Retail design has come a long way in the last decade and 2016 is the “it” year of speculation. It’s difficult for any retail designer to forget the sting that the last economic crisis left behind for our clients. Retailers literally sent designers back to the drawing board to develop innovative ways of capturing the attention of the consumer. One thing we learned for certain – the face of retail has been changed forever by the ingenuity of both the interior designer and a new hero – the tech guru.
Retailers no longer have the upper hand in determining pricing and distribution. Social media, price-check apps and website reviews have brought transparency and information to the forefront. Consumers have control over what and where they buy from, leaving retailers clamouring for attention. This is why the most important retail design trends are about creating experiences that keep people interested and relevantly informed. Survival in the retail industry means being able to adapt to a consumer-centric reality. The most exciting trends will focus on the traditional brick-and-mortar shop and more importantly, humanising the in-store experience to complement tech features, both hardware and software.
1. Sacrificing real estate
With the growing popularity of Instagram and Pinterest and the exposure to impeccably stylised product shots and interiors, comes the elevated expectation of the same experience in-store. Retailers have begun to willingly give up real estate to the likes of art installations, entertainment lounges and seating areas – all features that indirectly “sell” in an attempt to connect with consumers on an emotional level.
2. Death of the cash desk
The traditional cash desk is changing in size, shape and even existence. Many retailers will always need a “home base” for bags and supplies, but when possible we will begin to see more knowledgeable staff interacting directly with consumers armed with hand-held check-out equipment to complete sales transactions on the spot. While this might not be suitable for all retail segments (in particular for this region), it does become significant in shops that are looking to convey convenience and technological progression as prime brand messaging.
3. Design blips
Brands of influence are taking the opportunity to interact with customers using bold and conversational design elements. Strategically branded walls with relevant messaging, videos or icons in unexpected locations generate intrigue. The more out of place the message appears – the more captivating it is, making the experience memorable as well as ideal for social media sharing.
4. Experiential theatre
Athletic and electronic brands are turning to theatrical and experiential features to simulate energy, action and adrenaline. These emotional triggers have proven to increase both footfall and sales. For the Go Sport Mall of the Emirates store, a climbing wall complete with directional lighting, interactive touch screens that promote new arrivals and a mini basketball court are some ways we were able to elevate the customer experience and help the brand tell its various stories.
5. Digital cataloguing
Tablets are being integrated into the design of spaces to help consumers narrow down decisions and select products that are precisely right for them. Today’s consumer is used to “pre-shopping” online, so replicating this action is important to the retailer. Retail designers need to ensure that tablets and touch screens are ergonomically integrated as well as aesthetically disguised or celebrated – depending on the product and brand. Fashion shops in Japan have already caught on to this idea where body shape, size and style can be pre-selected and within two minutes every suitable option is delivered to the customer via conveyor belt.
The integration of technology is no longer a mere design “highlight”, but an expectation. Retailers have been quick to respond to the social media era and digital interfacing leaving retail designers with the challenge of humanising the overall experience.
The next decade will decidedly prove to sceptics that the built store environment is here to stay and that the online realm will continue to complement, as opposed to completely dominate, the way we shop. The role of the retail designer will be pushed to the forefront in the battle to defend the traditional bricks-and-mortar shopping space, ensuring that the need for multi-sensory, tactile experiences are here to stay.
Carla Conte, founder and creative director of Dubai-based brand creative design studio.