Total Retail | February 8, 2023 by Ryan McNulty, Helen Herrick, and Cynthia Hirsch Ortiz
The acceleration of e-commerce, two-day shipping, and the rise of experiential design has prompted the evolution of traditional brick-and-mortar from the retailer’s central point of sale into an expression of the brand that adapts to customers’ habits and industry trends. Architects and designers strive to maximize brick-and-mortar’s potential through meaningful and enticing in-person experiences. Looking ahead, brands must consider the retail journey from the customers’ point of view — applying what's known about their audience and their shopping patterns, as well as their expectations of who the brand is embodied in the physical. Translating Digital Data to Brick-and-Mortar Traditionally, physical brand expressions and online expressions have existed in separate silos, with limited unification. With many direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands transitioning into physical storefronts, they have the opportunity to cater to their existing customers using their digital analytics. They can leverage existing demographic and shipping data to target the optimal cities and shopping centers for opening new stores. Additionally, they can analyze customer website interactions to consider the preferred customer journey and integrate their online features into the store. Store design can go beyond the traditional formula of display windows with new offerings, followed by a section of seasonal and new SKUs, a feature wall, and a sale rack to create moments to excite shoppers. By building thoughtful, interactive moments, visitors are constantly excited to see what’s new. When working with Allbirds to develop its initial store design, it was essential for us to translate the education touchpoints on the brand's website into its physical space. Allbirds' sustainable materials needed to be properly introduced to generate trust in its products and brand. Display boxes showcasing the raw materials illustrated the development story of these materials to educate the shopper as they were interacting with the footwear. By building in brand-related graphics and textures, the built environment reflected the online presence to create a holistic brand experience across platforms.
With the sheer volume of brands in every market, differentiating yourself from your competitor is a requirement for success. Luxury retail brands often communicate their unique voice through their showrooms, borrowing hospitality tactics from high-end restaurants and hotels to engage their customers on a personal level. Instead of a counter or kiosk, brands choose plush lounge seating and high-top tables with bar seating as a place to interact with customers on equal footing. Mobile point-of-sale technology brings checkout to the client, with transactions occurring at a coffee table, sofa or bar for luxurious service and ease of transaction. When the shopper is comfortable, they're more inclined to linger at the boutique, creating more opportunities for the sales team. At Bucherer’s New York City flagship, we implemented an interior design layout that encompassed the brand’s upscale residential aesthetic, giving visitors a private and personalized experience while shopping, lounging, and servicing products. The showroom has a museum-inspired experience with large, full-height libraries, curated fine art, and full-service bars on every floor. Customers, clients and VIPs receive a thrill when they walk into the store and the sales representative brings out a glass of champagne or scotch to make the process that much more fun. Ultimately, Bucherer's fascination lies in its upscale hospitality-infused design — lounges, bars and art installations.
Exemplifying Brand Values and Authenticity
More and more brands are evaluating how their design choices align with their company values. For example, sustainability is one of the biggest issues facing consumers along with retailers. Consumers are demanding that their favorite brands take action and make commitments toward climate-conscious practices. This isn't limited to their products; it extends to sustainable materials in signage, fixtures and packaging. Our teams are very conscious of the environmental impact of our work and are thinking of solutions to reduce and recycle materials for interested clients. In addition to brand values, customers seek experiences that feel authentic and local. Location-specific experiences and design trends have been growing. Shoppers love it when national and international brands cater to a space to reflect local shoppers’ needs, habits and culture. For these elements to be well-received, they need to be authentic to the local market and informed by on-the-ground teams. Whether this is including murals by local artists or highlighting the community’s small businesses, tailoring your space to the surroundings will likely increase customer loyalty and sales. In 2023, our goal is to stay ahead of the curve and anticipate customer and retailer trends. We know that brick-and-mortar has solidified its position as the steadfast retail format that will remain a priority for brands. We continue to adapt our designs to accommodate growing digital prominence, hospitality features influence, and brand values and voice to create spaces that feel authentic and exciting for retailers and customers alike. Ryan McNulty is principal, architect at MBH Architects; Helen Herrick is director, architect, senior associate at MBH Architects; and Cynthia Hirsch Ortiz is business development manager at MBH Architects. Published: Total Retail