critical to your aesthetic. It can be a compliment to physical elements like art features, furniture, and fixtures.

Reiterating the idea of the retail store being one of the only (if not the only) multi-sensory touchpoints, great lighting can set the mood, excite your customer, and establish the “vibe” not only for the retail experience but for the brand as a whole. And in a world where everyone always has a camera, it’s helpful to consider how lighting will encourage customers to better capture and share their experience in a store. Even if content isn’t being published directly by the business, the photos that customers share of a space will ultimately generate a certain “vibe” and impact how customers perceive a brand. Lighting can greatly affect this, and help determine if an environment looks like a place shoppers want to visit or instead just order items online.

Talk to your target

It’s easy to get caught up in the latest design trends, especially if a store is built with the new mindset that it can be quickly altered. However, it’s still crucial to think about who the customers are and what it is that they care about. The personalized experiences and design elements in a store should speak to the retailer’s target consumers. There are simple changes to a retail space that can be made to convey a brand’s tone of voice and personality in a way that effectively connects to the right audience.

Tiffany’s, for example, is a legacy brand that has made it apparent recently that it’s looking to refocus on a younger consumer. Not only are Beyoncé and Jay-Z featured in their latest campaign, but Tiffany’s has made bold moves with updates to their stores in order to speak to their new target customer. The more contemporary fixtures and finishes, along with new messaging in-store, frames the company in a more youthful way. Only time will tell if this new positioning and design will be an effective strategy to reach new types of shoppers

Tiffany & Co

The power of purpose

It’s been proven that consumers are drawn to brands with a strong purpose. In a 2021 Porter Novelli study, 71% of people reported they would buy from a purpose-driven company over the alternative. How a business activates their company purpose and brings it to life in-store matters.

There are countless possibilities to better align the design aesthetics of a store to reflect a business’ core values or brand proposition. A permanent feature of a company’s purpose is a strong way to demonstrate commitment. Yet communicating purpose doesn’t have to be so literal if it doesn’t make sense for the brand. Not every business will be Patagonia. What’s important is starting with the “why” and ensuring it’s authentic. And in order to do that, a business must have strong messaging, clarity of purpose, and a clear tone of voice for communicating. More than any other design feature, this one must be most authentic. While this element of a store can easily be updated, there must be consideration for how customers already perceive the business or clarity as to why messaging has evolved. Communicating values or purpose into physical stores cannot simply be a superficial design feature.

The features we retrofit into retail only continue to improve with time. The status quo is no longer good enough, and while we can’t predict what the future holds, we know we can anticipate change. It’s exciting to consider what’s next for the future of retail, as adaptable spaces are prioritized. Ultimately, this new way of thinking about physical stores will result in retailers being more innovative and creative in order to incentivize in-person shopping.

Missed Part 1? Retrofitting Experience into Retail: Making Connections is available to read here.