Designing the stores of the future

The ever-increasing shift to online shopping, powered by e-tail giants such as Amazon, and the rise of mobile and social commerce dovetailing the consumer desire for experiences, have impacted the British high street.

While retailers are under severe pressure, this is far from the end of physical retail stores. Many have embraced innovation and are hard at work to optimising their offering in order to revitalise the ailing bricks and mortar model, offering new ways of targeting shoppers by activating in-store experiences that cannot be replicated online.

The store format is likely to change in more ways than one, but what is certain is that retailers need to prioritise experience over purchase. Amazon’s high-concept Go stores have already introduced futuristic shopping experiences fuelled by the latest tech, while cutting edge tech brands, such as Apple, have trailblazed the showroom concept. Others have embraced theatricality to draw consumers in-store, adding a flair of the dramatic to the shopping experience.

Stores are no longer there to close the sale, but rather to create the right sale for the right customer.

Powering in-store experiences with technology

More than ever, consumers are eager for connection, and physical retail has a great advantage in delivering this by offering something that cannot be replicated online.

Technology certainly has a pivotal part to play in this, but the trick is in curating personalised experiences – subtle tech that aids the experience of visiting a store, seamlessly reflecting the ease and convenience of online shopping. We’re all hyper-connected consumers nowadays, and by integrating the physical and digital, retailers can only enhance the experience, bringing to life experiences that dwell somewhere between the two mediums.

It is important to keep in mind that technology for technology’s sake will not get you far. Innovation is key, but the question you should be asking is what problem can be resolved through the introduction of a particular tech solution. How does it aid shoppers? In other words, it isn’t about how advanced the tech is, but rather how it can be utilised to optimise customer experience.

At smp, we’ve identified three key concepts, outside the scope of tech, that are certain to set the sector ablaze.

Contextualising zoning installations

Shoppers are after environments built on principles of experience. Retailers will need to capitalise on creating more contextually conscious zoning within stores to create environments that shoppers can relate to and connect with emotionally. There may be several different TV models to choose from, but presenting just one as part of a carefully curated lounge will allow consumers to see the product in its intended space. This enables mental connections and visualisation by creating a relatable setting, as opposed to simply lining up several TV models that can ultimately confuse the shopper. How the product will come to fit in the shopper’s world is now of utmost importance.

Concession spaces are the new black

Retailers can benefit tremendously by offering concession spaces to brands. Not only do these add another layer to the experiential offering, they’re also adding to the retailer’s credibility by showcasing how forward-thinking the retailer is by carefully curating a series of pop-ups. To do so, retailers need to know their audiences inside out. Both geographical and brand audiences need to be considered in relation to how it fits with the retailer. In other words, brand and retailer audiences need to configure and complement each other.

Customers visit concession stores to view a range of products on offer. Therefore, exclusivity is important. By offering shoppers something they cannot get elsewhere, retailers are guaranteed to drive footfall. The location of the store needs to be taken into consideration of course, as does the location of the concession store within it. In the Instagram age, pop-ups are a great way to drive awareness, as on top of keeping shoppers entertained, they offer a kind of lifestyle immersion worth sharing online with friends.

Activating with brand ambassadors

Trusted experts are the currency of the moment. Brand ambassadors have been successfully introduced in a wide range of brands physical stores, from Apple to Max Factor. Not only do they encourage product trial by demonstrating expertise and offering advice, they’re key to delivering on customer experience by capitalising on human interaction. Brand ambassadors is a prime example of how the merging of human and tech can provide immense power to retailers: with personalisation and customisation a big trend among younger audiences, retailers can win big by combining the tech required to enable customers to personalise different items with friendly staff that can guide shoppers through different options.

Whether considering the latest tech integration for a store, or how to best make use of physical space, retailers must heed the importance of prioritising customer experience. From unique experiences to new discoveries to instore entertainment, physical retail has much to offer.

By Rob Ellingham, creative director, smp

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