How can retail spaces compete with online shopping experiences?

Imagine stepping into a retail sanctuary where delightful scents mingle with soothing music, and the dance of light and shadow guides you through a meticulously crafted space. Comfortable seating, appealing displays, and aesthetically pleasing layouts offer a uniquely tangible experience. It’s a world where pampering is the main act! But what’s dimming the lights on this quintessential retail experience, and how can it stage a comeback?

Our weekly date with online shopping, the enticing villain of the story has become second nature. With its seamless convenience and endless options, it promises exhaustive data at a click, snatching the secret power of knowledge away from retail stores.

“Gone are the days when retailers had the upper hand in determining pricing and distribution. Social media, price check apps and website reviews have brought transparency and information to the forefront,” asserts Carla Conte, Founder/Creative Director at Brand Creative.

She adds, “Consumers have control over what and where they buy from leaving retailers clamouring for attention. This is why the new purpose of retail in the advent of online shopping is to create experiences that keep people interested.”

Andrea Sensoli, Chairman of SUPERFUTUREDESIGN*, concurs, “Shopping is no longer just a transactional experience for basic needs; it has evolved into a holistic experience that caters to soft needs. Creating a meaningful customer experience is key to building brand awareness and retaining customers.”

But how can the retail store achieve this?

Level Shoes Trends, Dubai Mall

Setting the Stage: The Theatrics of Retail

The answer lies in the evolution of retail practices, steering towards immersive experiences that captivate consumers. It’s the art of transforming shopping into a memorable event that goes beyond transactions and keeps the customer coming back for more.

Crucial to this transformation is prioritising the in-store journey, skillfully leveraging store design and human touch. Knowledgeable staff providing personalised assistance and an alluring store interior, featuring meticulously designed lighting, artistic elements, and inviting seating, create the backdrop for a truly unique experience. The infusion of technology, including augmented reality and interactive displays, further elevates the tailored shopping environment. Beyond mere products, retailers can enrich customer experiences by hosting events, workshops, and collaborating with local businesses, fostering a vibrant sense of community.

Carla highlights the retail space as a golden opportunity to embody a brand’s values and expand offerings like food, art, and music to complement the product, enhancing consumer engagement. With Instagram and Pinterest shaping heightened expectations for stylised product shots and interiors, retailers are allocating space to art installations, entertainment lounges, and seating areas to forge emotional connections with consumers. Andrea agrees, noting, “What matters most is the ability to measure the positive impact that the in-store experience has on the entire business.”

Radiance and Retail: Navigating the Art of Visual Merchandising and Lighting

Visual merchandising, a retail secret weapon, is the art of enhancing a physical store’s aesthetic appeal by adeptly combining products, signage, lighting, colours, and design elements, creating an immersive shopping experience.

Carla points out, “Attracting, engaging, and connecting with consumers from the shopfront to strategically identified areas within a space can make all the difference in retail. This is where brands can work with local artists and tap into trends that may not have been appropriate for the entire space.” The primary goal is to encourage customers to enter the store, navigate through the space, and ultimately make purchases.

Andrea recommends diversifying the customer experience with complementary strategies. “Elements such as a fragrance bar, makeup testing areas, food and beverage services, live DJ sets, art installations, and more could enrich the shopping journey, allowing brands to convey their story to customers.”

“Attracting, engaging, and connecting with consumers from the shopfront to strategically identified areas within a space can make all the difference in retail. This is where brands can work with local artists and tap into trends that may not have been appropriate for the entire space.”

– Carla Conte, Founder & Creative Director at Brand Creative

“Elements such as a fragrance bar, makeup testing areas, food and beverage services, live DJ sets, art installations, and more could enrich the shopping journey, allowing brands to convey their story to customers.”

– Andrea Sensoli, Chairman of SUPERFUTUREDESIGN*

Among other vital considerations, lighting plays a pivotal role in any retail space. Mastery of retail lighting significantly influences human behaviour, affecting how long visitors stay. Carla asserts, “Often people can’t describe what they love about a particular store’s design, but I truly believe the most successful designs have invested in lighting design and the strategy behind it.”

Illustrating this concept is the Lladró New Concept Boutique in NYC, designed by Carmen Baselga Taller de Proyectos in collaboration with Lladró’s store engineers. This recently launched concept store offers diverse settings, engaging visitors with products through multiple senses. Its immersive virtual technology experience provides insights into the creative and handcraft processes behind Lladró’s creations, allowing firsthand appreciation for the intricate technique, creativity, and attention to detail invested in each piece. A dedicated ‘Living Area’ in the store exclusively showcases a segment of Lladró’s Heritage line and its impressive High Porcelain masterpieces.

Designing for Delight: The Impact of Innovative Space Dividers and Ceiling Features

Certain high-end or luxury purchases still thrive in in-person transactions. The inclination goes beyond mitigating the risk of buying the wrong item or size and emphasises the value found in the tangible, personalised experience of in-person shopping.

“A positive fitting room experience or well executed demonstration and trial area – are all tried and true tactics that still have incredible value. In store offers, free samples and giveaways as well as future discounts are other ways that the physical retail space can benefit a purchase,” highlights Carla.

Building on this, Andrea accentuates, “We live in a physical world where engagement, advice, curation, human connection, surprise, emotion, and storytelling can only be fully delivered in person. A well-designed and appealing retail space creates the setting for all these elements, igniting the magic between the brand and the customer.”

“We live in a physical world where engagement, advice, curation, human connection, surprise, emotion, and storytelling can only be fully delivered in person. A well-designed and appealing retail space creates the setting for all these elements, igniting the magic between the brand and the customer.”

– Andrea Sensoli, Chairman of SUPERFUTUREDESIGN*

“The brand as an ‘experience’ is often multisensory and driven by dynamic aesthetics but laden with tech functions and data gathering to create the phygital experience.”

– Carla Conte, Founder & Creative Director at Brand Creative

Indeed, these design elements evolve beyond mere functionality to reshape the fundamental notion of space within a retail environment. Imagine personalised and seamlessly integrated Kriskadecor’s aluminium space dividers adorned with geometric and organic shapes, creating intimate corners for exclusive product displays or varied food kiosks, as observed at Westfield Mall of the Netherlands.

Notable instances extend to captivating ceiling features, ranging from a simulated rain-like effect to suspended wavy veils that replicate the undulating surface of a water pond, as witnessed at Westquay Shopping Centre, Southampton.

Comfort as a Catalyst: Lounge Seating and Sofas

The right seating can invite customers to connect with products on a personal level, creating a retail space that values relaxation as much as style. Whether it’s INCLASS’s Wudi Lounge sofa with wood accents, or the minimalist TETRIS 2.0 Low tables strategically positioned amidst displays, well-placed seating transforms the shopping atmosphere.

“A relaxed customer who spends more time in the store is essential for an effective engagement strategy. Seating provides customers with a comfortable space to rest, encouraging them to stay longer, explore more, and ultimately make a purchase,” argues Andrea. 

The magic unfolds when these design elements seamlessly intertwine, creating a holistic experience that resonates with customers at every touchpoint. As Carla aptly concludes, “Walking out of a shop with a major purchase that you truly feel good about, deserves a thoughtfully designed space.”


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