Cultural and religious preferences might differ the world over, but there is one constant/ shopping. And the demand for good retail designers to deliver the best shopping experience is equally universal.
Even the recession has had a positive effect – sales might be down, but, as Ron Pompei, founder and creative director of Pompei AD in New York, points out, ‘Recession has made [good retail design] more important because people are looking for greater value.’
Bodo Vincent Andrin, managing director of German consultancy Liganova, believes the recession offers a great opportunity. ‘The focus is even more on innovation and improvisation. We look for new ways to be successful during the crisis and to emerge even stronger,’ he says.
The main challenge now facing retail designers is that boundaries are dissolving. Andrin says this is happening ‘between the virtual and real world, and between static shopfitting, visual marketing and merchandising, and point-of-sale communication’.
Designers need to be more flexible and be able to adapt quickly. Liganova recently launched a new retail concept, Change Retail, which allows for six store layout changes a year to adjust to seasonal requirements.
Jean-Pierre Bobbaers, founder of Belgian consultancy Imaginif, agrees. ‘Designers need to think broader. Store concept builders need to know how to build a brand and help invent new products and services. They need to be creative to build successful online business, for example. A strategic retail designer has to think on all these levels.’
Retail must be an experience and tell a story, says Pompei, whose consultancy follows its pioneering ‘C3 philosophy’, which explores the integration of commerce, culture and community. ‘[Shopping] has to be a content-rich experience that is culturally relevant,’ he says. ‘You make a transaction through many different conduits, so to be relevant in-store you have to offer more than before.’
The consumer expects higher levels of participation. ‘They don’t want to be seen as consumers, but as co-authors,’ says Pompei. Such participation can be achieved in different ways. It can range from very low-tech to high-tech, from having a lounge in the store to displaying information or creating some kind of media experience.’
Rodney Fitch once said that the business of shopping is the purpose of life, but Bobbaers claims ‘that’s not true any more in Europe. There are so much more fun things to do than shopping, because we already have everything’. He adds, ‘Retail has to be easy. For their money, consumers get a product, but what do they get for their time? For people in Western Europe, time is more valuable than money – that’s why retail should be easy.’
Another blurring of boundaries means that increasingly retailers are becoming brands, and brands are becoming retailers. ‘Retailers are starting to create products themselves to increase margin,’ says Bobbaers, ‘whereas brands are opening stores as an anchor point.’ He cites Eastpak’s store on London’s Carnaby Street, for example, as being essentially a big billboard for the company. ‘It needs to be there to convince other retailers to run their products,’ he says.
In an effort to stay relevant, many fmcg manufacturers have launched pop-up retail formats, creating a buzz around their brands, but, according to Mat Haywood, insights director at Fitch, there is a growing trend towards a transformation of fmcg brands into fully fledged and permanent retail chains. Early examples include the Fitch-designed M&M’s experience store in Orlando, Florida.
‘As communication channels with consumers become more fragmented, and as the influence of social media and online retailing grows, opening standalone retail chains is just one strategy that mass-market brands must contemplate,’ says Haywood. The more competitive these experiences become, the bigger the opportunity for designers to be radical and really stand out.
As for the rise of the Internet, and whether this will result in the demise of the bricks-and-mortar retailer, Haywood thinks the real debate is about a polarisation between commodity goods versus those that tempt consumers to spend more time. It’s a case of ‘a natural, simplistic ritual, versus an indulgent one’.
Physical retail is not going to disappear, says Pompei. ‘The social needs of everyone are going to be fulfilled in the marketplace as they always have, through retail experiences,’ he explains.
In the future, consumers will be walking into the marketplace with technology and media at their fingertips, which will enable them to share information, make comments and communicate with brands. ‘So shopping is not going to go away,’ says Pompei. ‘We have to think of the marketplace as a social platform that isn’t just about acquiring goods. It’s where we share ideas and have social interaction, where we share cultural events and where we have a sense of community.’
In fact, he points out, the new marketplace is going to be much like the old, pre-industrial marketplace.