Pop-up or link-up, the future should be fun

The way ahead for retail designers and brands surely lies in the seamless integration of the virtual and the physical, reckons Julie Oxberry

The way retail design shapes up for 2011 depends very much on the shopper. Stores have to choose between two mindsets. They can reflect austerity (meaning, aesthetically, hard lines, minimalist spaces) or they can revel in the escapist and the fantastical (some people view the shopping part of their lives as just that, so appealing to their fantasies will breed success).

For shoppers, it’s going to be about enhancing convenience and individualism, while boosting the purchasing experience. Using sustainable materials should be the bedrock, regardless.

It’s surprising that the media maintains that we are in a recession. If you’re going to use economic terminology, then you have to listen to economists when they say the recession ended months ago. The trouble now is dealing with the aftermath – impending cuts and taxes. Evidently, it’s not all gloom, as new stores for Dior, Mulberry and Miu Miu join the salute to capitalism that is Louis Vuitton’s Maison on London’s Bond Street.

Look for more brand collaborations which say something positive about each brand: Disney’s venture with Tesco, for example, is bold and innovative; both Giorgio Armani and Prada have a recent history of partnerships with mobile manufacturers; Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes recently installed a space for barber Gentleman’s Tonic; and upmarket vintner Berry Brothers has a concession for hatter James Lock & Co. These all suggest a deep insight about these retailer’s customers – useful for the brand and flattering for the shopper. With empty high street retail spaces, the time is right for sensible alliances, giving brands added security.

Digital integration will be more widespread, aiding brand-building and simplifying the customer journey. More people are expected to be surfing via phones than computers by 2015. This swing constitutes an immediate opportunity for retailers and marketers.

Since helping US President Barack Obama to victory, crowd-sourcing has only gained in popularity. The Louvre in Paris recently raised funds through thousands of individual donations online to buy a coveted Renaissance painting. The power of many, prophesied in The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, is driving ideas like voucher offer Groupon. One restaurant in New York allows you to personalise your meal, christen it and allow others to choose it, too. The more popular the item, the cheaper your meal. A successor to the loyalty card, stimulating engagement by making the product personal.

It’s going to be a make-or-break year for mobile/social networking service Foursquare et al. There have been interesting campaigns by all sorts, from Marc Jacobs to McDonald’s. What’s missing is seamless integration of these services with retail environments. ’Checking-in’ has got to become a utility for shoppers outside London, New York and San Francisco – in Paris you’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant with a Foursquare promotion. Currently, opportunities to create conversations are being missed.

More people will be surfing via phones than computers by 2015.This is an immediate opportunity for retailers

Twitter’s retail presence will continue to grow – just look as Best Buy’s Twelp Force campaign and Debenham’s Twitterers flitting about stores. Multiplatform interaction can be enhanced by the physical retail environment. Diesel pulled off a fun gimmick last year with a screen outside the changing room allowing customers to upload a photograph of themselves to Facebook to query friends on their clothing choice. Neiman Marcus recently merged online and in-store inventories, a great idea that others should emulate. Allowing people to browse products in-store on a screen without the pressure of exasperated sales assistants can make shopping enjoyable and convenient. And if Chanel’s Manhattan flagship can do it, why can’t B&Q?

Getting someone to linger in-store and mention the experience to others is what counts. Pop-ups are fast reaching saturation point, but, as with all things, if it serves a purpose rather than being a gimmick, it can be a tremendously effective – not to mention fun – tool. Don’t underestimate fun. Emphasising convenience alone means that most people – especially when the odd flurry of snow arrives – will shop online at home. There must be an element of excitement or innovation. This can be escapist, like Secret Cinema. Pop-ups can provide an excuse for an otherwise serious brand. They help in getting a message to new audiences (as with Gagosian’s pop-up), or taking the store to the customer (as with NatWest’s mobile truck).

So, more collaborations, more digital and more pop-ups – more of the same then? As the science fiction author William Gibson once said, ’The future is here, it’s just not very evenly distributed yet.’ Embracing digital won’t stop people price-checking and tweeting negative remarks, but it would be worse to keep it – and therefore the customer – segregated. If that happens, and you promote on convenience alone, that customer never comes to your store and never sees a physical embodiment of the brand. Last November, Ralph Lauren was one of the latest brands making use of 4D projection mapping. People cheered at animated handbags and ties. In 2011, Mintel advises, ’Brands may need to get more creative to lure consumers into stores, offering more than just retail and be a venue, not just a shop.’
I’ll leave you with that thought while I go and cheer at a book in my local ’venue’.

This year’s retail must-haves

Brand collaborations – with empty shops on every high street, the time is right for sensible link-ups, giving each brand added security

Digital integration – essential for brand-building and simplifying the customer journey, online and in-store

Pop-ups – fast becoming a cliché, admittedly, but they can still be tremendously effective in offering the essential ingredients of fun and excitement

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