Retail design trends to humanise retail

5th March 2014

This week we were interested to see a report on the Chain Store Age blog describing the five retail design trends that are going to be big this year. The focus is on physical retail as the report asserts that this is where the innovation has to come- in order for stores to be able to adapt and survive. So what can physical retail offer that digital doesn’t? Humans!  The report asserts that the focus should be on ‘humanising’ the customer experience to make the most of the things that physical retail can do, which online stores can’t – although after our recent blog on the success of the human-free Hointer  jeans store in Seattle, will this really pave the way to success?

 'Drop off' containers ready for Artworks at the Elephant

Replacing Pop Ups with Drop-Offs

Pop-ups are to be replaced by ‘Drop-Offs’ – that is storage containers and similar-sized pre-fabricated stores being dropped off into public spaces where they can be trialled and – as they are made of sterner stuff – unlike pop-ups if they prove successful they can stay for months or even years. For example the Elephant and Castle in London is currently being redeveloped to accommodate a huge ‘drop-off’ park, consisting of 56 recycled shipping containers called ‘The Artworks Elephant‘. The project describes itself as an ‘arts and creative enterprise community’ and is spearheading the rejuvenation of the area which hopes to be ‘the next Shoreditch’ due to launch in ‘early 2014’ (that’s now isn’t it?)

Plans for Artworks Elephant

Enhancing the human-human experience

Never mind human-computer interaction and the chiming of virtual cash registers, the future for physical retail envisages more humans roaming stores with iPads, making sales on the spot, hailing the ‘death of the checkout’ – initially instigated by Apple, this trend has seen other retailers scurrying to follow suit.

By removing the sales counters, stores are aiming to increase the levels of human interaction – with knowledgeable sales assistants offering opinions and information to customers – but as the success of the Hointer store shows – not everyone likes to be followed around the store by over-zealous staff looking to make a sale. Retailers need to cater to those who don’t want to speak or make eye contact as well as those who want a half hour conversation about shoelaces.

Tapping into customer emotions

Nostalgia sells and brands have begun to capitalise on this by offering retro-packaged  versions of their best sellers. Classic brands including Frosties and Fairy liquid have  learned the value of connecting with customers by manipulating their emotions. Although it would be extremely expensive to build a retro store –  it could pay off – by offering a space where consumers want to linger as they cast their minds back to simpler times. Perhaps popping them up in drop-offs would be a good way to test the market without investing too much capital?

Frosties vintage packaging

Capitalising on interior real estate

According to the report, more retailers will be devoting space to things that don’t sell. Such as Art exhibits, entertainment and lounges – including the kinds of digital media and video screens we blogged about last week. By changing the use of the retail space, they aim to entice shoppers and increase footfall by connecting with customers in new ways. Uniqlo offer a great example of this with their exhibitions of artistic sculptures, which take up  a lot of room in store. Retailers will also be relying more on props as they work to improve the presentation of their merchandise.

Using unexpected materials

In addition to the use of shipping containers, stores will be using unexpected materials to construct both their exterior and interior retail concepts. Wood is hailed as a prime example as it presents a softer, less impersonal image, especially in larger chains.  The recent roll out of Tescos new layout stores which we blogged about last year features lots of wood panelling and slatted sections both instore, on signage and in the trolley shelters in the car parks. Wood is seen as more inviting and again, a more humanising approach than impersonal plastic mouldings or powder coated metal.

Tescos have introduced more wood to their stores

So will we really see all of these ideas rolled out to the High Street this year? The Chain Store Age reports that whilst some of these efforts will fail, others will conquer  – and we should take note of these winners and losers as they offer us a vital glimpse into the fast-changing future of retail.


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