Creating a Retail Experience

Powerful changes are happening in the retail industry. As former profitable companies like Blockbuster, Toys R’ Us and Kmart collapse, a plethora of online retailers step in to fill the void.  As we approach designing and updating customer experiences we need to first ask, “What are your customers looking for and how can traditional brick and mortar stores meet their expectations?”

The key to finding your solution, is to first look at the customers’ experience. Whether they are millennials, baby boomers or somewhere in between, more and more customers are looking for an interesting, unique experience every time they decide to venture off the couch. In the article Welcome to the Experience Economy, the Harvard Business Review states, “An experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event.”  This is where the thoughtful design and layout of any store or restaurant is critical. With this need to create memorable events as part of the shopping experience, here are three recommendations to help identify your customers’ ideal experience.

Human connection

First, recognize the value of human connection.  Despite all the hype regarding e-commerce, customers will continue to return to unique shops, restaurants and cafes because they give an experience you can’t find elsewhere.  A great example of this is the continued presence and even growth of independent bookstores.  There is no practical or logical reason why book stores should still exist. Ordering books online is easier and provides a far better selection. However, according to Marketwatch, the American Booksellers Association reported a 35% increase in the number of independent booksellers from 2009 to 2015. This is mainly due to reader’s looking for an experience with their books.  As Ryan Hand from the DC Office of Planning states in the same article, “Shopping for a book is an emotional experience.”

Image Source

Social Connection

Next, provide a reason to have your business posted. Millennials and generation Z are constantly seeking ways to share their every experience with the world.  Retail design that provides customers with a unique, sharable experience will be more likely to be tweeted, snapped or “grammed”,  helping to drive traffic to the store.  This concept is easily seen here in Cincinnati when we compare the success of the new shops of Over the Rhine (OTR) with the dated malls or shopping centers of the area.  While mall design can vary, there is a standard cookie cutter formula to malls.  You see the same national stores with a similar layout.  It serves a useful function but is not a particularly exciting use of your time.  This helps explain why Credit Suisse predicts that 20% to 25% of malls will close in the next five years. In comparison, OTR’s unique shops and restaurants are set in a one of a kind urban environment.  You can not buy the walkable experience of OTR anywhere online.

Over-the Rhine – Author’s own photo

Rethink Brick and Mortar

Last, rethink what a brick and mortar store offers.  Most retailers now offer the ability to purchase their products online.  So what differentiates their store to encourage customers to drop by? Many companies have looked to combine some form of food or beverage along with the shopping experience.  According to the Harvard Business Review, “ realize the full benefit of staging experiences, however, businesses must deliberately design engaging experiences that command a fee.” This gives the customer a reason to stay far longer.  At United Dairy Farmers, they have rolled out larger convenience store destinations.  K4 Architecture has worked with the company to design a larger parlor for families to hang around after purchasing ice cream.  Large storefront windows provide a fantastic opportunity for people to watch the traffic at the gas canopy and store.  The response has been incredible and other neighborhoods are demanding the ‘new UDF’  stores in their neighborhoods.

UDF North Bend – Bella Photographics

Online sales will continue to be a large player in the economy for the foreseeable future.  The three solutions offered above will not change that but it can provide a blueprint for a successful physical retail market.