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Time is critical: Getting ‘retail fast’ right

Stories of store closures seem to be near constant, and calls for “the death of retail” or “the end of the high-street” seem to happen every day. At the same time, a new wave of retailers – often with their roots in e-commerce – are investing in physical presence as their businesses expand and evolve. 

What’s becoming clear is that retail is far from dead. According to IHL Group, for every company closing a store, 2.7 companies are opening one, and 77% of Generation Z prefer physical over online stores, according to Accenture. While retail as we once knew it may no longer be the same, the industry is as vital as it’s ever been. 

Retailers are well aware of the sea changes in customer behavior and expectations brought about by online shopping. That’s why the successful retailers are now refocusing on delivering engaging and authentic consumer experiences at every touch point. 

Time matters

Physical retail is hard. There are so many variables, that contribute to both the success and failure of a brand. Market, currency, political, logistics, forecasting, demand planning, supply chain, staffing, branding, marketing, and let’s not forget the weather. 

Year on year sales and competitive growth are all measured and accounted for, relative to these and many other factors. But the often underestimated, and under reported factor is time. 

We are all in a constant battle for more time. Time has become this thing, where we must all fill every single second of it with something. Busy or bored, we feel the need to do something. And what better tool to do things with than technology. 

The way in which we live, work, and play is changing. Technology has sent a precedent for immediacy; and this precedent has set a new standard for efficiency where time becomes our most valuable commodity. 

Time is a critical factor to understand when designing for valuable retail experiences. Individual brands need to determine what qualifies as a “valuable retail experience” for them and their portfolio of stores. 

Valuable for a convenience store may be fast service, a multiple factor UPT, and a high conversion rate; whereas a valuable retail experience for a flagship store on Regent Street may well be lots of foot traffic, dwell time, and user generated content whilst in store. This is the difference between Fast and Slow retail. 

Retail is far from dead. We are instead in the midst of a dramatic reimagining of the retail industry and a shift in both the purpose and the form of physical stores. Knowing your brand, knowing your consumer, and executing in the right place, at the right time, with intention is the magic recipe for successful retail. 

A visibly compelling space is no longer enough to contend with changing consumer habits and lifestyles. Experiential offerings can entice people to physical venues, but brands need to think beyond single-purpose spaces – and consider human needs and behaviours to craft an engaging, holistic experience that extends across multiple touchpoints.

Here are eight steps brands must think about when implementing their retail strategy:

  1. Frictionless, seamless design becomes ubiquitous: everything is becoming anytime, anywhere, anyplace—people want immediacy and unlimited access to products, content, and entertainment. As technology permeates every aspect of our lives, it’s become more ubiquitous and invisible, enabling frictionless travel, food and entertainment experiences. Cross-channel consistency is key here and spaces need to provide seamless experiences that guide people through complexity with the same level of personalisation across all channels.

  2. Convenience is a differentiator: as time becomes an increasingly valued asset, convenience is a key differentiator. Consumers are willing to pay a premium for places, products, and services that give them back their time. Clear navigation, easy-to-use technology, and value-added services support people’s high-convenience lifestyles. Experiences no longer start on the property; engagement with consumers, guests, and fans starts outside the venue, anticipating their needs by providing hospitality-like services, pre-booking facilities, and programmed spaces at every step.

  3. Authenticity and transparency are key: today, branding is inextricably connected to a company’s culture, values, and reputation. Consumers today believe that a brand’s purpose is tied to its identity. They are asking for more transparent experiences to understand how brands are in service to consumers and employees. Transparency has become a brand asset—building consumer trust, attracting brand ambassadors, and forging authentic connections.

  4. Retail is no longer about products: it’s about the relationship between a brand and its audience. Retailers should harness the power of content and space in equal measure to create experiences that maximise engagement. The result needs to be seamless, no matter the medium—online, mobile, social, virtual, or physical

  5. Localised design critical to growing global brands: with raised expectations of customer experience, brands that embrace locality will rise to the top. Localised, tailored brands are well-positioned to build deeper, meaningful experiences with their customers, while also providing a sense of community through their retail environments.

  6. Play and stay instead of grab and go: the consumption of experiences has outpaced the consumption of goods. The future of retail will encourage customers to play and stay, rather than grab and go. Programming and dayparting will be core to this customer engagement strategy. A good example of play and stay is the Adidas flagship store in NYC that Gensler has designed. It offers consumers live-game viewing on big screens and track and field areas where they can test products.

  7. Make time matter: consumers are willing to pay a premium for places, products, and services that give them back their time. Clear navigation, easy-to-use technology, and services that provide value, support the high-convenience lifestyle of today’s consumers. Retailers need to get the basics right so consumers go beyond task mode to discover and explore.

  8. Redefine the metrics of success: The days of only tracking footfall and year-over-year sales are over. The store is now a destination for the next-generation of shoppers. Measuring new types of engagement—beyond transactions—is a necessary part of understanding shifting consumer behaviours and demographics. 

Retailers need to go back to basics and get the ‘retail fast’ part right – ensuring they are supporting the shoppers task in hand, while leaving them with a memorable experience with the potential for future engagement.


Kate Maher, creative director at Gensler

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